I went to a Labour party debate on the alternative vote today in Willington, North West Durham. Before I went in I was very much a floating voter on AV and emerged from the debate with my mind pretty much made up. I also asked for an explanation of what AV actually is. You can read my explanation in my previous blog entry: How to AV (Scientific Edition)
Chris Mullin (former MP and under-secretary of state) the 'Yes to AV' speaker started the debate. He spoke very well on the matter. There was supposed to be someone on the panel from the 'No to AV' camp but that person did not turn up and so there was was an empty chair (very nobel-prize-like). I left the meeting with one foot firmly in the in the Yes to AV camp, these are my reasons.
I think it might be fairer. People can express their true opinion giving their first preference to the candidate they think will do the best job. It will mean less tactical voting, and hopefully discourage negative campaigning.
AV is already used successfully. Not only in strange far flung corners of the globe like Australia (which doesn't really count because voting is compulsory) and Papua new Guinea, but in London which I agree is a strange place but a bit closer to home. One argument against AV is that it will produce bland politicians. The elections for London mayor resulted in Ken Livingston and Boris Johnson. Bland they are not. AV is also the method by which Labour MPs are selected. My MP is anti AV, one member pointed out that if AV is good enough for selection then it is good enough for election.
The Lib Dems want it. This seems like a truly ridiculous reason to be for AV and I cant really believe I just typed it... in bold! It should really be a reason for voting no so I will try to make things clearer. I hate the Tory coalition. I don't trust the Lib Dems for all their broken promises and I would love to see the coalition fall apart leading to the demise of this government before the next general election. In the run up to the meeting I considered voting No solely on the basis that a No vote will destabilise the coalition. I am however a realist and as unpalatable as this sounds, Labour need the Lib Dems to take seats in the South in order to win a general election. Unless there is a sea change in centre left politics this will continue to be the case. There was some opposition from the floor to a Yes vote mainly from the Constituency Labour Party Chairman, who is opposed to AV. He is an inspirational character and believes that the Labour party should fight the Lib Dems and the Tories in every part of the country and we should do this under the current first past the post system. The Lib Dems are on the ropes; their party may now take years to recover and they will be made to pay for being dishonest with the electorate. However the UK no longer has a two party system whether we like it or not and voting reform is a necessary step.
The tories do not want it. That's better. I was Lib dem bashing at a meeting with three North-East MPs in February and I asked the question: What are is being done to in parliament to lobby the Lib Dems and have them vote against the tories? The MP for Sedgefield Phil Wilson made it clear that the tories are 'The Enemy' and he is right. Some tories are against change because they are traditionalists that is a fairly valid reason but as always with the tories; they look after their own interests. AV will harm the tories; they have less chance of being elected under AV and less chance of damaging the country further with ideological cuts. The systematic dismantling and subsequent privatisation of all public services including the NHS must be stopped. Reversing years of development in education back to a time when a University was only for the rich must also be stopped.
On its own AV will not defeat the tories in the next election. The Labour party is in need of strong leadership and active membership for this. The tories know how their party wants them to vote on AV as do the Lib dems. Labour supporters have to make their own mind up. We are perfectly able to do this but that is not the point. Campaigning for a Yes vote makes Labour visible at grass roots level. Getting behind the Labour leader Ed Miliband (who has voiced his support for AV) will make the party more coherent and stronger at National level. So for what its worth I will be voting Yes to AV.