Why I will be voting Yes for the hopelessly inadequate Alternative Vote

Dr Faust suggests that I should write a post on the AV referendum. The was a debate last Friday evening in Brighton on the merits or otherwise of AV. Starring for the No campaign was the formidable Chuck Vere. I, sadly, was unable to be reunited with Chuck but from all accounts she has learned from year’s general election campaign and was the model of reasonableness and good humour.

But no matter how charming was Chuck, I will be voting Yes on May 5th, not because it is a great step forward in democracy. In fact, I think it is a very poor imitation of electoral reform, another sell-out by the dispicable Lib Dems. I don’t hold with the argument that it will make politicians work harder – most work incredibly hard already. I will hold my nose and vote Yes for the following reasons:

A Yes vote will indicate that electoral reform is possible;
AV when implemented will be inadequate and the call for proper voting reform will have gained momentum;
A No vote will be interpreted that people don’t want electoral reform and the chance of electoral reform will be lost for a generation;
A Yes vote will set Tories against Cameron, the Coalition and the Lib Dems – worth it watch the in-fighting;
A Yes vote will require politicians to reach out beyond their core vote and ensure that they don’t alienate supporters of other parties by attacking their political opponents.

Hardly a ringing endorsement for AV, I know, but a micro step forward is better than none.

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22 Responses

  1. No2AV have opened up a 16 point lead: http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/

    The electorate are starting to read the AV literature posted through their door and recognising what a ‘pig’s dinner’ would be the result of a Yes vote.

    You must realise this was just a sop (PR light) to the LibDems for going into coalition with the Torys. There are more important things to worry about right now.

    • Can I assume a ‘Pigs dinner’ was made of the Conservative leadership election, that was run using AV?

  2. Linda: the yougov poll still shows the campaigns neck and neck, so I wouldn’t get your gloating in too early.

    I agree with a lot of the blogger’s post, though I think he misses perhaps the best argument for AV, which is that it will eliminate the forced choice of most modern elections – the ‘vote for x to stop y’ syndrome, from whence come the dubious bar charts that fill up many an election leaflet.

    You will be able to give a first preference for what you really want, and order the rest accordingly. It is pretty self-evident that this system gives the individual voter more power and choice than a single cross.

    It will make more seats competitive, though I agree that the line that ‘it will make MPs work harder’ is banal. The Yes campaign has not been very effective, though at least they haven’t stooped to downright lies.

    You blame the Lib Dems – of course! – and while I agree that they should have demanded more, the Tories are the real roadblock here. As ever.

    I won’t be giving up and going home if the vote is lost. In that event, the first-past-the-post elections with skewed and undemocratic outcomes won’t be going away either, will they?

    • I can’t understand why we have to give preferences. I might just agree with only one party line, so why give succour to any other party?

      Most of the electorate feel strongly towards one party line, they don’t have a preference for up to 6, so I still feel the current FPTP system is the fairest and most honest outcome.

      • So you just vote 1 and then stop.

      • Linda: believe it or not, most people aren’t raving partisans! Most people are pretty sceptical of all ‘party lines’ and that includes many members of parties.

        So is it ‘fairest and most honest’ that the Lib Dems polled 22 percent of the vote at the last election and took 9 percent of the seats? Or that Blair got a comfortable overall majority on 36% in 2005?

        No other country in Europe uses FPTP and there is a good reason for that.

    • Just been tweeted: SunYouGov Poll today shows No2AV also with 16 point lead: 58% No, 42% Yes

  3. The beauty of FPTP is in its simplicity: the person with the most votes wins. Period. The same way as the runner who finishes first in a race is the winner.

    Why change it for an inferior, over-complicated system? AV would make it far more difficult to actually get the result that you want, would produce a system where the “least disliked” candidate wins, encourage bland politics and make politicians more afraid to speak their mind than they are currently.

