No to the Alternative Vote

March 11, 2011
Author Article Constitution

On May 5th, subjects of the United Kingdom will be asked to vote in a referendum, which could bring about a profound constitutional change. This is only the second such referendum to be held over the entire United Kingdom – the first being the the referendum on whether or not to remain in what was then the European Economic Community in 1975. The result of that referendum should be instructive. Although it was rumoured that the majority wanted to leave the EEC at the time – and I'm pretty sure they definitely would have, had they known that the EEC would evolve into the EU – the vote went in favour of the Yes campaign. There is a definite advantage to the campaign for a Yes vote in most referenda.

This referendum is about whether or not to change our electoral system from the traditional tried-and-tested so-called First-Past-the-Post method to the new untried Alternative Vote – untried, that is, except for Australia and Papua New Guinea.

It is claimed that the AV system would be fairer on political parties – especially the smaller parties. I am actually not convinced that AV would be “fairer” in the way they think. But even if it was, I would still oppose it.

The United Kingdom is not meant to be a proportional democracy – it is a representative democracy. Parties are simply supposed to be pressure groups, allying people of similar, but not identical, persuasions. They form convenient conglomerations in Parliament to enable the Monarch to identify which grouping and which potential Prime Minister can command a majority in Parliament. And that latter point is the criterion for government. Government is to be by those Members of Parliament chosen by the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister is the MP who the Monarch thinks can command a parliamentary majority. These constitutional niceties are too often overlooked by those who would steamroller through major changes to our way of life.

Parliament is not there to reflect, proportionally, the views of the people of this country. Each individual MP is there to represent the views of the majority of his or her constituents. This link between MP and constituency is not just a nice convenience; it is the bedrock of our democratic constitution. If the total number of MPs affiliated to a particular political party is not in proportion to the votes for that party throughout the country, then that matter is irrelevant. It is media interest only that has confused this issue, by producing such a plethora of statistics. What matters to each individual person is the representative nature of their MP – that there is a strong link between MP and constituent. This system also allows us to have the “maverick” or “eccentric” independently minded MPs that have been of such value to our nation. The link between MP and constituency goes way back, over centuries of history, from the time when a knight would be chosen by the shire to represent their interests in the King's Parliament. And this linkage developed in a time when Christian principles were in the ascendant. Such representation is in line with biblical principles, and reminiscent of the choice of church leaders as described in scripture. If we break that link, and insist that Parliament should be created in proportion to the national vote for parties, we will have destroyed the representative nature of our democracy. This representation is what provides the check in the system. A representative can be defeated in a subsequent election, and thus removed from office. If such a representative is high up in his or her party's hierarchy, then a proportional system will see their star shine continuously, with no possibility of removal. That would be a retrograde step for democracy.

For these reasons, and many others that you will find on the No to AV website, I urge all readers to vote NO on May 5th.

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