Full transcript | David Cameron | Speech against AV | Hampshire | 18 April 2011

"AV would be wrong for Britain."

It's great to be here today at the launch of a campaign that is important to the future of our democracy.

And I am happy to share the stage with John [Reid]. Now, I don't think John will mind me saying: we don't agree on much. But we do, absolutely, agree on this.

AV would be wrong for Britain.

It is obscure, unfair and expensive.

It will mean that people who come third in elections can end up winning.

It will make our politics less accountable and it would be a backward step for our country.

And that's why John and I are sharing this platform today.

We're part of a wide coalition of people...

...from across political parties and from none...

... seasoned campaigners and people who have never been involved in political campaigns and...

...sportsmen and women, scientists and historians...

...young and old...

...who have come together because we are united and agree about one thing:

Britain should say No to AV.


In a moment, John will go through some of the problems with AV as he sees it.

First, let me tell you how I see it.

Too often debates about AV or other voting systems are less like political arguments, and more like scientific discussions, where people get lost in a language of proportionality and preferences, probabilities and possibilities.

Of course, some of these things are important.

But for me, politics shouldn't be some mind-bending exercise.

It's about what you feel in your gut - about the values you hold dear and the beliefs you instinctively have.

And I just feel it, in my gut, that AV is wrong.

There are three big problems with AV that strike at the heart of how I believe our democracy should work.

First, I believe power should lie with the people - and AV would take some of that power away.

Second, I believe there should be real accountability between the pledges politicians put in their manifestos and the action they take in government.

AV would damage that chain of accountability.

And third, I believe in the principle of one person, one vote.

And AV will mean the votes of some people get counted more than others.

Power, pledges and principle.

Let me take each of those in turn.


First, power.

In a healthy, strong and robust democracy, power lies in the hands of the people, not political elites.

People vote politicians in.

Politicians are responsible for what happens.

If things go wrong, people should be able to make politicians answer for it.

And if the people don't like the answer, they can kick the politicians out again.

I will always remember May 1997. I suspect John will too.

Yes, as a Conservative, the sight of the removal vans in Downing Street and John Major having to walk away was painful.

But I admit: it was right.

The last Conservative government had run out of steam, it was time for change - and our voting system helped deliver that change.

I would argue the same goes for 1979.

I'm just old enough to remember Labour being booted out of Number Ten and Margaret Thatcher coming in.

gain, the government of the day had had its day, and our voting system helped to get rid of them.

It's simple, it's decisive, it doesn't mess around.

In a few short hours your vote in the ballot box can lead to the packing box outside Downing Street...painful words for a Prime Minister to say but true and that is the beauty of First-Past-the-Post.

One problem with AV is that it makes all this more unlikely.


Because it is not as decisive as First-past-the-post.

Indeed, if the last election was under AV, there would be the chance, right now, that Gordon Brown would still be Prime Minister.

Ok, the last election was not decisive in terms of who won.

But, I think, it was certainly decisive in terms of who lost.

And I think any system that keeps dead governments living on life support is a backward step for our democracy.


The next big problem with AV is about the pledges politicians put in their manifestos.

The more people see a clear link between the pledges in a manifesto and the action taken in government, the greater the sense of accountability.

And the real, unavoidable truth about AV is that it would damage that chain of accountability...

...because it makes coalitions much, much more likely.

Now, it won't surprise you to hear me say: coalitions in the right circumstances can be a good thing.

Our system has delivered coalitions when they're needed for national unity - in two World Wars and during the Great Depression.

Usually a result like last year, with one party just twenty seats short of an overall majority, would have led in our system to minority government.

One of the reasons it didn't was because of the scale of the economic challenges we faced.

I would argue that, once again, our system rose to the occasion.

So if I could wind back the clock eleven months I would do exactly the same as I did then.

But let's be clear: while a coalition in exceptional circumstances is one thing and I would agree a good thing...

...more frequent coalitions in all circumstances is quite another.

That would have a damaging effect on the responsibility politicians feel for the pledges they make to the public.

Let me explain why.

When we were fighting that election, this time last year, I had a personal stake in every single policy in the Conservative manifesto.

Everything in its pages was clear, costed and, in my view, doable.

I signed my name on that manifesto and I took ownership of every single pledge in it because I knew that if we were to win the election outright...

...which I sincerely hoped and believed we could...

...then I would be held accountable for each one of those pledges - and quite right too.

But can you just imagine how differently politicians would act if they knew the greatest likelihood was a coalition with another party?

On every occasion, they may start to put things in their manifestos that sound good but they can't deliver, because they know that in a coalition they will not be made to answer for them.

So, I believe, this is what AV would give us:

Power with less responsibility.

And pledges with less accountability.


The third problem with AV is about an important principle of our democracy.

It's the principle that because each person is equal, they should have an equal vote...

...the statement that when it comes to electing those who lead us, we each have an equal say and an equal voice.

We call it: one person, one vote.

And this isn't just the cornerstone of the British voting system.

It is a principle which is respected across the world.

Whether it's India, the world's largest democracy or America, the world's most powerful democracy...

...people the planet over have been inspired by the principle: one person, one vote.

But if Britain votes for AV, that principle will be thrown out the window.

The proponents of AV believe it increases fairness - it doesn't.

Indeed there is an unfairness at the heart of it.

It means rather than everyone's vote being counted equally, some votes get counted more than others.

If you vote for a mainstream candidate who is top of the ballot in the first round, your other preferences will never be counted.

But if you vote for a fringe party that gets counted, but then knocked out, your other preferences will be counted.
That means some people can get two, three, four, even five bites of the cherry.

It means the second, third, perhaps even fourth vote of someone who supports the Monster Raving Loony Party can count as much as the first vote of someone who supports the Conservatives - or the Liberal Democrats or Labour for that matter.

This is unfair, it is wrong and it flies in the face of centuries of our history.

We have to keep our political system fair, equal, truly democratic...

...we cannot destroy the principle of one person, one vote.


So this is my message to the British people.

Yes, this referendum is about the voting system we use.

But it goes much further than that:

It's about the kind of country we are, about the democracy we have.

It really is very simple:

If you want a system that lets you, as the Americans say, 'throw the rascals out'.

If you want a system that makes your politicians accountable.

If you want a system that enshrines the principle of one person, one vote.

You must vote on May 5th, and you must vote No to AV.

The biggest danger right now is that Britain sleepwalks into this second-rate system, waking up on May 6th with a voting system that damages our democracy.

We must not let that happen.

So we've got to get out there and fight, and get out there and win.