AV voting referendum: Billy Bragg's viewpoint

By Billy Bragg
Singer and political activist

  • Published
Billy Bragg
Image caption,
Billy Bragg says people want more choice than the current system allows

A referendum will be held on 5 May on whether to keep the first-past-the-post system for electing MPs or to switch to the alternative vote. The BBC is asking a variety of people to give their view.

The alternative vote (AV) is a preferential voting system that aims to elect the candidate who has the support of the majority of voters.

Conservative and Labour MPs who are currently campaigning against AV in favour of our present first-past-the-post (FPTP) system claim that it is too complex for the British electorate to understand, arguing that the task of putting the candidates in order of preference is somehow beyond our understanding.

Those MPs should be reminded of how they were selected to fight their seats in the first place: all of the major political parties use a preferential voting system to select candidates.

Why? Because it is the best way to find out who has the support of most of the people in the room.

If, for instance, four candidates are running, everyone in the room votes for the person they feel is best for the job and whoever gets the least votes drops out. Then everyone votes again, and once more, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated.

Finally, everyone in the room is invited to cast a vote for one of the two remaining candidates and so the candidate with the majority of support is elected to stand.

Sophisticated electorate

The only difference under the alternative vote is the fact that, logistically, it is unfeasible to assemble the whole of the electorate in a single space to participate in every round.

So you are asked to express your preferences on a ballot paper and, in your absence, your vote is counted in each round until all of the candidates you voted for are eliminated or one of them has won.

It is a different method from that which we currently use to elect our MPs, but that does not mean that it is inferior.

Those who oppose AV should be asked to explain why first-past-the-post has not been utilised in any of the several devolved institutions created in the past 15 years?

The reason is that first-past-the-post is failing to reflect the voting intentions of our sophisticated electorate. People are no longer happy to either vote Labour or Tory.

They want to express greater choice and for their votes to count for something even if they don't support the two major parties.

No one can say for sure how AV would affect the outcome of our elections. All that we can be sure of is that, as a preferential system, AV is more representative of voters' intentions than the current method.

Therefore, as democracy is first and foremost about representation, the alternative vote has to be a better option.

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