Time for a change in Britain’s travesty of an election system

From: Graham Buttanshaw, Otley.

THE referendum on the alternative vote on May 5 is an important opportunity to take a stand for justice. In my view, the current voting system is a travesty of justice in what purports to be a representative democracy.

It is a travesty of justice that a candidate can be elected to parliament with just 30 per cent support from the people who turn out to vote. The candidate could conceivably be the least popular candidate for a majority of the voters and yet still be elected.

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It is a travesty of justice because it makes many people vote “tactically” – ie for someone who is not their first preference but who, it is believed, can actually win or stop someone else from winning.

We have seen this in my constituency of Leeds North West, where we are regularly canvassed on the basis that “only Labour or the Liberal Democrats can win here”. Therefore, they conclude, a vote for the Conservatives or anyone else is a wasted vote. That is deeply subversive to representative democracy.

It is a travesty of justice because it is strongly biased in favour of the existing political parties and therefore discourages the development of new political movements, such as the Green Party. Many people may have a real preference for Green policies, but they vote for someone else to make their vote count.

It is a travesty of justice when it makes people feel that their vote is not important, or won’t count. The result is that it excludes people and effectively disenfranchises them. No wonder so many people don’t bother to vote.

It is a travesty of justice because it promotes a political system based on confrontation and conflict rather than co-operation.

From: John M Collins, Sandhill Oval, Leeds.

HILARY Andrews (Yorkshire Post, April 5) says some sensible things about the absurd attacks on the Lib Dems and their leader Nick Clegg because, as junior partners in the coalition Government, they have not been able to fulfil their pre-election promises.

What is remarkable is how much the Lib Dems have been able to achieve in putting into practice many of those promises. It will not be long before we will be looking back and recognizing both their successes and how, by going into the Coalition, they helped to save us from the fate of Ireland.

However, Hilary Andrews says one thing which is demonstrably untrue. She says “AV will inevitably lead to more coalition governments”. Australia has had AV for 70 years without that effect. Among elections over the past 30 years in this country, only one, that of 1992, might have led to such a government.

That was when John Major scraped in with a narrow majority. I do not think that anyone would say the 1992-7 government, with its history of sleaze and sky-high interest rates, would be a good advertisement for the effect of first-past-the-post.

Our present system of elections, with nearly two-thirds of our MPs being elected despite more people voting against them than for, clearly “needs fixing”.

Furthermore, now that we have more than two or three candidates contesting each seat, our present system creates a real risk of extremist candidates slipping in with the support of little more than a quarter of the votes. That has already happened in council wards. The Green candidate in Brighton Pavilion at the last election was elected with only 31 per cent of the votes: 69 per cent of the voters preferred other candidates.

We really do need a change.