by Tom Watson
When Roy Jenkins recommended a change in the electoral system twelve years ago I helped lead the campaign to defeat it and preserve the first past the post system. I was dead against any form of proportional representation then and I still am now. But whilst I remain as firmly opposed to proportional representation as ever, I have become convinced that our current first past the post system is in need of reform and upgrading. That is why I am supporting the campaign to introduce the alternative vote and will be voting Yes in tomorrow’s referendum.
The main objections I have to proportional representation do not apply to the alternative vote system. One of my main concerns has always been that PR would give the BNP a greater chance of gaining representation at Westminster. But that is even less likely with AV than FPTP. That is why the BNP have come out to say they will be supporting a No vote in the referendum. AV is the anti-extremist system. With AV, no-one can get elected unless most people back them. Therefore the risk of extremist parties being elected by the back door is eliminated.
Another of my traditional objections to PR was that it will lead to unstable government. But hung parliaments are no more likely with AV than with first past the post. As the recent election showed, first past the post has not given Britain any special immunity to hung parliaments. The result at the last election was not an exception. It is the result of long-term changes in our voting patterns here in the UK which means the current voting system can no longer be relied upon to deliver a clear-cut result with a strong and stable single-party system previously the strongest argument for preserving first past the post.
The last of my major objections to PR, and to the hybrid system Roy Jenkins put forward, was that it was too complicated and alien to the way we have always voted. But AV, in contrast, couldn’t be more straightforward. It simply allows you to choose your candidates in order of your preference. It is literally as easy as 1,2,3. For voters, it simply means swapping an X on your ballot paper for a 1,2,3. And if you still want to vote for only one candidate you can.
So the alternative vote doesn’t have the disadvantages I have always associated with PR. But it does offer advantages that I believe will help change the way we do our politics for the better. (more…)