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Historic electoral reform referendum in the UK

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Historic electoral reform referendum in the UK


Becoming part of the government in the UK has traditionally been seen as a largely unachievable feat for smaller political parties.

But Nick Clegg managed it.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats joined the Conservatives in May 2010 after David Cameron’s party did not get an outright majority. As a sweetener, Clegg was offered a longed-for referendum to change the current electoral system, which favours the two-party contest.

The current system is known by the horse-racing term “first past the post”. Voters choose one candidate and whoever has the most votes wins, even if there is no absolute majority.

There are 650 constituencies throughout the UK and this system has consistently returned large majorities and very stable governments. The current coalition is the first since the Second World War. But the current system also means smaller parties are marginalised.

Despite having 25 percent of the vote, the Liberal Democrats only have ten percent of the seats in parliament. Proportional representation thus became their battle cry.

However, the choice is not proportional representation, but the “alternative vote” system. This system allows the voter to list their choices in order of preference.

If no candidate gets a majority of more than 50 percent, then the other choices are added, boosting the total until someone does eventually win. The system has been in place in Australia for more than a hundred years.

However, the campaign for electoral reform has refused to excite voters, distracted by a series of public holidays and the royal wedding. Polls suggest more than 60 percent of those who vote tomorrow see no reason to change the system.

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