Opinion Former Article

ERS response to Brown Referendum Speech: Bill will pass if political will exists

The Electoral Reform Society has welcomed Gordon Brown's move to legislate for a referendum on the Alternative Vote.

The Society's Chief Executive Dr Ken Ritchie said:

"The referendum the PM proposes would give us, the voters, a chance to move to a better voting system for the House of Commons, and we urge MPs of all parties to give this measure their support.

"The default setting for reformers is often to damn any reform on the table with feint praise. But a change to the Alternative Vote represents a real improvement in our voting system and any improvement is worth having.

"Voting Reform isn't going to drop fully formed into our laps because politicians suddenly see the light. AV is not a final destination for British politics, but the proposed referendum is a real stepping stone we have to see delivered in this parliament.

"We do regret that after more than 12 years in office that we've reached this stage with only a few weeks of parliamentary time available before the next general election. But it is more than possible for this legislation to be passed before the election if the political will is there. We urge both the Government and the opposition parties to do everything in their power to ensure that this legislation is passed in the coming weeks.

"This referendum could have real symbolic importance in restoring confidence in politics. The expenses scandals of 2009 have dented faith in Westminster and it is important that MPs, before they seek re-election, realise the necessity of a move to a system of politics in which MPs have stronger democratic mandates and greater accountability to those who elected them."

For further information, contact:

Ashley Dé 07968791684 or Dr Ken Ritchie on 07754165551

About the Alternative Vote (AV) http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/article.php?id=55

AV would allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If their first choice were to be eliminated by not having sufficient support, their vote would pass to their second choice, and if necessary to third or subsequent choices. AV would therefore result in a move towards people being able to cast effective votes.

With AV, successful candidates would need the support of a majority of voters. This would end the situation whereby candidates can become MPs with the support of a third of voters or even less.

AV would obviate the need for most forms of tactical voting. People would be able to vote for the candidates of their choice without fear of their votes being wasted.

AV is not, however, a proportional system. In some elections it could even produce more distorted results than our present first-past-the-post system. AV would not guarantee a more representative parliament or one better able to hold the government to account.

AV could, however, be a first step towards a more satisfactory voting system:

The Jenkins Commission, established by the Labour Government in 1997, recommended that MPs be elected by 'AV+', a variant of AV that is modestly proportional and would avoid the distorted results that can result from the use of AV alone or first-past-the-post.

AV could open the way to the Single Transferable Vote (STV), a proportional system that uses a ballot paper identical to that of AV, but which offers voters a wider choice of candidates, often allowing them to make choices between candidates of the same party. STV is the preferred system of the Electoral Reform Society as well as of the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. It is already used for all elections other than parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland and for Scottish local government. Many political scientists regard STV as the connoisseur's choice of voting system.

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