Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What do you believe in?

I've been having a few debates recently regarding the Alternative Vote referendum.

If that first sentence almost put you off reading any more, let me just quickly plead with you to give me a minute to be more interesting.


What do you believe in? What's important to you? What do you want to be important to your government?

These are the questions you should be asked at every election. It should be a simple process: Which party most closely represents the values you hold dear? Then you vote for them.

But currently, there's a good chance you don't. Maybe you vote for one of the two parties you believe, or have been told, can win in your constituency, because you would rather have them than the other lot. Or maybe you don't vote at all, because voting seems to make no difference. And maybe you're tired of all the negative, mud-slinging campaigning and utterly disillusioned with politics.

If any of these things is true for you, or even if you do vote for the party you actually believe in but feel it's a futile effort, then you are exactly the kind of person who should be beating a path to vote for AV next month. Because AV gives you a real voice. It means you don't have to waver about who you SHOULD vote for, you can vote for the party you really, truly support, and then use your alternative vote rankings to show who you would support if you can't have your first choice.

It's a very simple system that the No campaign want to make sound very complicated. You just rank the candidates in order of preference, until you no longer have one. 1 to 5 or 1 to 10, even. Anybody can do that. Anybody can understand that. It's really, really that simple.

Don't be put off by the complicated explanations you'll see of how the votes are counted. As Vince Cable pointed out, it's the same system they use on the X-Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and all these other reality shows. The act (candidate) with the lowest votes is eliminated, and then everybody gets to vote again. Except instead of holding another vote, they simply refer to your ballot and see who you prefer out of who is left. So you only have to vote once, but your vote will be counted for every round, as long as you have ranked one of the remaining candidates. This continues until there is one winner. In America, they call the system "Instant Runoff".

It's that simple.

Don't be put off by the lies you'll hear, either. The No campaign want you to believe that minority party votes will have more power. It's a lie. In each round, every vote counts once. Every vote.

What would this system mean, practically? How will it affect you?

Again, simple.

Your vote will never be wasted again and you never have to vote out of fear for who might win.

Because the ranking system allows you to express preferences out of all of the candidates, you can vote for your first choice first, even if you don't believe they can win. After that, if there's a candidate you don't want to win, you can rank as many other candidates as you like, showing your preference for those. As a cartoon I saw recently said, it's like asking for something from the shops, but letting your friend know what else you'd like, just in case they don't have what you really wanted. We do it all the time in life. Everybody does. It's so easy.

You never have to change your vote out of fear again.

And the other beauty of the system is this: The bigger parties in any constituency are going to have to reach out to voters from smaller parties if they want their second or third preference votes. Do you care passionately about Green issues? Vote Green first - then see who else's Green agenda is the best and rank them second. Want to see the UK out of the EU? Vote UKIP first, then rank the other parties on their EU policy. Always wanted to vote Lib Dem, but vote Labour to prevent a Tory victory? Never again. Vote Lib Dem and rank Labour second - or third!

Not only that, but the rise in first preference votes for smaller parties, which should follow in a change to AV, will give the bigger parties a more true picture of the amount of support there really is for smaller parties across the country, meaning they'll know just how important certain issues are to people like you.

The Alternative Vote system is about empowering EVERY voter to have a say in who their local MP is and, by extension, who runs the country. The winner of each election will be the candidate with the most broad support in their constituency.

You may not care about AV right now, but you should. Because whatever you DO care about, AV is going to make it easier to support it. It's going to give you a much more powerful voice in politics and in government.

It will NOT, as has been said, be more likely to install far right parties, like the BNP, in government. Quite the opposite. For that to happen, over 50% of voters in any constituency would have to rank them. They know themselves that's never going to happen. That's why the BNP are in the NO camp.

AV is about making your vote yours. It's about letting YOU vote for what YOU are passionate about.

Please go out and vote for the Alternative Vote system next month.

Let's demand that our politicians ask us, "What do you believe in?" not "What are you afraid of?"

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