Nicole Berry witnessed the vote on the AV referendum in Parliament. She details its impact here.
Today, it has been declared that the majority of MP’s are in favour of a referendum next year to decide whether the UK parliament switches from a First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system to the Alternative Vote (AV) system.
The Bill which will introduce changes to constituency boundaries, a change in the voting system and a reduction of MP’s from 650 to 600 has been backed by 328 votes in favour, to the 269 not in favour. Consequently, the Bill will go to a referendum next year. The referendum was imperative in deciding whether a coalition of compromise could be formed between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Electoral reform to some degree was a key policy in the Liberal Democrat bargain as it will create a fairer political system for both the electorate and the Lib Dem party themselves.
The current FPTP system is easily distinguishable from proportional electoral systems in two main ways. Under FPTP candidates just need a plurality, or simple majority, of votes; i.e. they don’t need over 50% to gain a seat. Secondly, votes are not translated equally into seats. Instead, the UK is divided into 651 constituencies, each constituency returns the MP with the simple majority of votes, and thus the party representation in parliament will not necessarily reflect the percentage of votes for each party overall. In 2005 the Lib Dems acquired 22% of the vote but won a meagre 9.6% of the seats.
By contrast, the AV system is a proportional one. The electorate list the candidates in order of preference. If a single candidate achieves over 50% of the first preference votes they gain the seat. Otherwise, the second preference votes of the candidate who finished last are redistributed and added up until a candidate does pass the 50% margin. Under this system, the spread of seats in parliament closely reflects the votes.
Both the majority of Labour and Conservative MP’s are adverse to these potential changes. The Conservatives predominantly fear never having a majority Conservative government again. Though FPTP failed in producing this result this year, AV will probably fail to ever produce a single party majority again. Most Labour Mp’s are ardently against changes in constituency margins as it will particularly affect Labour strongholds. However, a large share of Labour MP’s do back the change to the AV system.
A vast proportion of the electorate feel disillusioned with our current political system as it doesn’t appear to be producing results that they have voted for. Because of this, and the fact the Bill has passed the first stage of voting with MP’s, it seems perfectly feasible that the Bill will go all the way, making coalition governments a constant reality for Britain.
Of course, there are more hurdles for the Bill to pass before the UK enters a proportional system. However, the next step will be the referendum, and if the electorate vote in favour it is highly unlikely that their decision will be contravened.