    The claims of the Yes campaign that it would get rid of the safe seats are complete lies, as the safest seats would be those least affected by the change. I agree with you Baps, about the invalidity of their claim of AV “making politicians work harder”, as I think most, of all parties, already do work very hard.

    Another fundamentally unfair aspect of AV is the way votes are reallocated through the rounds, giving more say to the supporters of fringe parties such as the BNP, or in indeed in the case of 95% of the country, the Greens. Do we really want the supporters of the lunatic fringes to be deciding the outcome of our elections?

    Even for those who really support PR, but are voting for AV as a step in that direction, this is a false hope. AV will many cases actually result in less proportionate results than FPTP.

    I find the idea of voting Yes simply to make trouble for the Conservative Party, no matter how much some of you may hate us, quite irresponsible. Surely you should only support AV if you genuinely think it will be a better system, not just to make short-term political trouble by playing with the fabric of our democracy.

    To quote a recent Times editorial “saying no to AV is about stopping the current electoral system, for all its flaws, from being replaced by a worse one”.

    • Rob – you support FPTP for purely partisan reasons – why not just admit that? You don’t want voting reform of any kind because the current system gave the Tories 47 percent of the seats last time around, on 37% of the votes. This is not about fairness, or even simplicity – it is just about self-interest, pure and simple.

      Fun question for you: who owns the Times, and which party did he support at the last general election?

  4. Linda – the version of AV being offered here means voters are free to express as many or as few preferences as they wish.

    Rob – possibly not the best forum, or indeed city, in which to suggest that Greens belong to the lunatic fringes with the BNP.

    • If you look at the Green share of the vote nationally it is at a similar level to the BNP, of course I’m not suggesting that there is any further similarity. The Green Party represents left wing extremism, just look at some of the policies in their manifesto! Brighton & Hove is an anomollly in that they are a major player in the city’s politics, so I guess we are the exception that proves the rule!

      • At the 2010 general election the Green Party had half the votes of the BNP – contesting a similar number of seats. It’s strange how you can make an historic triumph out of such a poor result by focussing on just one seat.

  5. Thanks for the blog BPB. Having long believed in a more proportional system (simple natural justice really) I now find myself considering a ‘no’ vote as AV is such a poor solution, and it may result in further reform being off the agenda for the next decade. Having said that, the optimistic side of me will hopefully win over, and I can vote ‘yes’ without too many misgivings.

    Linda – you are not obliged to give any further preferences, so can just stick to your first choice.

    Clive – AV does not eliminate the vote for someone to stop someone else, it simply transfers it to the second choice rather than the first. If you are a Tory in Brighton Pavilion it would seem logical to vote Green as your second choice in order to stop Labour nationally, even if the Green Party politics are less acceptable to you.

    If you are a supporter of either of the first two parties, then any other preferences count for nothing, so why make one. I would prefer a run-off between the top two candidates.

    So the benefits are very limited – but still a step in the right direction.

    It would be interesting to consider what would have happened last year in Pavilion. If first preferences had been as people voted then it would have come down to the second preferences of Lib Dems and Tories. I suspect that Lib Dems would have split in Labour’s favour, but not by too much. However the Lib Dems split it would have been the Tories second preferences which decided it.

    Would they have gone Green second to stop Labour, or Labour to stop a politically less acceptable alternative? It would be interesting to see Labour and the Green Party actively canvassing Tories for their second preference next time round – because they are likely to be the ones that decide it.

  6. The one great advantage of AV is that it allows voters, wherever they live, to give their first preference to the party they actually prefer. Thus under AV a much truer picture would emerge of how many Green voters there actually are. The vast majority of potential Green voters at the General Election will have chosen to vote tactically for Labour, LibDems, Plaid or SNP, depending on where they live in the country.

  7. I’ve already had a go at this question on my blog – http://notesbrokensociety.wordpress.com/2011/04/18/political-reform-and-the-irrelevance-of-av/ – but in summary the problem I have with AV is that it simply isn’t electoral reform – it is no more than a baby step towards a properly proportional electoral system, and nearly all its benefits will be offset by the overall reduction in the number of parliamentary constituencies. And if there is a yes vote I believe that politicians will see it as the end, not the start, of a reform process.

