It seems strange that anyone should have to write a post explaining why, in a democracy, everyone’s vote should count, but it appears that the media’s favourite to be the next Prime Minister doesn’t agree. David Cameron is opposed to any form of proportional representation and this week spoke out against Gordon Brown’s (admittedly pretty cynical) plans for a referendum on changing the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system for the Alternative Vote (AV).
Of course, Cameron is acting in the interests of narrow party advantage as he knows that AV would be highly unlikely to deliver him an overall majority. (Strangely, however, while AV and its variants are not deemed suitable for the electorate at large, the Conservative Party has no issue with its use for their own internal elections.) Brown’s motives don’t seem to be a whole lot purer – the Commons vote on AV was a clear pitch for Lib Dem votes in Labour’s forthcoming attempt to avoid electoral armageddon.
Of course, AV is not proportional but it is at least a step in the right direction and Labour’s acceptance of it is a long overdue acknowledgement that FPTP is a bizarre anachronism in a 21st century democracy. The fairest solution would be the Single Transferable Vote (STV), a system which maintains the constituency link while providing a much clearer reflection of voters’ wishes than AV or FPTP.
One of the biggest problems associated with the current arrangements is the relatively small number of votes which actually have any impact. In the coming election the main parties will be fighting over around 150 seats which may actually change hands, and within those marginal constituencies they will target a relatively small percentage of swing voters. Estimates of the total number of these voters vary but there are probably fewer than 1,000,000 people whose votes will decide who forms the next government. (In 2005 more than 70% of the votes cast made absolutely no difference to the outcome of the election.) There is no incentive for the parties to talk to anyone else.
STV means that there are no safe seats and every vote counts. Therefore political parties need to tailor their policies and campaigns to everyone, not just the small minority who happen to live in a marginal constituency. And in the case of the Tories, it would lead to a much more even distribution of the Ashcroft money which is currently only targetted at the key marginals. There you go, in addition to the other obvious benefits STV achieves something which the taxation system can’t.
(See also: Electoral Reform Society – PR Myth Busting.)