The debate, organized by Mrs Josephine Jones (a musician, Local Preacher in the Sherborne & Yeovil Methodist Circuit and Parish Councillor for Yetminster & Ryme Intrinseca) in conjunction with Fair Votes for Dorset, was to help local folk to understand the argument for the Alternative Vote and find out what the Referendum for Fair Votes in May is all about.
The speakers were: Graham Watson (MEP for the South West and
Gibraltar), John Strafford (Chair of the Conservative Campaign for
Democracy), David James (Electoral Reform Society and Lib Dem on AV),
Richard Nicholls (CPRE and West Dorset Labour Party), and Paul
McIntosh (North Dorset Green Party). There was also representation from Fair Votes for Dorset and literature available.
All representatives were in favour of reform, but gave us their take on why reform is needed from their point of view.
David James gave us an overview (or warm-up as he put it) on the difference between FPTP and AV. He explained that although the question that will be asked on 5th May might sound simple i.e “Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the ‘alternative vote’ system, instead of the current ‘first past the post’ system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?”, but that in fact if you did not know how these systems worked it would be difficult to answer. He went on to give us examples using West Dorset, Norwich South and Oxford (East and West) as examples.
Paul McIntosh gave us the Green’s viewpoint and explained that as a Green choices are natural, for instance whether goods are local, farmers’ have been paid realistically for their produce etc. So why should making a choice between candidates be any harder to rank rather than just putting an ‘X’?
Richard Nicholls told us that Labour had put AV forward in their manifesto at the last General Election and that having grown up in London and been a TUC member for many years he was very much for the progress of democracy and making electing a government more democratic through the ballot box.
John Strafford gave us an interesting history lesson of how AV has been passed, and passed over by Parliament many times over the last century, facts of which can be found in his book “A Fight for Democracy” and why actually the Conservative Party should back AV. He looked at how different age-groups split on for/against AV and that pensioners on the whole were FOR AV and that as the average age of Conservative Members was 68… He also explained that Party Leaders are all elected by a form of AV and even that Boris Johnson was elected to represent the Conservative Party for Mayor of London by AV. FPTP was devised and works for two-party politics but the Whigs and Tories have long gone. Another advantage, he added, is that two thirds of the seats will become marginal. This will stop the practice of one man, Lord Ashcroft, financing 100 Conservative marginal seats and the trade unions doing the same for Labour.
Graham Watson gave us his point of view as an MEP. He felt it was strange that there was something he could agree with UKIP on, but that was the only thing he could agree with UKIP on. Being an MEP, he was elected by Proportional Representation. He addressed the usual No to AV arguments about cost, hung Parliaments, that AV would be difficult to count without a machine and other Countries that use AV.
There were then questions from the floor.
A mock election was held, using local film titles, to illustrate how AV worked and the counting system used.
In all it was a very interesting evening and one that I felt gave the people it was aimed at a good overview but also good reasons to say YES to AV.
(Please note that the points highlighted above from each speaker are not from transcripts and only represent a portion of what each of them said)