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Yes to AV: why all socialists, workers, youth should back change on 5 May

Tomorrow will see the second referendum in British history and the first ever on electoral reform.

All socialists, trade unionists, students, all campaigners against the cuts, privatisation, war and racism, should vote “Yes” to AV and “No” to the current undemocratic electoral system.

Why should socialists and workers vote yes?

Socialists support the widest possible extension of democratic rights within capitalism, to broaden as wide as possible the field on which the workers can challenge and resist the bosses. We want to use democratic rights not to help rescue the system but to help overthrow it, to “win the battle of democracy” as Marx put it.

Therefore we are against the current system of First past the Post (FPTP) which is very undemocratic. Under FPTP – an ancient system inherited from feudal days which predates the right of workers to vote – the votes of millions of people who vote for the second or third placed parties in each constituency do not affect the proportion of MPs from that party in Parliament . That is why, alongside fighting for the abolition of undemocratic institutions like the monarchy and the House of Lords, we want to see a system of proportional representation, in which the votes for each party nationally are added up and the seats in Parliament are divided between the parties on the basis of their share of the national vote.

A No vote in tomorrow’s referendum is a vote for FPTP. But proportional representation (PR) is not on offer, because Lib Dem leader Clegg compromised on his promise to push for PR as an alternative system.

AV is not as democratic as PR but better than FPTP. It allows greater choice, will create a parliament more closely reflecting the views of the voters, and will open greater opportunities for the formation of a radical anticapitalist working class party to the left of Labour. In short it is more democratic. So socialists should back it while pointing out its limitations and continuing to fight for PR.

What’s more democratic about AV?

Simple – voters get more choice. Instead of just voting for one candidate in your constituency, you get to put down your preferences for any candidates you support. For example, a voter could vote 1: Socialist and then 2: Labour.

The candidate with the lowest vote is eliminated and only then are second choices added up in a recount. The second choices of the voters for the eliminated candidate are then added up together with the first choices for the others. This continues until one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote.

That means candidates don’t get in with less than 50 percent as they often do under FPTP.

Doesn’t AV stop the winner from being elected?

No, this is an outright Tory lie. It just stops anyone being declared the winner who is backed by less than 50 percent of the voters. No wonder the Tories hate AV – they are a declining party that stands to lose loads of seats and be weakened still further over the decades ahead if it gets through.

Is a vote for AV a vote for Clegg?

No, it is a vote for a change to the voting system. Of course Clegg will lose face a crisis if AV loses – but Cameron will gain in strength. Imagine the effect it would have if the Tory PM lost the referendum. He would be destabilised, losing support within his own party. That would strengthen the prospects for the resistance to the cuts.

On the other hand, if out of hatred for Clegg workers and youth vote “No” then Cameron will be vindicated and will be stronger in his party and more confident in his vicious attacks on the working class.

Is AV an attack on one person one vote?

No – this is nonsense spread by Tory historians to confuse people. Under AV all votes are counted in all rounds. It is just that the voters for the eliminated candidate have their second preferences counted alongside everyone else’s first preferences.

Won’t AV make coalitions permanent by forcing all candidates to appeal to the centre?

No more than capitalist politicians already do under the existing system. Again, this is a cynical argument by Tories who are trying to capitalise on hatred for their own government in order to secure their future support.

The Tories are in decline historically – that is why the two party system is breaking down. And while we hate the Lib Dems more than anyone else, socialists have no desire whatsoever to defend the two-party system. Why? Because we want to build a leftwing alternative to Labour and AV would help us. A new left party could gain first preference votes from voters who would otherwise vote Labour for fear of letting the Tories in. Those voters could then put Labour second.

Is AV complicated and expensive?

It is no more complicated than X-Factor and everyone understands that perfectly well. AV is used in lots of trade union elections. And the Tory leadership are elected by AV!

As for expense, 1) it is not expensive and 2) that should never be an argument for limiting democratic rights. After all, elections would be cheaper if we limited the number of voters, but no socialist would support that. And even if extra money needs to be found, socialists don’t support spending cuts but say it should be taken from the banks or the rich.

So why are some socialists calling for a No vote?

Because they are putting what they think will be short-term advantages in a “No” victory ahead of the longer-term interests of the working class as a whole. Marxists call this opportunism.

All the arguments that the Pro-“No” left have put forward are either incoherent or opportunist.

They say a “Yes” vote is a Clegg vote – without pausing to think through what that logic means: that they are voting for Cameron?

They say a vote for AV will make it harder to get PR – as if the victory of the less democratic status-quo wouldn’t discourage and set back all movements for electoral reform for years.

They say change could make coalitions more likely, without realising that this is at root an argument against PR too, an argument for a two-party system and therefore against the prospects of the working class building an alternative to the sell-outs of the Labour Party.

The No Left – most notably the Socialist Workers Party and its offshoot Counterfire – are displaying deep opportunism on the AV question. No wonder the SWP was divided on the issue with a substantial section of its membership wanting to back a “Yes” vote.

By putting short term goals before democratic principles, the “No” Left show that they cannot be trusted to respond to political developments by asking themselves the question every socialist should start with: what are the general interests of the working class here, and how are they furthered or set back?

Even if it were true that a “No” vote would damage the Coalition more than a “Yes “vote – and it is certainly not true – in the long run this is not the main concern. Far higher comes the future voting system of British capitalism and how it favours or impedes the formation of a real party of the working class, one that can fight not just for the fullest possible democratic rights within the system, but for a revolution to overthrow it and replace it with a workers’ democracy based on recallable councils of delegates from every working class community and a democratically planned economy.

• Also read: Why socialists should vote yes in the Alternative Vote referendum

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