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Alternative Vote Top-up

The Alternative Vote Top-up, or Alternative Vote Plus (AV+), is a voting system intended for use in elections to an assembly or legislature. Under AV+ most candidates are elected from single member constituencies under the Alternative Vote (AV) system while a small number of candidates are elected under the regional list system. AV+ is not a parallel voting system. Rather, as occurs under the Additional Member System (AMS), under AV+ seats filled from regional lists are so allocated as to off-set the disproportionality created by the single seat constituencies and to achieve a measure of proportional representation.

AV+ may be considered a variant of AMS, in particular the version which was introduced for use in Scotland, Wales and the Greater London Assembly in 1998, the same year AV+ was proposed. However, unlike most versions of AMS, AV+ is not designed to deliver a high level of proportional representation. Rather, under AV+ the number of candidates elected from regional lists is kept to a relatively small "top up" in order to grant an in-built electoral advantage to larger parties. AV+ also differs from most versions of AMS in that the constituency seats are elected by means of the Alternative Vote rather than the Simple Plurality ('First past the post') system.

AV+ was invented by the 1998 Jenkins Commission, which recommended it as a system for use in British general elections, but no action has yet been taken on that committee's recommendations. The Commission described the system as a "limited" form of AMS aimed at achieving a balance between the requirements of "broad proportionality" and "stable government".

Advantages

  • Could plausibly be accepted by a majority of MPs, whose own future depends on the First Past the Post (FPTP) system. (MPs will almost certainly never willingly vote for Single Transferable Vote (STV), which is said to be "liked by voters but hated by politicians" because it removes all safe seats.)
  • Would require relatively minor modifications to existing system
  • Would lead to a much more proportional result than FPTP, but would still give an inbuilt advantage to the largest party and allow one-party rule during landslide years
  • Would prevent extremist parties or fringe parties winning seats (by way of AV voting in constituencies)
  • Would lessen the problems of "split voting" and the necessity of tactical voting

Criticisms

From First Past The Post Supporters

  • It is more complex than FPTP for voters
  • It is too likely to lead to coalition government
  • It will lead to "two types of MP"

From STV Supporters

  • It isn't proportional enough
  • It is too likely to lead to one-party government
  • It will lead to "two types of MP"
  • The constituencies will still not be able to respect "natural boundaries" (although the top-up regions will)
  • It will not eliminate "safe seats"

From AMS Supporters

  • It isn't proportional enough
  • It is too likely to lead to one-party government
  • The top-up vote is too complex

Reaction in the UK

Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a statement, saying that the report "makes a well-argued and powerful case for the system it recommends" and that "it is very much a modification of the existing Westminster system, rather than any full blown PR system as practised in other countries." He also praised Lord Jenkins for his work and gave the recommendations a cautious welcome, pointing out in particular that change would help address the "complete absence of Conservative representation in Scotland".

However, leading figures in the Cabinet at the time (e.g. Home Secretary Jack Straw, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Chancellor Gordon Brown, Margaret Beckett, the Labour NEC) all strongly opposed any reform of the voting system, and effectively killed the chance of any change.

The report was welcomed by the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, although the Liberal Democrats remain largely committed to STV.

The report was heavily criticised by the Conservative party, with leader William Hague branding its proposals "a dog's breakfast".

See also

References

  • The Report of the Independent Commission on the Voting System
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