Is the alternative vote worth voting for?

This was the subject of a debate at UCL last night, where leading figures from the yes and no camps met alongside electoral experts and UCL students to argue the point.

For the yes side, Billy Bragg and Katie Ghose argued that the referendum provided an opportunity to offer greater choice to voters, to combat the sense of disenfranchisement among those who do not identify with the parties likely to win under first past the post, and to challenge MPs to target the wider population rather than swing voters.

For the no side, Jane Kennedy and Charlotte Vere called AV a timid reform, a shield for Liberal Democrat unpopularity, and a change that far from combating safe seats would just make different seats safe.

A third camp too emerged, of those who didn’t care for AV or FPTP, but wanted change of a different kind. For them different questions were important: if AV passes, will it be the start or the end of reform? Is AV a compromise worth making?

A quick poll at the end of the night indicated that the vast majority of those attending were in favour of the change to AV, but with a little under a month to go, it’s still all to play for. Last night showed how much we need this debate so, what do you think? Whether you think AV is progressive or regressive, a step towards or away from greater democracy, a political fix or a non-event, let us know…

Further information:

The AV referendum will be lost

Five reasons why the AV referendum will be lost

Yes to Fairer Votes launched their formal campaign for the AV referendum on 2 April.  Electoral reformers fondly suppose that if only the public were offered a better alternative to first past the post, people would be bound to vote Yes.  This piece does not go into the respective merits of AV and first past the post.  It simply forecasts that AV will be defeated, for the following reasons:

  • The public know nothing about electoral systems, and care even less.  The Constitution Unit did detailed research on public attitudes to different voting systems for the Independent Commission on the Voting System, and we found we were plumbing deep wells of ignorance.  The Yes campaign have a huge mountain of ignorance and indifference to overcome.  The government have given them very little time.
  • Even if the Yes campaign manage to engage people’s interest, they will find it hard to explain the difference between AV and FPTP.  AV is not a proportional system.  The overall result will not be that different from FPTP.  In the 2010 election it is estimated that the Conservatives might have gained 30 seats less, the Lib Dems 20 seats more, and Labour about the same.
  • The public will be confused by the arguments in the referendum, some technical, some contested, some misleading.  Research shows that when the public find political issues difficult or confusing, they look to political leaders that they trust to give them a lead on how to vote.  But the AV referendum offers no easy cues.  The Conservatives will campaign against, the Lib Dems for, and Labour are divided.
  • Clear signals from political leaders will be masked by the elections also being held on 5 May.  There are devolved assembly elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and local government elections in 80% of England.  The political parties will put their time and energies into campaigning in the elections, and not the referendum.
  • This is what happened in Canada, where they held referendums on electoral reform at the same time as provincial elections in Ontario (2007) and British Columbia (2009).  The political parties were silent about the referendum issues, and electoral reform was defeated in both cases.  The same is likely to happen in the UK.

Should the UK adopt the alternative vote system?

A UCL debate on the AV referendum

Monday 11 April 2011, 6.00pm

The UK faces its first national referendum for over 30 years and has an unprecedented opportunity to change the voting system and reshape the future political landscape. The referendum also raises profound questions about electoral reform in the UK.

This debate will provide an opportunity to discuss the arguments underpinning electoral reform and the AV system and to hear speakers from both sides of the argument, as well as insights from an expert panel.

Have your say: questions from the audience will be a key feature of this event.

Speaking in favour of a ‘yes’ vote:

  • Billy Bragg, singer and political campaigner
  • Peter Facey, Chair, Unlock Democracy

Speaking in favour of a ‘no’ vote:

  • Jane Kennedy, National Organiser of Labour No to AV
  • Charlotte Vere, Finance Director / National Organiser, ‘No to AV’

Expert panel

  • Professor Justin Fisher,Magna Carta Institute, Brunel University
  • Peter Kellner, YouGov
  • Dr Alan Renwick, University of Reading
  • Professor Tony Wright, UCL Constitution Unit

UCL Bloomsbury Theatre
15 Gordon Street
London
WC1H 0AH

To register for this event or to read more about UCL Public Policy, please see our website:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/public-policy/events