Off topic maybe, but the AV referendum is important

UKCIA is a single issue cannabis law reform site, so why is it carrying an advert for the “Vote yes to fairer votes” campaign?

This is a first. In the past for as long as I’ve run UKCIA the site has been very clear that it has only one agenda which is cannabis law reform. This has meant that although the blog has considered wider matters  from time to time, the main site has kept well away from other  issues. Over the years there have been a lot of pressures on UKCIA to include support for things such as the campaign against the criminalisation of magic mushrooms for example, or in support of ecstasy pill testing. Perhaps more controversially the site kept its distance from tobacco use, once so closely associated with the cannabis culture.

What’s so special about the fairer votes referendum that merits breaking this long held principle?

The first and most obvious thing of course it it’s a referendum, we all have a chance to influence what happens – we have the chance to change the way those who rule over us are elected. Actually this is only the second time we as a population have been asked our views on an issue (the other was the Common Market vote in 1975), that in itself makes it special. Make no mistake, this is a very important thing we are being asked to vote on and the lack of serious coverage in the media is frankly disgusting given what the move to Alternative Vote (AV) would mean for the workings of democracy in our country.

At the moment we use a system called “First past the post” (FPTP) to elect the people who rule over us. We get to put an “X” on the ballot paper once every five years or so and the candidate who gets the most “Xs” is allowed to help make the laws with shape our society. What this means in practice is very often the person elected does not have the support of the majority of those who voted.

Take what happened last time in my home constituency of Norwich South. From the BBC website the votes cast were

Simon Wright Liberal Democrat 13,960 29.4%
Charles Clarke Labour 13,650 28.7%
Antony Little Conservative 10,902 22.9%
Adrian Ramsay Green 7,095 14.9%
Steve Emmens UK Independence Party 1,145 2.4%
Leonard Heather British National Party 697 1.5%
Gabriel Polley Workers Revolutionary Party 102 0.2%
Majority 310

So Simon Wright was elected MP for Norwich South with just 29% of the vote, that’s not much over a quarter and less than a third. A full 71% of the people who voted in Norwich South did not express any support for having Simon Wright as their MP. Now I’ve met Simon a couple of times and he’s a decent enough guy – as far as I’m concerned a vast improvement over the previous MP, Charles Clarke who was last elected here in 2005 with a massive 37% support from the voters. Charles Clarke of course became Home Secretary and was no friend of cannabis law reform. Simon Wright was not democratically elected, neither was Charles Clarke before him because  most of those who voted wanted someone else.

Now there are many arguments against the idea of democracy, indeed against the whole idea of governments in general, but if we are to live in a democratic society then at the very least our MP’s should be able to claim at least 50% support from their constituents. What we have with FPTP is an insult, it produces a Parliament that we didn’t vote for and in far too many cases simply isn’t representative of the wishes of any sort of majority of the population.

Perhaps the worst aspect of FPTP though is it makes people vote against what they don’t want instead of for what they do, the so-called “tactical” voting. If voting in elections means anything it should mean voting for what you want; AV would allow you to do that. Under AV you can vote first with your heart, then with your head, you can vote for what you would like to see and then – if you wanted – to vote for what you would be happy to tolerate, and perhaps even for what you would be willing to put up with.

Is AV the best system for picking MPs? Many would argue that what we need is a form of proportional representation (PR) – AV is not PR and really only offers an improvement over what we have, but it is an improvement.

So please do go along to the polling station on May 5th and vote “YES” to fairer votes, if this one fails we will be stuck with the FPTP system for many, many years – we may indeed never get another chance to change things.

5 thoughts on “Off topic maybe, but the AV referendum is important

  1. It’s also a lot better for the LCA/CLEAR as a political party!

    FPTP causes vote-splitting which is terrible in itself. Because of this, people will vote tactically and likely not ‘waste’ their vote on the LCA.

    Under AV, LCA/CLEAR may still not get the majorities needed to win seats, but people can vote honestly for them – demonstrating public support and raising Short money (given per vote) for future campaigning.

    By showing that support, and with the ability to advise voters on which other parties are worth supporting on the basis of cannabis reform, a lot more pressure can be put on other parties to win the extra preferences of LCA supporters.

  2. You are absolutely right in showing your support for taking part in the fast approaching referendum on AV. This is something that concerns each and one of us, the citizens of this country. I do believe AV falls short, by a large margin, of the radical changes our electoral system requires. In this sense, it bothers me to think that it is highly likely that this referendum will foreclose future consultations on more comprehensive reforms.

    As of now, I am fearful that only a minority, if previous voting participation is anything to go by, will bother to vote. That would make the whole exercise meaningless and undemocratic. Even though I can see its drawbacks, I do believe voting should be obligatory. So, whatever our political conviction, it is our duty to go to the polling stations and make our opinion count.

    Gart Valenc
    http://www.stopthewarondrugs.

  3. Personal opinion – this will have nothing to do with getting cannabis law reform whether you vote Yes or No. I think it does a disservice to this site to include an argument that says voting Yes would further your aims. You have not demonstrated that voting Yes would encourage more candidates to take up the cause of cannabis law reform. If it is a perceived vote loser (especially if every voter’s opinion now counts more) then people will not support it. I feel Derek has been preaching to the converted somewhat on this issue but it is still giving false hope for change.

    Ditch the political sideshow – concentrate on demanding your Human Rights as cannabis users and getting this opinion accepted by as many people as possible and then the support of politicians and candidates will come eventually (irrespective of whether the AV system is used or not).

  4. Like David’s videos suggested: FPTP leads to a two-party system, in this case, where both of the two main parties have the same view on cannabis – that it should remain illegal.

    With AV, there’s less chance of these two parties getting into power, so there is more chance that there can be a change on the issue of cannabis policy.

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