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UK: Britain Votes “No” to Alternative Vote System

The electorate of the UK has sounded a resounding “No” to plans for electoral reform in the constitutional monarchy.

13,013,123 said no to introducing the Alternative Vote System which would produce fairer results in marginal seats. This represents 67.9% of the total vote on the issue. 6,152,607 people voted for the Alternative Vote system.

For the foreseeable future, Britain will continue to use the “first-past-the-post” system which gives one seat in the lower house of Parliament to the regional candidate with the greatest number of votes. The upper house of Parliament and the executive are not elected in the UK.

For some, the proposals for the Alternative Vote system did not go far enough in providing a more representative and democratic governing system for the UK. Under the current “first-past-the-post” system, all votes which are not cast for the winning candidate are discounted. This means that smaller parties such as the Greens, who have considerable support throughout the country, seldom gain seats in the House of Commons, even though they may garner millions of votes nationwide.

19.1 million people voted on the issue, which saw a turnout of 42% – above the40% threshold which had been proposed as an amendment to the Bill by the House of Lords.

Interviewed by The Global Herald prior to the result, Andrew Heywood – a leading writer of politics textbooks in the UK, and an AS and A Level Chief Examiner in Government and Politics – commented on the turnout and the potential for future reform:

Andrew Heywood - British Politics Expert

“I doubt whether extraneous factors (bank holidays, the weather, etc) will have much of an impact either way. A ‘satisfactory’ turnout would only have been likely had the referendum coincided with a general election. A low turnout, possibly below 50%, would make a mockery of the referendum’s supposed purpose, which is to demonstrate public support for (or opposition to) a proposed constitutional change. But that, of course, is not why the referendum is actually being held. The absence of a turnout threshold for a referendum on constitutional reform is nevertheless regretable.

“There are big problems with the hopes that some Liberal Democrats have for the AV referendum to become a bridging stage in a longer term process of electoral reform – today AV, tomorrow ‘proper’ PR! If the most ‘modest’ form of electoral reform (AV) fails (for whatever reason), life may go out of the issue for a decade or more. Maybe there’s only one crack of the whip on this kind thing, in which case it seems a shame to waste it on AV, where the outcomes are, frankly, going to be little different from FPTP.”

When asked his own view on the “best” electoral system, Mr Heywood responded:

“There is no such thing as a best electoral system – they simply suit different purposes. That said, I prefer SV (used for London mayoral elections) to AV, on the grounds that voters only have a first and second preference vote (how much value is there in casting a 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th vote?), and, in the event that no candidate wins 50% of first preferences, the second preferences (‘supplementary’ votes) of all but the top two candidates are redistributed (ensuring that a candidate who comes 3rd in terms of first preferences cannot win the election; this also avoids the oddity of AV which is that, as the redistribution of votes starts with the least popular candidate, the election could be decided by voters who support fringe or oddball candidates or possibly extremist parties).”

Nick Clegg has not yet released an official response to the referendum result as he fire-fights the local election results which saw huge losses for the Liberal Democrats.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition government with the Conservative party, Nick Clegg has been at the forefront of efforts to reform the British constitution which is run on tradition and convention rather than on a codified system.

About Politics Desk

Politics Desk
Editors and staffers from the Politics Desk at The Global Herald.

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