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Enhancing our democracy

Simon Woolley on boosting black representation

In early April outside the 'mother of all parliaments', Westminster Operation Black Vote (OBV) joined forces with Billy Bragg and other democrats to launch a 'yes to fairer votes poster' that highlights the BNP want a 'no vote'. 

OBV is a non party political organization,  but not surprisingly we hold strong political views. Fighting for social and racial justice we have always viewed democracy as a strong tool for delivering greater justice. We have held strong views for example in support of  'all women' shortlists and 'all BME' shortlists. These views  haven't always been popular but we have argued that it is in the democratic interest to have them. Not everyone agreed with us on those points, which is the same in regards to the Yes to AV vote. But that's politics.  However, it's important to set out why this organisation has taken the position to say 'Yes to AV'.

Social and racial justice

Ideological and philosophical consistency is important in politics. From a core set of beliefs and values everything thereafter follows. We at OBV are proud to be rooted to a set of values that are based within a democratic principal that strives for social and racial justice, but also a principle that has equality at its very heart.

During the 1990s OBV was a project within the democratic reformers Charter 88 and the Black think tank The 1990 Trust. It was argued back then that radical reform of our democratic system would wrestle power away from a minority and give the vast majority of UK citizens a greater voice. We are proud that we were involved in that early movement. The devolved democratic institutions in Wales , Scotland , and Northern Ireland have been notable successes for reformers. Changing the voting system to one that is much fairer has always been a goal for reformers too.

Although OBV left Charter 88 to become an independent organisation that would work within the democratic process to achieve greater social and racial justice the ideological connection that demands reform has never left us.

Enhance our democracy

Therefore, when presented with the Yes to the Alternative Vote (AV) proposition that will enhance our democracy by ensuring that many more votes will effectively decide who wins parliamentary seats and ultimately who governs the country, it really was a no brainer. Surely anyone that values the democratic principle would rail against a system that largely ignores the vast majority of the electorate.

The AV system that demands the winning candidate obtain more than 50% of the vote will mean that even those politicians who thought they had 'safe' seats will have to think again. By definition, the less safe the seat is, the sitting politician, candidates and their parties will have to work that much harder to ensure the widest possible support. Surely that can only be good for democracy?

Killing the myth

The poster launch was about killing the myth and half truths in regards to the BNP supposedly supporting the 'Yes' to AV vote. A  cursory glance on the BNP website clearly states where they stand: 'Why the BNP Will Urge a 'No' Vote in the AV Referendum'. One can only speculate why the 'No vote' campaign would peddle such a blatant lie. 

I would argue the reason why the BNP do not want the Yes to AV is because they would not be confident of getting 50% support any electoral constituency. BNP success usually comes from low voter turnout either at local elections with 'First Past the Post' or low turnout in EU elections under proportional representation.

Ultimately the success of AV is not about any political party or its leader but about enhancing our democracy for everyone.  By saying Yes to AV on May 5th we help ensure our democracy is equipped to give many more millions of voters a powerful voice in how the UK is governed.