In the 2010 General Election only 56% of registered voters in Newcastle Central voted. And many residents of the city did not bother to register. For me, this is further proof that there needs to be change to refresh and reinvigorate our democratic system. A representative democracy cannot function if people do not vote.
So when I assess the Alternative Vote system the key question for me is : “Will it encourage democratic participation by those who are currently disenfranchised?” A separate but related consideration is “Is it a fairer system?” A fairer system should encourage more democratic participation because more people will feel their vote is important.
After considering AV in some detail for many months I have come to the conclusion that AV will not encourage further democratic participation and that it is not fairer. I will therefore be voting against AV in the forthcoming referendum.
There are many factors which have helped me reach this conclusion but I shall just mention two here.
· Canvassing on the doorsteps of Newcastle I meet many constituents who tell me they are not going to vote. Some volunteer that they are ‘non voters’. One little girl in Blakelaw told me that voting ‘wasn’t normal.” Clearly it did not happen in her family.
The main reason constituents give for not voting is: “Voting doesn’t change anything.” No-one has ever mentioned the voting system. I do not believe that changing to what is a more complex system would encourage large numbers of non voters to vote.
· The second main reason is the degree of fairness associated with a system which enables some voters to have ‘two bites of the cherry’ and others only one. I know there are theoretical justifications for this, but, intuitively, it does not strike me as fair.
Churchill called democracy the worst form of Government apart from all the others that have ever been tried. I have come to the conclusion that First Past the Post is the worst form of democracy – apart from the others being proposed. I do support reform of the political system, including voting, but it needs to be simpler and fairer than AV if more people are to use it,
I recognise that many supporters of AV genuinely believe it will encourage greater participation and that it is fairer and I respect their position. My experience talking to the people of Newcastle has led me to the opposite view: I will work to represent the people of Newcastle which ever system the country chooses.