The AV referendum: decision time on a new electoral system

Yes or No on the Alternative Vote on Thursday 5th May 2011

On the last day of campaigning for the referendum on a new AV voting system the debate has turned to its impact on the black vote and other minorities. East London Lines speaks to Yes and No campaigners who are urging voters in Lewisham, Croydon, Tower Hamlets and Hackney to fill in their ballot papers tomorrow despite opinion polls suggesting there is going to be a low turn-out. The argument that the Alternative Voting system, described as preferential, will boost fringe parties has been used by both sides. Whereas No campaign supporters argue that AV will boost parties such as UKIP and the BNP, the Yes campaigners have claimed that AV will actually curb their power.

Simon Woolley, the director of Operation Black Vote in Bethnal Green, believes that the AV system will involve more people in the political decision making process. Operation Black Vote is not politically aligned but say that they are supporting the Yes campaign as democrats. “Democracy is enhanced when black and ethnic minority groups have a say within the democratic process”, Woolley says. “The Alternative Vote is a small but significant step in the right direction to ensure that our communities can play a role in British democracy.”

Although the idea of a referendum has not exactly excited the public, Simon Woolley hopes that people will  “go beyond the mudslinging” surrounding both campaigns and go to the polling stations tomorrow. Operation Black Vote feels that people from ethnic minorities are underrepresented in parliament and in the mainstream political parties. AV is not just about representing ethnic minorities but also a way to highlight the specific concerns of their communities.

Lewisham Labour councillor Jim Mallory however, supports the No to AV campaign. He does not believe that AV would  be more representative of minorities.

Unlike other representatives of the No campaign, Jim Mallory does not believe that AV would boost  parties such as the BNP. Fringe parties neither benefit from the current First Past the Post nor from an Alternative Vote system, he argues. Instead, they would favour the idea of Proportional Representation, he believes. “The idea that they’re voting for First Past the Post because they’re frightened of AV is nonsense”, says Mallory. He also disagrees with the Yes campaign claim that AV would “make your MP work harder.”

“I know politicians from all political parties who are extremely hard working. I also know politicians from all parties who don’t work particularly hard. I don’t think they’ll work a great deal harder if they were elected through a different system”, the counciller says.

Daniel Elton, the Managing Director of the political blog Left Foot Forward, believes that smaller parties, not extremists, will benefit most from AV. ” Smaller parties can build up regular voters, maybe they’ll do better in council elections. In the case of a small party, which is almost an extremist party, the extremism, being damaging under AV, trumps the fact that they’re a small party”, he says.

“[Those parties] would do badly, even though they’re small.” For Daniel Elton, it is therefore important to differentiate between parties that are likely to divide voters’ opinions and those that people may partially agree with.

Younger voters in the East London Lines area indicated that they were eager to cast their votes in the referendum.

Although not having the strength of an opinion poll survey, our reporter Joe Lyons found that these first time voters had strong views on the future of their electoral system.

Countdown to the vote: Londoners hold the key to vote reform, say experts, while MPs remain split

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