The campaign to change the electoral system calls itself “Yes To Fairer Votes”. Under the Alternative Vote, they say, “your next MP would have to get more than 50 per cent of the vote to be sure of winning. At present they can be handed power with just one vote in three”.
One vote in three! That doesn’t sound very democratic, does it? Yet those who want to change our voting system should be careful what they wish for.
Take the case of Henry Arthur Hewson, the Country (Conservative) Party candidate in Australia where they have had the AV system for some years.
He was declared elected to their Parliament after the fourth round of counting, in which transferred votes put him just over the 50 per cent threshold, ahead of Frank Mountford, his Labour rival. Yet Hewson had only received just 17 per cent of first preferences. Never mind about one vote in three; how about one vote in six?
After the first count, Hewson was in third place and Mountford had already received 45.8 per cent of first preference votes, nearly three times as many as the candidate who ultimately became the MP. Supporters of AV would say that a majority of voters did not want Mountford, but it is also clear that many more really wanted Mountford than any other candidate.
What kind of mandate did that MP have, being the first choice of barely one-sixth of the electorate? Was that outcome “fairer” than would have been the case if only first preferences had counted?
Such outlandish results are perfectly possible in our future elections, if the referendum returns a Yes vote.
The wider lesson is whether it is fair for the third most popular candidate to be elected on the basis of fourth preferences — or whether such a system would really increase accountability, or make MPs more representative of local communities, as is claimed. Now, the electors of Australia want to get rid of AV, New Zealand has already done so, and that leaves only two other countries using the AV system. Fiji, and Papua New Guinea, neither exactly in the forefront of major nations and democratic government.
It is clear that First Past the Post is still the fairest system, and the one that most people understand in deciding any democratic election. They think it’s is nonsense that an election can be decided by voter’s second, third, or even fourth or fifth preferences. It bit like backing all the horses in the Grand National and claiming you’ve won! It’s only minority parties who want to change the system because they see it has giving their politicians more power. Absolutely nothing whatsoever about the interest of the electors.