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Sayeeda Warsi: AV voting referendum

Published on the BBC News Website, Monday 11th April 2011

Baroness Warsi says the public faces a “massive choice” on 5 May

A referendum will be held on 5 May on whether to keep the first-past-the-post system for electing MPs or to switch to the alternative vote. The BBC is asking a variety of people to give their personal view.

This referendum is much more than a choice between two counting systems.

This is about a fundamental British principle – the principle of one person, one vote.

Generations of British reformers have been inspired by that principle. They believed that because each person is equal, everyone should have an equal vote. It took many years for that principle to become part of our politics. But today it stands as the cornerstone of our democracy.

Look around the world and we see the legacy: 2.4 billion people use our voting system. It’s the most widely used voting system in the world.

So what on earth will all these people think if they turn to the mother of democracies after 5 May and find we’ve turned our back on all this history and brought in a voting system which no one understands?

My point is that AV could be disastrous for our democracy – for three crucial reasons.

Confusing and perverse

First, AV is unfair. With first-past-the-post, everybody gets one vote. But under AV, supporters of extreme parties like the BNP have more of their votes counted than those who back mainstream parties.

As I argued in a speech in London’s East End recently, this represents a serious danger, as candidates could end up pandering to extremists in order to win seats.

Second, AV is confusing and perverse – because the candidate who comes third can end up coming first.

Just imagine if we applied this rule to the Olympics. The British Coxless Four finishes first in the rowing – but they’re awarded the bronze medal. It’s a crazy idea.

Third, AV is a totally discredited and unpopular system used by only three countries in the world.

Even the “Yes” campaigners don’t actually want AV. Not so long ago, they were saying AV would do nothing to rebuild trust in politics. They called it a “miserable little compromise” and a “politicians’ fix”. They were right.

The simple fact is AV is wrong for our country. It’s wrong that candidates who come third can win elections. It’s wrong that your neighbour’s fifth choice can count as much as your first.

And it’s absolutely wrong that elections can be decided by the eccentrics who vote for the Monster Raving Looney Party or the extremists who vote for the BNP.

That’s why we need to pull together and fight for our democracy – and say no to AV.

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