The traditional Westminster electoral system under which the person who receives the most votes in the election becomes the Member of Parliament (First Past the Post FPTP) is simple to understand and has served this country well enough for many years.
Now everyone has been enfranchised (well almost, as the European dictat that UK prison inmates should be allowed to vote may prove unenforceable) one would have expected the FPTP system to be at its best and left to run undisturbed like a well oiled machine. However part of the coalition government compromise agreement is for the country to be allowed to consider an Alternative Vote arrangement instead. The referendum about this is to take place next month.
AV is more difficult than FPTP to fathom. My understanding is that for an hypothetical constituency where the votes cast are: 30% for the Conservatives 25% for Labour 20% for LibDems and 25% for the rest (ie several tiny groups) under FPTP the Tories would have it. Under AV, the second best votes of the rest would then be reckoned. If most of those went to Labour then the Lib Dems second best would be reckoned and if those LibDems whose second fav was also Labour had their votes applied then the second party, Labour, would be deemed to be first.
Of course the AV system will give rise to more nuances than the relatively straightforward one above described but that seems a reasonable example to suggest. If so AV to my reckoning is to democracy as fish fingers are to fish. Mackeral is to me a delicious tasting fish but to some its taste is too strong or texture too oily to be so acceptable. The very blandness of fish fingers on the other hand causes few people to decide strongly against them although many might eschew positively selecting them from a meal menu so fish fingers might be said to be a second best for quite a number of people.
Likewise a risk of AV I feel will be that of electing second best MPs with political views and characteristics verging on the bland. FPTP may well give excellent MPs but the price of tending to avoid blandness is that despite the excellent MPs there is also a greater risk of electing some dreadful ones under FPTP - not all fish are tasty.
So where to stand on the point? My own view is that striving for excellence and not accepting second best is worthwhile despite the road to excellence being a rocky one.
Hence FPTP at this time seems to me to be the better option though others' views are welcome especially before 5th May 2011 referendum date by which time second thoughts may apply - hopefully not second best ones.