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North West gears up for Alternative Vote referendum

Posted on - 22nd February, 2011 - 9:00am | Author - | Posted in - Campaigns, News, People, Politics

The Alternative Vote stand in the shopping centre

The campaign urging Preston to vote “yes” in the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum received a boost at the weekend, when the Yes to Fairer Votes group visited St George’s Shopping Centre.

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Cllr Bill Winlow, who represents Preston West and took part in the event, said: “The more people are educated the more likely they are to vote ‘yes’.

“There have been four opinion polls; three of them show the campaign in the lead.”

The fourth poll, conducted by the YouGov website, shows the “no” campaign in the lead by one per cent, with 39 per cent of public support.

Britain will vote on whether or not to adopt AV on 5th May.  Under the system, voters will be able to rank parties in order of preference.

Second and third preferences will be counted if a person’s first choice is eliminated after the primary vote count.

Andrew Hewitt, regional media manager for the No2AV group, told Blog Preston: “We don’t have the immense funding of the ‘yes’ campaign.

“We’d love the millions of pounds that are being thrown at it to produce plastic dinosaurs, but we’re more focused on getting the idea out than on the gimmicks.”

Mr Hewitt said one reason the “yes” group had more funding was its support from the Electoral Reform Society – despite the latter having supported other more proportional voting systems in the past.

A step forward

But Mr Winlow said AV could be seen as a step toward full Proportional Representation.

Mr Hewitt rejected this, saying: “Why bother?  If you want a more proportional system, why didn’t that get put on the referendum?”

Supporters of AV say it is fairer than the existing First Past the Post system, allowing more people to have a say in who eventually wins.

But Mr Hewitt said there was no requirement under AV that voters would select more than one preference, which could mean little change in the outcome of elections.  “If you are going to invent a system that asks for preferences, you should compel people to preference,” he said.

“Why would you spend millions of pounds to invent a system that doesn’t require any major change from what we’ve got now?” he added.

Accountability

Mr Winlow said the threat of losing or winning on second or third preferences would make politicians more accountable – whatever the final outcome of an election.

“No MP can be absolutely sure of what will happen next time,” he said.  “They are going to have to work harder to keep constituents informed and happy.  You never know what people are going to be doing with their second vote.”

Mr Hewitt dismissed this idea, saying: “Good MPs are good MPs.  Criminality is criminality.  In Australia [where a version of AV has been adopted], we still have corrupt MPs, MPs going to jail, MPs in sex scandals.  These things aren’t owned by First Past the Post.”

Some see the AV referendum as the Conservatives’ main concession to the Liberal Democrats as coalition partners.

Asked whether the “yes” campaign would suffer from the Lib Dems’ falling popularity in opinion polls, Mr Winlow said: “I question the opinion polls, frankly.  What I am seeing in local election results is rather different from what we are seeing in opinion polls.”

No2AV has no plans for stalls in Preston, but representatives from both sides will attend a debate in Manchester on Saturday 12th March at the Friends’ Meeting House.

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