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

With only three days to go until Thursday’s referendum on the alternative voting system (AV), experts say that London voters could play a crucial role in the result.

However, a lack of interest, or even awareness, of the AV referendum could mean that turnout among the capital’s 5.7m voters is as low as 15 per cent.

Unlike the rest of the country, London is not holding local elections to coincide with the vote on whether the country should change its voting system, meaning that fewer people are expected to visit polling booths on the day.

The Yes campaign believes that London’s young population could hold the key to winning Thursday’s vote, but many voters say that both campaigns have failed to explain what it is at stake.

Catrin Owen, a 19-year old student from New Cross, said: “Living in student halls, we don’t have TVs and don’t often read the newspapers so I don’t know much about it; if there’d been a bigger presence on Facebook that would have been useful.”

Eglel Gomaa, 38, a development manager from south London said: “I don’t know very much about it but I’m going to vote. I’ll be watching the news over the next few days and will listen to what the parties say. I’ll be taking into account what the party I support says.”

The Conservative party is backing the No campaign for Thursday’s vote, while their Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, are behind the Yes vote. The Labour party, meanwhile, is divided between the two camps.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Stoke Newington and Hackney North, has said she will be voting for reform. However, her Labour colleague and fellow Hackney MP, Meg Hillier, is widely reported to be in favour of keeping the current First Past the Post voting system.

During a debate at a sixth-form college in the borough last month, Hillier said she was “ambivalent” about the outcome of the vote, but urged young Londoners to make their voices heard whichever way they intended to vote. One in three people in her Hackney South and Shoreditch constituency are under 24, she said, and she rejected the stereotype that young people are not political.

“If you have strong opinions about something, that makes you political,” she told the BBC. “It is completely wrong that MPs should decide this thing for themselves.”

The Labour party’s split over AV is also reflected in Tower Hamlets, where Bethnal Green and Bow MP, Rushanara Ali, is backing the Yes campaign, whilst Jim Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, has joined forces with his Conservative rival, Councillor Tim Archer, to say no to AV.

“We were political opponents at the general election last year but we are united in supporting First Past the Post as the best, tried and trusted way to elect the next MP to represent Poplar and Limehouse,” the pair said in a joint letter.

However, in Lewisham there is a consensus among the borough’s three Labour MPs, all of whom back the Yes vote. Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge, Jim Dowd, is joining Joan Ruddock and Heidi Alexander to say Yes, despite recent research showing that he would have lost his seat to Liberal Democrat rival Alex Feakes if the last election had been held under AV.

Croydon, meanwhile, is clearly split along party lines. Conservative MPs Gavin Barwell, for Croydon Central, and Richard Ottaway, for Croydon South, will follow their party’s leadership in defending First Past the Post, with Barwell saying the new voting system is “confusing and more expensive” than the old system.

But Labour MP for Croydon North, Malcom Wick, who is for AV, pointed out that under the First Past the Post, many MPs have been elected with only one third of the vote.

“Surely to be an MP you should have more than 50 per cent of votes cast,” he said. “Why are the right-wing forces of reaction saying No? It’s easy – because a No vote supports an establishment status quo.”

Your guide to the referendum:

This referendum is taking place because the Liberal Democrats, who have campaigned for a change in our voting system for decades, demanded it as part of the deal which brought about the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government. Though the Lib Dem manifesto said the party wanted proportional representation (where the number of seats a party has in parliament is directly proportionate to the number of votes cast for them nationwide), they compromised and accepted a referendum on the alternative voting system (AV).

Under AV, voters list their preference of candidates, by putting 1, 2, 3, 4, etc, by their name, instead of just putting a cross by one name.

Unlike the current First Past the Post system, where the candidate with the most votes wins automatically, even if they only have a minority of voters behind them (say if they got 26 per cent and their rivals got 25, 25 and 24 per cent), AV requires a winner to have 50 per cent of voters behind them.

If no one has 50 per cent of the first preference (number 1) votes, then the second preference (number 2) votes of the candidate who came last are turned into number 1 votes. If still no one has 50 per cent of number 1 votes, then the number 2 votes for the next least popular candidate are turned into number 1s. This process is repeated, also taking into account number 3 votes if necessary, until someone has 50 per cent of number 1 votes.

The system is used in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, and a similar system, which only permits second preferences, is used to elect the Mayor of London.

Your views on Thursday’s referendum:

ELL spoke to people doing their bank holiday shopping at Sainsburys in New Cross, about their views on Thursday’s crucial vote:

Stella Rossetti, 49, unemployed:

I hadn’t heard of the referendum. I don’t normally vote because the same parties always end up winning. If this new system makes it easier for small parties then I might vote for it.

Creola Samuel, 29, administrator:

I have heard of the referendum but I know very little about it. I don’t see how it affects me.

Sean Lindholm, 28, student:

I’m quite new to politics but I realised this vote was an important chance to have our say, so I asked some friends who were better informed and from what they say, I think I’m going to vote Yes.

Danny West, 23, student:

I’m going to vote on Thursday, and I’m going to vote Yes – because the Tories are voting No.

Alia Sayed, 47, lecturer:

I know about the referendum but I don’t know which way I’m going to vote. I’ve had the leaflets through the door but haven’t read them yet.

Jesse Roberts, 21, student:

I’ve never voted before because it always seems like politicians come from one group of society. It seems like the new voting system might change that so I may vote Yes.

James Honslow, 34, banker:

I will be voting and I know which way but I don’t want to say. My partner is persuading me to vote Yes. She is from Australia and says that AV works well there.

Rosie Chester, 57, teacher:

I’m voting Yes because I’ve long thought that the voting system needs to better reflect people’s preferences. AV is a compromise but it’s better than what we have now.

Comment: “Break the Tory Establishment once and for all: Vote Yes to AV

Leave a Reply