Saturday, April 30, 2011

Not voting in the referendum? What's the worst that could happen, eh?

Right, first ignore all that guff from the YES and NO campaigns about MPs working harder, losers winning, 50% to win, some people getting more votes than others, safe seats, Australian surveys, swing voters, more coalitions, 1951, the BNP, £250m, more choice, Papua New Guinea, blah blah blah blah...

Well maybe don't ignore that stuff completely: there are nuggets of good arguments in there. But they're oversimplified and oversold.

But if you want to know why it's not cool to miss the referendum, you need to understand what's wrong with the current voting system, First Past The Post (FPTP).

The best account I've found is by Dan Snow. It's 3 minutes long. You can afford 3 minutes, no?

Or to sum up Dan's point in a picture:

FPTP gives you coffee when 70% of you would prefer to go down the pub
(Sorry, I don't who created this picture. I'll credit them when I find out.)

So the problem is:
Under the current voting system a candidate is often elected even though most people prefer a different candidate.

So what? Why does this matter?

There are two reasons why this matters:
  1. It means that, over time, people get more and more disillusioned with democracy. Why bother participating in a democracy if it's common for the person elected as your MP to be less popular than one of the other candidates?
  2. In order to try to beat this problem, we've learned to vote tactically: "Don't vote for The Green Man (even though you prefer that pub). That's a wasted vote. You'll just let the Coffee Shop win." And so it is often rational to vote for a party that is not your first choice. Our votes are an attempt to second-guess how others will vote, to try to stop the candidate we hate. We're not free to vote for the candidate we really want, and so this again breeds disillusionment.
Our current crop of politicians have been successful under the existing voting system. Why should they want to change it?

Your current MP might be great. If so, you're lucky, and I can see why you might not care too much about changing the voting system.

But if you've ever wondered why so many people say "politicians are all the same", "they never listen", and "they're just in it for themselves", ask yourself whether this disillusionment with democracy is good for the country.

AV isn't perfect by any means, but it's better than FPTP. And if you don't vote for change on 5 May, it'll be no use complaining about "our awful politicians" ever again.

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