The NO2AV campaign have recently highlighted what they describe as a “superb letter” which was published by the Bristol Evening Post. In the letter, Conservative councillor Mark Weston said, “it would do nothing to change safe seats, as most of the safest seats in the country are won by an MP with over 50 per cent of the vote”.
Both Cllr Weston and the NO2AV campaign seem confused. AV is not suddenly going to magically turn the safest seats into three-way marginals and I doubt any ‘yes’ campaigners have suggested it would. Liverpool Walton, where Labour have a 72% majority, is unlikely to be won by the Conservatives any time soon even if AV is introduced.
However, the point is that it will, to some degree at least, reduce the degree to which all seats can be considered safe. It is important to realise that a seat being safe does not necessarily mean the incumbent party has extremely strong support. In safe seats other parties are unlikely to devote much time to campaigning knowing it would be a waste and in some cases a party may not even have a candidate standing which means supporters in that area aren’t able to vote for their preferred party.
In addition, where it seems clear which party will win a seat, it is likely that voters who support other parties may simply not vote and support for the incumbent could be boosted as voters choose to vote for the probable winner due to the bandwagon effect.
Any way in which safer seats can be made more dangerous for the sitting MP is going to be good for democracy. It encourages other parties to campaign and provide a real choice for voters whilst at the same time helping to ensure that MPs are really working for those they are supposed to represent.