If we’re going to change the voting system, why not go a step further and make voting compulsory?
This was the question posed by MP Roger Godsiff (Lab Hall Green) in the Commons recently.
Mr Godsiff is a rarity at Westminster. He is one of the few people who actually supports the coalition Government’s planned reforms to the electoral system.
Legislation currently making its way through Parliament will give us a referendum on the Alternative Vote system, which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.
But the Tories actually oppose this change, and want to keep the current first past the post system, while their Liberal Democrat partners want to see a full system of proportional representation introduced instead.
The only party that went into the last election backing the Alternative Vote system was Labour – but this was widely seen as an attempt to pave the way for a deal with the Lib Dems.
Funnily enough, enthusiasm for voting reform has diminished significantly on the Labour benches since Nick Clegg joined forces with David Cameron.
But Mr Godsiff is an exception. He’s long been a supporter of the Alternative Vote system – regardless of anything the Lib Dems do – so he spoke up in favour of reform in the House of Commons.
And he urged colleagues to go further.
He said: “I very much regret the fact that the Government, despite their saying that they are being radical, have not been prepared to be even more radical; they could have not just proposed that there should be a referendum on changing the voting system to AV, but had another question on the ballot paper asking whether people wished to have obligatory voting in the United Kingdom.
“That happens in Australia, which also uses AV for its House of Representatives.”
One advantage would be that more people would register to vote, he said, even though registration is already compulsory in theory.
Some of us might object that we should be free to make a principled decision not to vote if we want.
But Mr Godsiff has an answer to that. We’d still be entitled to leave the ballot paper blank, rip it up or scrawl obscenities on it, if we chose – as long as we turned up at the polling booth.