Political reformers reflect on huge anti-AV referendum vote

By staff writers
May 8, 2011

Reformers say that the case for voting, parliamentary and political reform in Britain remains strong, despite the setback in the AV referendum on 5 May 2011.

Jenny Watson, the Chief Counting Officer and chair of the Commission, the independent elections and referendum watchdog, declared the full, final result of the first UK-wide referendum in over 35 years on Saturday 7 May 2011.

In response to the question: "At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead?" the number of votes cast in favour of "Yes" was 6,152,607 and the number of votes cast in favour of "No" was 13,013,123.

Ten of the 440 voting areas went fully in favour of AV - including Edinburgh Central, Glasgow Kelvin, Oxford, Cambridge and four districts in London (Islington, Camden, Hackney and Lambeth).

Many who campaigned for AV actually favour a fully proportional voting system, and are frustrated that the case for change got bogged down in details over a compromise - with insufficient pressure on the blatant injustices of the First Past the Post (FPTP) status quo.

Both 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns have drawn criticism, but particular ire has been directed at the 'No' campaign for what opponents say are demonstrably false and intentionally misleading statements - including a cost estimate that former government minister David Blunkett subsequently admitted was "made up", and attempts to suggest that the BNP would benefit from AV, despite their own opposition to it and clear evidence to the contrary.

The 'Yes' campaign will now hold an inquest into what happened, and ought not, some insiders say, seek to disguise its own failings.

But many political commentators say that the four biggest factors had little do do with in-fighting between the campaigns. They were Prime Minister David Cameron's strong intervention, the use of the poll by voters to deliver a 'No' to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, the split on the issue within the Labour Party, and evidence that when people are uncertain and have not been presented with a compelling vision for reform they reject change they do not understand.

Nevertheless, political reformers say that the case for change in Britain's voting systems, parliamentary structures and procedures, the second chamber, and wider political culture remains as vital as ever and will not go away.

"There needs to be a proper analysis of what happened on 5 May and during the voting reform debate. But the focus has to be on moving the case for change and 'take back parliament' politics forward," one campaigner told Ekklesia.

Ekklesia backed a 'Yes' vote in the referendum. It remains committed to political reform aimed at widening participation, deepening accountability, supporting change that favours people and planet over privilege and plundering, and challenging the monopolistic preponderance of large and wealthy political blocs and parties.


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.