In each Parliamentary seat, you will now rank candidates 1,2,3... etc in order of preference. Unlike the similar Australian system, you don't have to rank everyone. If no one candidate has a 50% majority on the first round, the Number 2 votes are allocated. If no-one still has a majority, the number 3 votes are allocated, and so on.
What will the effect of this be?
The effect of this will be relatively minor compared to other systems like Proportional Representation. However, the result is likely to be somewhat more proportional than FPTP. Under FPTP, the leading party gets a greater percentage of Parliamentary seats than its percentage of the vote. Under AV, some people who currently would like to vote for a small party, but grit their teeth and vote for a large one to keep out a large-party enemy, will be able to vote for the small party first, and their favoured large party second. This effect will slightly hurt the larger parties, and slightly benefit the smaller parties.
YouGov polled how people would vote under FPTP and AV. FPTP had Labour 355 seats, Con 255, Lib Dem 16. AV had Lab 342, Con 255, Lib Dem 29. This doesn't mean AV automatically hurts Labour, it's just that Labour is in the lead in that poll, and AV hurts the leader.
Internationally, AV is in use in three national bodies. In the Fijian House Fijian House the largest party has 36 out of 71 seats. In Papua New Guinea the largest party has 30 out of 109 no majority In the Australian House the largest body has 72 out of 150 seats.
Why is AV better?
Coalitions are good
The current Coalition Government illustrates the advantages of coalitions. Despite dire predictions of gridlock, they have smoothly and effectively taken control of a difficult financial crisis. The Liberal Democrats have moderated the more right-wing ideology of the Conservatives. While some of the Lib Dem compromises have been traded for the Alternative Vote referendum itself, this is a one-off issue: in future coalitions without this bargaining point they will be able to negotiate harder for other policy points. Thus the current coalition is not a reliable indicator of how future coalitions will work.
Weakens over-powerful government
In the long history of British Parliamentary democracy, its admirable stability is clearly due to its adaptability. The dynamic unwritten constitution means that it is constantly being refined and improved. The Alternative Vote simply the latest refinement. In particular, the gradual reduction of the powers of the House of Lords has unbalanced our system. The Commons now finds it far too easy to rush through hasty, rights-abusing, bad legislation without proper scrutiny. By reducing the size of Parliamentary majorities, AV will slow down the too-rapid pace of legislation by requiring more cross-party collaboration.
The First Past the Post system is reasonably good at excluding destabilizing extremists from power. Alternative Vote extends this virtuous principle further. Since candidates need second, third, fourth preference votes too; they have an incentive to be as inclusive as possible, and will choose policies to appeal to the broadest possible base of support.
Coalitions provide continuity of policy
Because First Past the Post delivers a greater share of seats than of votes, it tends to produce wide swings on elections, transferring large numbers of seats from one party to another. AV will correct this tendency, allowing for much more continuity of government. Minority coalition partners may remain in power even if a majority partner changes, allowing for more continuity of policy. Ministers and MPs will have longer to acquire experience at their roles. Moreover, policies are less likely to be abruptly reversed.
Greater legitimacy of government
Alternative Vote will supply broad-based, consensus government; with more frequent coalitions; and reflecting a larger percentage of the votes cast. An AV government will therefore have a greater legitimacy in the eyes of the public.
The Alternative Vote is a perfect compromise between the weak government but high proportionality of PR, and the strong government but low proportionality of FPTP. I strongly urge everyone to vote Yes to AV!
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