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Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman to campaign in favour of alternative vote

Voters go to the polls in May for the first UK-wide referendum since 1975 to decide if the way we elect MPs should change.

Voters go to the polls in May for the first UK-wide referendum since 1975 to decide if the way we elect MPs should change. Local government reporter BARRY GIBSON asks political figures in Huddersfield if they back the proposal.

HUDDERSFIELD MP Barry Sheerman yesterday revealed how he will vote in this year’s referendum on the electoral system.

Late last year the veteran backbencher was wrongly included on a list of 114 Labour Members of Parliament intending to oppose the alternative vote (AV) system.

But Mr Sheerman told the Examiner yesterday that he will back the proposed reform.

“There’s no doubt that it’s time to have a radical re-think of how we elect MPs in this country,” he said.

“I will be joining the campaign for AV and I will be voting for it.”

Mr Sheerman is concerned that the current first-past-the-post system allows many MPs to win their seats with a minority of votes.

He said: “I have won more than 50% of the vote in past elections, but I didn’t do so in 2010. To think that more than half the electorate didn’t vote for you is chilling for any MP.

“In the 1950s there was a two-party system – Labour and the Conservatives took more than 90% of the votes between them and nearly every MP won a majority of votes in their constituency.

“That’s very much changed now, there’s no longer that two-party dominance.”

Mr Sheerman believes electoral reform could encourage more people to vote.

He said: “I was dismayed at the very high percentage of people in Huddersfield who didn’t vote in the last election. I think AV would boost turnout.”

But Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney is backing the current first-past-the-post system.

The Conservative voted in favour of holding the AV referendum – but only through a sense of duty.

“It was part of the coalition agreement so I supported having a referendum on it,” he said.

“I will be voting against AV but I won’t be spending a lot of time campaigning against it, I think there are more pressing issues.”

Mr McCartney believes the current voting system is fine.

He said: “I think first-past-the-post has served us well for many, many years.

“Look at the Labour leadership contest, where second, third and fourth preferences skewed the result and Labour ended up with a leader the majority of MPs didn’t want.

“AV is more complicated for people to understand.

“There are lots of things we need to do to get the trust back in politics and changing the voting system isn’t even in the top 10.”

University of Huddersfield politics lecturer Dr Pete Woodcock believes the voting system needs reform – but he doesn’t think AV is the answer.

He said: “I don’t think it will make all that much difference to the current state of affairs because it’s not a proportional system.

“It just ensures that every MP gets a majority of the vote.”

Dr Woodcock believes a more radical reform is needed.

He said: “My deepest concern is that AV misses the point about democracy.

“Proportional systems are very good at choosing representatives and awful at choosing governments. We should directly elect the Government and then elect Parliament via a proportional system.

“Then we could have a Parliament which checks the executive and a Government which governs.”

The referendum has divided opinion within political parties.

The Lib Dems are backing AV, while nearly all Conservative MPs plan to vote against.

Labour appears more evenly split on the issue.

Party leader Ed Miliband will campaign for a yes vote, despite opposition from senior party figures like John Prescott, Margaret Beckett and David Blunkett.

ELECTIONS to the House of Commons are currently held under the first-past-the-post system, where each voter marks their ballot with a single X.

The candidate with the most votes wins – even if they don’t have majority support.

None of the Huddersfield area MPs took more than 50% at May’s general election: Dewsbury’s Simon Reevell won 35%; Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney took 37%; Barry Sheerman of Huddersfield won 38.8%; Calder Valley’s Craig Whittaker took 39.4% and Mike Wood of Batley and Spen won 41.5%.

On May 5, 2011 voters across the UK will be asked if they want to replace first-past-the-post with AV.

The system allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.

A candidate who wins more than 50% of first preference votes is elected.

But if no-one gets a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their supporters’ second choices are allocated to remaining candidates.

The process continues until one candidate wins more than 50% of the vote.

 

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