The Independent View: Why I’m voting Yes to AV – Simon Woolley

I was a little surprised to be invited to be guest speaker at the Liberal Democrat spring conference last week. But the surprise was not because I’m supporting the AV Yes Vote. After all, I am vice-chair of the campaign.

It was rather because party bosses are well aware of my criticism after the main conference last September. My beef with them, expressed in the Guardian and other places, was a result of the party’s failure to do something positive about its lack of BME political representation.

Of course, I wasn’t there to talk about representation. But I did anyway. The day before I spoke delegates had passed a motion to help the party move forward.

Measures include: guaranteed spaces on selection list; financial support; mentoring and training; forming a package that should make a substantive difference to both women and BME individuals in the party.

The fact that the party will also engage in a recruitment drive encouraging BME communities to join will help ensure the Party begins to look more like the people it seeks to serve. It would surprise few that I would have wanted ‘all BME’ short-lists to be implemented, but it seems it just isn’t the Lib Dem way, yet. But thankfully, other things are.

At a time when the party is facing some of its greatest challenges it is important to give credit where credit is due. For example, in my opinion, Nick Clegg’s multiculturalism speech is the most profound the deputy prime minister has made to date. And to do so in Luton sends out a very clear message: The Lib Dem’s value diversity, and equality. Moreover, more of the latter delivers greater social cohesion.

But AV was the subject I was asked to speak about. Frankly, I relished the opportunity. Why? Because I’m democrat, and an activist driven to achieve greater social and racial justice. To me, it beggars belief why those who purport to treasure democracy would not want it strengthened. This will be achieved by more of the electorate having a stronger political voice.

All parties are acutely aware that elections held under the first-past-the-post system are decided by 150 seats or less. Last time round our election was decided by less than 2 per cent of the total vote. Yep, less than one-fiftieth of the vote. There can be no doubt that AV will vastly improve this figure.

I am astonished at just how low the No vote campaigners will go to win this vote. Former Labour minster Caroline Flint said launching the Labour No vote that the ‘Yes vote would assist the BNP’.

Foreign secretary William Hague and, further down the political food chain, Cllr Terry Paul spouted the same rubbish. A cursory glance on the BNP website clearly states: ‘Why the BNP will urge its supporters to vote No to AV’.

Why would Hague, Flint and Paul spout the opposite? Scaremongering? Whatever the reason, it’s disappointing. For the BNP’s limited success has come from low political turnouts, either at local level with first-past-the-post or at an EU level with proportional representation.

I’ve asked the Yes Vote team not to get into gutter politics. I’ve told them to talk about people being empowered; black and white, young and old, gay and straight. This will give them a strong voice about the public services and other areas they care about. Above all I’ve argued that if you want a stronger, fairer democracy, we have to say Yes to AV.

Simon Woolley is Director of Operation Black Vote.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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  • Old Codger Chris 24th Mar '11 - 9:20am

    @Dave Page
    I’m interested in your post as I think the opposite, ie. that proportionality is more important than preferential voting, which doesn’t impress me.

    We can’t prevent the BNP winning seats if they get enough votes – it’s a wake-up call to the major parties that a section of the electorate at the bottom of the heap feels (rightly or wrongly) that they’re ignored – stirred up by certain newspapers of course.

    However, the BNP wouldn’t have won seats in the European Parliament under d’Hondt if the Euro constituencies weren’t so huge, electing 6 members in the case of one of their successes and 8 in the other. Such huge areas tip the balance too far in favour of proportionality as against representation of voters.

    The same applies to the top-up system on the London Assembly, where the BNP also won a seat. 11 top-up members are elected across the whole of the capital and (regardless of whether the BNP might have done well in an east London only top-up) I think an 11 member list is undemocratic, especially when it’s a closed list.

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