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Could AV mean a fairer deal for the world’s poor?

30 January 2011

LCID is not endorsing either campaign in the upcoming referendum on voting reform, however, we recognise that many people are. In this guest post, Stephen Doughty, Former Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for International Development, writes for the Yes to AV campaign about why he is backing the change.

Make trade fair, drop the debt…say yes to fairer votes?

It’s not the most obvious thing that comes to mind when putting together a list of things we could do here in Britain to help make a greater difference for the world’s poor, oppressed or marginalised – but there’s a closer link than might at first be obvious.

Our voting system is at the core of how we function as a democracy here in Britain, and determines what issues parliamentarians and governments see as important, and ultimately prioritise.

In simple terms – making votes fairer will mean a stronger voice for those who care about global issues like poverty and climate change.

The current electoral system unfortunately helps to encourage a lowest common denominator type of politics.
Issues like the economy, crime and public services will always dominate our political debate for a number of reasons – but the electoral system as it stands also ensures that our elected representatives and candidates often have little incentive to respond to other passionately held concerns about global issues such as poverty, injustice, human rights and climate change, unless they find themselves in a highly marginal race, or when a candidate is personally motivated.

Under the fairer alternative vote system, candidates in elections will have to listen and respond to the concerns of engaged citizens and campaigners in order to win.

Candidates would need to secure at least 50% support of local people to win an election, including getting second and third preferences to help them over the finish line, if they did not win outright on first preferences.

This would be a big change from the just one in three votes that in many seats put them in power today.

It means that candidates will have to work harder to win the widest range of support and listen to people who care about global issues, in order to secure their second or third preference which might help them to get elected. Whether a candidate is willing to back fair trade, a global deal on climate change, or maintaining our aid promises – could make the difference for many when deciding how to place their second or third preference vote. And a fairer voting system also punishes those candidates who take extremist positions.

A fairer voting system also importantly means that tactical voting is no longer needed. You will be able to vote for the candidate you think has the best policies on global issues like tackling poverty or climate change, without worrying that your least favoured candidate might benefit from your decision.

If your favoured candidate doesn’t win, you will have still have impacted on the result by picking others in order of preference, perhaps based on their record on global issues – and punish those with strongly opposed positions.

So what would be the result? And why does this matter? Essentially – it means that the next House of Commons would be filled with more people, who had to think more widely when getting elected about their positions and attitudes to global issues.

They would have had to listen to campaigning organisations and committed individuals more than ever in the past. And the net result should be a more outward thinking and globally aware set of parliamentarians forming the next government – and ultimately British policies which make a difference for poor and marginalised people globally.

But I also think there is another reason.

Global campaigning organisations have often been at the forefront of the fight for better political systems in some of the world’s poorest and most fragile states – from the fight against apartheid to support for the Burmese democracy movement. Or in other countries fighting for a greater voice for ordinary people with those who are elected to govern.

We thankfully live in a democratic country, with significant freedoms, liberties, checks and balances – far from the challenges that many sadly still face today in the world.

But that doesn’t mean we should sit back and be satisfied with a system that could be even better.

Making votes fairer is about being part of a global movement to ensure the concerns of ordinary people are better heard in the political system.

And it could help make global concerns feature even more strongly in the agenda of the next Parliament and Government.

That’s why I am backing the campaign.

To find out more and to sign up to support the campaign – visit http://www.yestofairervotes.org

 

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