Our successful leafleting day in Birmingham city centre back on 3rd January not only attracted some new supporters and a great response from those we spoke to, it also caught the attention of journalist Jonathan Walker who mentions our activity in a comment piece for the Birmingham Post. While we agree with Jonathan that the May Referendum this year might not be as wide-reaching as the Great Reform Act of 1832, we believe the need to change our voting system in 2011 is as important as it ever was – especially in light of the MPs expenses scandal, the fact that still two-thirds of our MPs are elected with less than 50% of their constituency and the skewed results at elections which happen time after time.
Here’s an excerpt from Jonathan Walker’s article:
Of course, the 1832 Act did not go as far as many had hoped, and did not end the process of reform. But it was a significant step forward and one example of Birmingham leading the national debate.
Now, campaigners for electoral reform are invoking the spirit of 1832 in a modern-day attempt to change our political system.
The Yes! to Fairer Votes campaign marked the start of the New Year by campaigning in Birmingham city centre alongside the statue of Thomas Attwood, founder of the Birmingham Political Union.
They are hoping to convince the public of the case for replacing our traditional first past the post system in time for a referendum taking place in May. A statement issued by campaigners says: “As in 1832, Birmingham is leading the way in driving for political reform”.
Jonathan Walker also gives a brief summing up of the arguments for, and against, the Alternative Vote system, but also gives a rather positive voters viewpoint of AV, while sounding a cautionary note about public interest in such matters:
From the point of view of the voter, AV does allow them to be honest about their preferences rather than voting tactically. If you want to vote for a party which has no real chance of winning, you can go ahead and do so, safe in the knowledge that your second choice is likely also to be counted.
But is this change radical enough to grab the public’s attention?
It remains to be seen whether the Reform Bill of 2011 generates anything like the same level of excitement as that of 1832.
However, we believe Jonathan is missing the real benefit of the Alternative Vote, by focusing solely on the change for the voter. Yes, it’s a simple change for voters – it’s as simple as 1,2,3. But the really significant change is the fact MPs will have to get 50% of the vote. MPs will no longer be able remain confident they’ll get elected due to a small proportion who vote on party lines – for the first time, MPs will need to ensure the majority of their constituency vote for them. This will make them work harder to listen to all their constituents – not just the ones who vote for them every election. For some MPs this will be no problem, for others it will be a massive reform to how they work.
This is a once-in-a-generation change. Jonathan might be right to ask how many get excited by voting reform, but most of the people of Birmingham want politicians to listen more and say ‘Yes’ for that reason.
You can read the full article by Jonathan Walker here