A Simpol take on BBC’s “Any Questions?“ – 1/4/2011 (part 2)

The System Versus The Strategy

By Sarah Beaver, Simpol supporter and blogger.

The third question discussed on last week’s „Any Questions?“ was whether the panel considered that the Alternative Vote (AV) will serve democracy better than a first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system.

The current voting system that is used is FPTP, in which the candidate who gets most votes wins, even if these votes consist of less than 50% of all votes. This leads to large parties having safe seats and being over-represented without having to do much work to gain votes, leaving small parties under-represented. FPTP may lead to people using tactical voting if they know that their vote will be lost anyway, leaving no chance for small parties to grow.

With the AV system, the X next to the candidate is replaced with a number, giving people the freedom to vote from favourite to least favourite. This gives people more say, and in the end it is the candidate that has the support of the majority of people (over 50%) that gains the seat. With this system in use, candidates will have to work harder in order to gain more than 50% of the votes. It can be said that the AV system is still an FPTP system, but that a higher number of votes is required.

In last week’s “Any Questions?” panel it was argued whether the AV would be really able to make a difference, whether it is cost efficient, whether it will actually give more power to people and whether it will eliminate safe seats.

With Simpol being adopted by more and more candidates, the type of voting system being used will not make a major difference as it will be the voting strategy that supersedes the voting system. When adopting Simpol, you would automatically let your MP know that you will only be voting for them if they adopt the Simpol Pledge and that you are willing to vote for any candidate (within reason) who has adopted the Simpol Pledge. This means that politicians will feel pressured because they know that they will be losing votes to the politicians who have already adopted the Pledge. Politicians will feel this pressure regardless of the voting system being used. Once all politicians have adopted the Pledge, which party is voted for or wins will not make a major difference since they would all have simultaneous policies on board – ensuring global change and thus local change.

However, in the early stages of Simpol, AV may make a minor difference and may speed up the adoption of the Simpol Pledge by candidates. This is because under AV, candidates will have to seek extra votes (because they need more than 50% of the votes) and the power of the Simpol voting block will be increased accordingly. MPs will need to adopt the Pledge since a block of voters who would potentially vote for them might be just enough to tip them over the 50% first preference vote. For adopters AV would mean that they can vote for their first preference candidate who has adopted Simpol and can also use their lesser preferences for those candidates who have adopted Simpol but who are not in their party preference. For candidates who haven’t adopted Simpol, AV would mean that they would be pushed by Simpol adopters to Pledge since votes gained via Simpol adopters could be enough to tip the 50%.

Even though an AV system may speed up the process of Simpol, I still believe that rather than finding a system that is more democratic and gives more voices to minority parties, it is more important to tactically make use of the current system, since AV outcomes are uncertain.

We need to be aware that the problems we are facing today are global and that a change in voting system will not make a big difference. Regardless of which voting system is being used and whichever politician is being voted for current problems will not be solved either way. The government remains helpless to make changes due to global economic competition. So instead of promoting a certain voting system, it is more important to spread awareness of Simpol and its voting strategy. Through Simpol’s voting strategy more and more candidates will be pressured to adopt the Simpol Pledge, making the effect of choosing any particular voting system negligible. It is, however, not wrong to vote for AV since it may speed up the process of Simpol. But either way, the strategy will filter through the system.

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