AV referendum day is here

VOTERS across North London will take part in the UK-wide referendum today on whether to change the way we elect our MPs.

The referendum asks voters: “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 Conservatives want to retain the existing system – where the candidate with the most votes gets elected – and are part of the No campaign.

Their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, are pressing for the alternative vote (AV) – where a candidate has to have at least 50 per cent of the vote to win a seat.

Labour is split on the issue but leader Ed Miliband is part of the Yes to AV campaign.

AV supporters argue that it is fairer because voters rank some (or all) of the candidates on the ballot paper in order of preference – so they have more choice.

An MP can only be elected once they have secured 50 per cent of the vote. If this is not achieved in the first round, the last-placed candidate is eliminated and his or her second preference votes are allocated to the survivors. The process is repeated until there is a winner.

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Proponents of AV argue this will make it harder for MPs to have “safe seats” or a “job for life” – and that they will have to work harder to get elected.

Keith Moffitt, leader of the Lib Dem opposition group on Camden Council, and Conservative Swiss Cottage councillor Andrew Marshall have both pointed to the 2010 election result in Hampstead and Kilburn as evidence that the current system is flawed.

Labour MP Glenda Jackson was elected with a majority of just 42 and with 32.8 per cent of her constituents’ vote.

Cllr Marshall said: “When you have a situation, such as in Hampstead and Kilburn, where more than two thirds of those voting voted against the candidate, yet that person becomes the MP, it demonstrates the weakness of first-past-the-post.”

But others say that AV will lead to consecutive coalition governments, will cost up to �250million to implement and is overly complicated.

There is no threshold on voter turnout so the result of the referendum will stand regardless of how many people take part.

A poll on Tuesday night by ComRees put the No campaign ahead by 32 points with 66 per cent of those definitely voting expected to opt for first-past-the-post compared to 34 per cent for those voting yes to AV.

o The Ham&High will be at the Camden count from 4pm tomorrow and for updates on the progress of the vote, visit www.hamhigh.co.uk.