Alternative Vote is a valuable device in democratic process

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From: Michael Swaby, Hainton Avenue, Grimsby.

IN his role as an historian, my respect for Antony Beevor knows no bounds. Nevertheless, politics being different, it is quite proper to examine the arguments he uses in trying to persuade people to reject the Alternative Vote (Yorkshire Post, April 9).

The main assertion is that AV threatens the principle of “one person, one vote”. The allocation of one’s second preference is characterised as one having “a second vote” and Mr Beevor and others use this to assert that AV favours those voting for fringe parties, at the expense of those favouring mainstream parties. Let us briefly examine the consequences of preference allocation. The first thing that happens is that the candidate who finishes bottom is eliminated from the counting process. This is not advantageous to those who supported this fringe party.

Then, the second preferences (allegedly second votes) of those who voted for that person are examined and allocated to the remaining candidates as stipulated. If there is still no candidate with over 50 per cent of the vote, the process is repeated.

Major party candidates benefit as, at each preference allocation, their votes are increased until one passes the 50 per cent mark. In no way are their supporters losers.

A second preference is not a second vote; it is merely a device in a democratic process that will invariably lead to the election of a mainstream candidate, possibly the one favoured by Mr Beevor.

From: William Dixon Smith, Welland Rise Acomb York.

The principle of “one man one vote” mentioned by Professor Beevor refers specifically to the injustice of a law which allowed some people to cast two votes, most of the electorate having but one. I can’t believe that the Professor wishes to suggest that AV allows some people to have more than one valid vote, so we can dismiss that argument straight away. Admittedly, AV may lead to a demand for proportional representation, but this will be adopted only if a majority of the electorate wants it. In that unfortunate event, I hope even distinguished historians will accept whatever system is decided democratically.

I suppose no period of history is so familiar to the general public as that of the Nazi era, so people will be able to judge without prompting if it is reasonable to suggest that a modest change in our voting system will enable the BNP to overthrow Parliament and establish a one party state. Winston Churchill may have been “Britain’s greatest Prime Minister of all time”, but the passage quoted would hardly support that view. It is not an argument. It is not factual. Stripped of its rhetorical glitter, it is merely an opinion, and an interested one at that.

The mechanics of AV are easily understood. People do not require advice on that score. How it would work out in practice is anyone’s guess. If it turns out as badly as Professor Beevor predicts, then we should certainly be foolish to retain it. But if we do not have the courage to try it, how will we know?