The Suffragettes and Parliament

As part of the programme of events marking the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Census, Dr Jill Liddington, Honorary Research Fellow at Leeds University, will be speaking today at Westminster on how women across the country responded to the suffragette invitation to boycott the census.

This reminded me of the battle for “one woman: one vote” and how hard campaigners fought for our current voting system. This led me on to the current debate about the referendum on the Alternative Vote system (AV). In this proposed changed system one person’s vote is counted once, but another person’s vote can be counted many times if they have voted for a candidate who comes in last or close to the bottom of the poll. As each round of vote counting goes on, the second and later preferences of this voter are counted again and again. Because the second and later preferences of fringe party voters are so important, large parties would have to consider how to appeal to such voters. This could lead to damaging consequences.
The principle of “one person: one vote” has been fought for and the battle won. Our voting system has been successfully exported around the World and it is the most widely used system. It is often called “First Past the Post” – the person with most votes wins.
You would only change such a system if something better was on offer. Yet AV is only used in three places Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia. It is unpopular. If you ask friends or relatives “Down Under”, they will tell you. One lady gave me her thoughts from Sydney:
“We and most of Australia don’t like it. To us it seems such an unfair way of doing things. The Libs got more votes in the last election but Labour got in”
When leading Lib Dem the late Roy Jenkins (Lord Jenkins) reported on voting systems, he rejected AV as unfair. AV is not a proportional system and it can lead to big fluctuations.

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