Focus on: the AV referendum

On Thursday May 5, in the first nationwide referendum since 1975, 67.9 per cent of the UK's voters rejected a proposal to change the electoral system from first past the post (FPTP) to the alternative vote method (AV).

The referendum ballot papers asked whether AV, where voters are able to rank candidates in order of preference and have these preferences taken into account, should replace the current FPTP system, where voters are only able to support a single candidate and the one with the most votes wins.

DeleteMoveAdd imageI'm a Labour supporter and I'm not happy with FPTP. However, I voted against AV because although it might be good for the centre-left in this country, we have to divorce our opinions from party politics. An electoral system has to stand on its own merits. The fact that AV can lead to a third or fourth preference being valued the same as a first preference is simply not fair, and to my mind violates the key principle of equality of votes.

Teddy Nicholson

London School of Economics

Out of 440 voting areas, only 10 said Yes to the Alternative Vote. These included several London boroughs and areas with a high proportion of students, such as Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh Central. Overall, the British defied expectations with a surprisingly high voter turnout of 42 per cent.

The referendum was preceded by heavy campaigning on both sides. The No camp argued that AV is unfair because some people's votes count more times than others as third or fourth preferences can be considered on par with first preferences and because the candidate who gets the most first preference votes may not be elected. The anti-AV campaigners also pointed out that the current system leads to a stable and accountable government, while AV is more likely to lead to coalitions formed by back-room deals. They also argued that FPTP is easier to understand, and objected to the alleged £250 million cost of changing to AV.

DeleteMoveAdd imageI voted Yes to AV. I feel FPTP is no longer an appropriate system and AV would have been the right step on the way to real electoral reform. Clearly the rest of the country did not feel the same! I imagine the coalition will survive; clearly it is working for the Tories and the Lib Dems are far too weak to force an election now. Losing the AV vote will just reduce their bargaining power further.

Martha Mackenzie

University of Oxford

Meanwhile Yes campaigners pointed out that FPTP winners are often elected by a minority of votes - currently, two-thirds of MPs are elected with the support of fewer than 50 per cent of the voters. Pro-AV campaigners also argued that the current system discourages people from voting, as elections are decided by a small number of voters in swing areas where no one party dominates. In contrast, they claimed that under AV candidates have to work harder and reach out to a broader range of people.

The AV vote was particularly significant for the Liberal Democrats, for whom the referendum was a precondition for forming a government with the Tories after the 2010 election. However, there are worries that the referendum placed significant strains on the coalition.

Liberal Democrats have been upset with the conduct of the No campaign, which was primarily led by the Conservatives. The campaign has included personal attacks on Nick Clegg and, they claim, potentially misleading statements about the costs of switching to AV. Lib Dems were also displeased with the behaviour of David Cameron, who actively supported the No campaign through involvement in fundraising and by publicly arguing against AV.

DeleteMoveAdd imageI was particularly taken aback by the heavy campaigning on both sides. I strongly object to how much they were trying to sway people's votes, often with false arguments. I think the coalition will last for the next four years, although admittedly Liberal Democrats have been considerable weakened.

Alex Taylor

University of Bristol

The negative result, as well as a crushing defeat in the local elections, has left many Liberal Democrat MPs increasingly dissatisfied with their alliance with the Tories. Nick Clegg has spoken of May 5 marking a "new phase" for the coalition, in which his party would assert their policy positions more forcefully. The Deputy Prime Minister has already voiced concerns about the viability of NHS reform, threatening to veto it if no changes are made.

All in all, although the referendum has put visible strains on the coalition, most political commentators nevertheless believe that the two-party government is here to stay, at least in the near future.

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