AS a regular reader of your letters pages, I am particularly interested in those letters where I agree with some of the content but disagree with the rest. Such is the letter in your edition of April 6 from Bob Barnes.
First of all, he attacks both the Alternative Vote and proportional representation. He sets up two very weak arguments in favour of AV and then knocks them down with the dismissive comment: “if it ain’t broke, don’t mend it.” I have never heard the supporters of AV argue that we should have a change just because it is different, but because it is better.
It makes Members of Parliament more accountable to the electorate by requiring them to have the support of at least 50 per cent of those who vote. Despite the misleading statements made by some national politicians, it retains the principle of one-person-one-vote. The clue is in the name, Alternative Vote, which enables your one vote to be transferred to an alternative if your preferred candidate stands no chance. It also ensures that nobody’s vote is wasted and will remove the need for tactical voting.
With the present system anyone who supported, say, the Green Party or UKIP and had a candidate from their party standing where they had no hope of winning would have to decide whether to vote according to their principles and risk their most objectionable candidate being elected or to vote tactically to try to stop this happening – not a good thing for democracy.
With AV that person can rank the candidates in order – it is as simple as 1, 2, 3 – hardly advanced maths or logic.
As for the suggestion that AV would dramatically increase the cost of elections, this is rubbish. Even without the use of computers I would expect it to add just an hour or two. Anyone who has been to a count will know that the greatest time is taken in counting and verifying the number of ballot papers in each box, not tallying up the votes for each candidate.
Every change is always attacked by the opponents of progress. It is certain that those who opposed universal male suffrage and then women’s suffrage also said something like “if it ain’t broke, don’t mend it”.
Moving on to proportional representation, we should not assume that it will be a list system as it is with European elections where we vote for a party rather than the candidate.
The best form of proportional representation is known as STV, or the single transferable vote. It is the same as AV but in constituencies or wards with more than one representative to be elected. It enables the voter to choose both between parties and between candidates in that party, rather than leave it to the party apparatchiks.
This is where I agree with Bob Barnes that a proper STV PR system would be appropriate for local elections. Most of the wards for Huntingdonshire District Council have three councillors, and the wards for town and parish councils have even more.
He is absolutely right in suggesting that political parties have problems in finding enough dedicated candidates, and they make it worse for themselves by insisting on putting up a full slate. Their reasoning is that, if they only have six candidates where there were eight seats in a particular parish or town ward, the two “spare” votes would go to another party’s candidates.
Also, as any study of politically fought ‘all – up’ elections in multi-member wards will show, there is very little difference between the highest and lowest votes given to the candidates for any particular party. This block party vote makes it difficult for truly independent candidates, who also lack the financial and manpower resources of the parties’ to stand in these huge wards.
Like Mr Barnes, I feel that we should be represented by good dedicated local candidates rather than those who stood to complete their party’s slate but do not really want to be elected and are often dragooned in from other towns and villages.
The problem is that they may be elected at the expense of a good candidate who wants to be elected.
Often this happens because of national opinion swings which have no relevance to local issues.
As an example, for I know that it is not unique, in the elections for the town council for Huntingdon East we have 25 candidates for eight seats, eight each for the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties, and one Independent. Of these 25, four do not even live in Huntingdon (two in Godmanchester, one in Brampton and one in Warboys), which I consider to be completely wrong, even though it is perfectly legal. I have not checked how many of the 21 who live in Huntingdon do not live in the ward.
In my view we need to:
1. Vote “Yes” to change our Parliamentary Voting System to AV.
2. Encourage truly local candidates to stand in Local Elections.
3. Have smaller wards for parish and town councils.
4. Call for STV for future local elections.
This may help rescue our dying democracy.