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As a Conservative Party activist, I support the Alternative Voting system (AV). This, it is safe to say, is fairly unusual. The reason I support AV is simple: it’s fairer than our current First Past the Post system (FPTP).
Under FPTP you have one vote and the person with the most votes in a constituency wins. Under AV you rank candidates in order of preference out of those who you would like; contrary to popular belief you only have to state your first preference, any additional preferences are optional. As candidates are eliminated, your highest preference that has not been eliminated is treated as your first preference. AV is particularly advantageous if you support a minor party such as the Greens or UKIP but are keen to prevent either Labour or the Conservatives winning. Under AV you would no longer be torn between the party you like and the party you would prefer out of the only two that can usually win in an area. A common vote under AV would be first preference to the Greens and then second preference to Labour.
AV gives voters more ability to express their choice and would create a more plural politics, where politicians will have to listen to the views of a wide range of people rather than be elected on a narrow support base. While I agree with the current situation of having one MP per constituency, I do not agree with choosing that MP using the FPTP voting system. AV will make the single MP constituency system fairer at both a local and national level.
FPTP allows MPs to be elected with a minority of votes. This is because there are usually several candidates who split the vote considerably. This means that most MPs are elected on considerably less than 50% of the vote; usually with just 35-40% of the vote in their area. This often means that a very divisive candidate who is disliked by a majority of voters gets elected because their opposition is split. AV would guarantee that an MP had a broad level of support from their constituency because they would have to secure a large number of second and third preferences or a majority of first preferences to be elected.
At a national level FPTP is unfair because it works grossly in favour of Labour and to a lesser extent the Conservatives. Labour won 36% of the vote in 2005 but won 54% of seats in the House of Commons. The Conservatives won 36.1% of the vote in 2010 winning 47% of seats. These results highlight FPTP gives Labour a large advantage over the Conservatives and an even larger advantage over the smaller parties. If Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats each won a third of the vote the most likely outcome would be the following ratio of MPs: 3:2:1. Part of this can be removed by equalising the size of constituencies but this will still leave an unfair system. This is because Labour, and to a lesser extent Conservative votes tend to be grouped together in areas with a similar socio-political make-up. Northern cities for Labour or rich rural areas for the Conservatives, making it is easy for them to win many seats without even trying. This effect is weaker under AV because second preferences are not as likely to be concentrated in specific areas.
The FPTP system also prevents small parties from winning seats. The Greens have been an important fringe political party for longer than most of us have been alive but FPTP meant that they only won their first MP last May. AV would still disadvantage them but it is fairer for them than FPTP. The beauty of AV is that parties need to have the acceptance or tolerance of a majority of the electorate, meaning that the Greens and UKIP are more likely to be represented in parliament but not the ultra-divisive BNP party.
It will also force the Conservatives and Labour to appeal to a wide range of the electorate to win their second preferences, rather than target their policies at a small number of swing voters in marginal constituencies. If there is a yes vote in the AV referendum, it will be a move away from a divisive politics to a consensus politics where politicians have to appeal to most of society to be elected. AV is far from perfect but it is a huge improvement on our current voting system. That is why I will be voting yes on May 5.