Picture yourself in a restaurant. You decide to treat yourself and go for dessert, opting for your all-time favourite: the chocolate ice-cream. Or, if that's not available: the strawberry ice-cream, a close second favourite on your ice-cream wish list. The one thing you don't want is the banana flavour ice-cream. You've never quite understood it, and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. To your dismay, the waiter says, "I'm sorry Sir, the chocolate ice-cream is all out, you'll have to have the banana ice-cream"…"but you have strawberry left?", you inquire. "We do Sir, but I'm sorry Sir, your first choice isn't here so you're stuck with the banana. That's the way the system works. It's always been that way and we see no reason to change it now".
We don't always get what we want in life, but if we can't get our first choice, then it's probably preferable to get our second choice rather than something we really, really do not want.
This is basically what the alternative vote (AV) tries to do. We all get a first choice vote (as we do under the current first-past-the-post system - FPTP), but we can also list our second, third, fourth choices…and so on.
Now the question is, what sort of person would NOT want to have their second choice if they couldn't have their first? It's slightly bewildering I think. However, when you take a look at the list of politicians supporting the "No to AV" campaign, it's liberally peppered with old-school political dinosaurs from the left and the right (Margaret Beckett, Lord Falconer, Dr. John Reid, Ken Clarke, Baroness Warsi...and many more). And let's not forget that the ruling government is split on this issue. While the Lib Dems have long-campaigned for electoral reform, the tories are dead against it.
The conservative party; long-time supporters of giving people "more choice" - "We think people should have choice when it comes to their NHS treatment" or "we think people should be able to choose to which academy school they send their children", but for whatever reason, choice on the ballot paper is just plain wrong! The Tories have failed to articulate why choice is so good in some areas, but so bad in others. Of course, it is a beautiful gift of the Tories (and right-wing politics in general) to simultaneously hold contradictory beliefs in mind. And we'll have more on this in due course.
But in the mean time, wouldn't rather have the strawberry ice-cream than the banana? Who wouldn't?