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Alternative vote

Mary Southcott argues if AV was good enough to get Ed Miliband elected we should support it.

In his first Leader's speech to Conference, Ed Miliband said:...
'Let's be honest, politics isn't working. People have lost faith in politicians and politics. And trust is gone. Politics is broken. Its practice, its reputation and its institutions. I'm in it and even I sometimes find it depressing. This generation has a chance - and a huge responsibility - to change our politics. We must seize it and meet the challenge. So we need to reform our House of Commons and I support changing our voting system and will vote Yes in the referendum on AV'.

The understanding of Alternative Vote is still poor, despite and now because of its use in Labour's internal elections. Despite the 'No to AV' badges all over the Conservative Conference with their leader pledging to campaign for a No vote, many Labour status quo supporters use the same arguments about the loser winning. Some of David Miliband's supporters went back on previous AV support following the way the results showed David pipped at the post by the final transfers of those who had voted for Ed Balls.

There are two separate issues. First is the electoral college which weights the vote of individual politicians much more than ordinary members and Labour members more than trade union and other affiliated society voters. This can be defended as the legitimate system that was agreed before the elections started or in terms of inclusion of the wider Labour movement and Labour supporters who may be closer to Labour voters than individual Labour members. Some are ex- or potential Labour members.

The second point is the raison d'etre of an AV election, the whole purpose of which is to find the candidate who can command the majority of the electorate. First we need to agree that people vote differently under AV than they do under first past the post. Essentially by the end of the AV ballot the only candidates in the field were the two Milibands. Had this been a first past the post election, any vote for Ed Balls, Diane Abbott and Andy Burnham would be a wasted vote. Under FPTP you have to decide whether to vote for one of the two front runners or you decide to cast a vote for a candidate who it seems cannot win.

This choice is made by Labour supporters in every seat but particularly squeezes the Labour vote where Labour is in third place. Those living in marginal or majority Labour seats may not see the dilemma. Precisely by voting Labour in those seats where LibDems are competing with Conservatives, they usually hand over the seats to the Conservatives, as may very well happen at the next election unless AV is won in the Referendum.

Ed Miliband won because overall more than half the electorate voted for him. It is quite possible some politicians voted for what they thought would be the better leader, but often even with the electorate people vote for a front runner because they want to vote for a winner. There were many surprising supporters of Ed rather than David whose politics do not seem different but whose style does. The slogan that Ed 'gets it', listens, learns and believes that democracy is important won out over David's experience and performance. A need to put a line under all those Blair/Brown briefings and books, seems to have helped elect a largely unknown outsider.

After the Leader's speech on the Tuesday of Labour Conference, the Party was already coming together, healing the past and looking forward with optimism. That was the context in which Neil Kinnock said we had the Party back. 'Altogether now' didn't work in 1992 but there's every chance it could when the Coalition goes to the country in 2015, if and probably only if. we have won that AV?Referendum next May.