    It does nothing to address the real crisis of democratic legitimacy I believe we have in this country – that the make-up of Parliament simply doesn’t reflect the way people voted. Coalitions may be inevitable under PR, but more representative and diverse Parliament would avoid the situation we have now of a Government pushing through a neo-Liberal agenda, under the spurious guise of economic emergency, which simply doesn’t reflect what people voted for. When did we vote to privatise the universities or the health service, or to eviscerate local government? And does the mainstream debate in Parliament – between deep Tory cuts now and slightly smaller, later, fluffier cuts under Labour really reflect the breadth of debate in the country as a whole?

    Electoral reform won’t open up the political system on its own, but it is a pre-requisite. I’ll probably vote for AV as it offers the small possibility of a marginal improvement, but it’s pretty irrelevant to the much wider political reform we need.

  8. Quite a few people on doorsteps have asked me if I can explain the Yes/No thingy.

    For a while I had thought that the Referendum might increase Local turn out, and it might in B and H., but I should not be surprised if in places where there are no Local elections, then the Referendum turn out will be very low.

    Meanwhile, one encounters the usual ranters about voting a waste of time, bunch of shysters ec etc., you know the type, those who think repetition is emphasis. And go back to telly.

    I then pointed to the glittering Channel, and said: look at it: beneath those waves, on the sea bed are the remains, the bones, of men who plunged into it seventy years ago, along with the metal that took them there, so that you would not be in a country where voting was banned, and worse. Those pilots could be walking here now, however feebly, but however enjoyably.

    The bloke thought he was being impressive in front of his girl, all macho, but I could from her eyes that she knew she could do better than him.

    • Clearly Christopher Hawtree’s judgement goes AWOL when confronted by an attractive woman. Perhaps Christopher Hawtree is the Blogger …..

      • I do not particularly recall what she looked like, but I do recall the doorstep last year where some bloke went on about doesn’t vote, politicans make no difference and all that. An infant of about one was at his feet. I said, politicans are concerned about school places, there’s a shortage and “perhaps you should think about that”. The bloke obviously hadn’t got a clue about schools, looked dumbfounded, and so one fears for that child’s chances.

        I’m not fazed when somebody votes otherwise, but the arrogant non voters simply do not grasp that they could upset politicians’ assumptions if they turned out and wrote “none of the above” on the ballot form.

        Perhaps Elgood, Paul will be changing his name to:
        Zed, None of the Above

  9. I’ve really struggled to make a decision with the issue as instinctively I favour a more proportional system. But this morning I put my X in the No box. The reason? For once (probably the only time I will ever write these words), “I agree with Nick”. AV is “a miserable compromise”.

    I fear for a political culture in which candidates will not really be “reaching out” beyond Party politics but will be trying to be as bland and unoffensive as possible in order to secure as many second and third preferences as possible. Hopefully I’ll be proved wrong if the Yes vote wins on that one but I’m not certain.

    Politics and Partys were criticised at the last Four General Elections for being too consensual in seeking the centre Middle England vote. How many times have we all heard the criticism “you’re all the same”? Do we really want blander candidates? Wouldn’t that discourage a candidate from inspiring voters with her/his convictions if she/he had one eye always on the potential for second/third prefernce votes and so curbed their enthusiasm and neutered their vision?

    I don’t buy the Yes campaign line of “this is a once in a generation opportunity and so if you don’t votes Yes, that’s it”. Face it – this is a once in a Coalition deal done by Cameron through gritted teeth to get the Fib Dems on board with the Coalition agreement (and at least the Fib Dems and their Liberal Party predecessors are consistant having campaigned for electoral reform for 50 plus years from Jo Grimond onwards).

    I know some will be motivated to vote No to give Cleggeron a a double headache – but that shouldn’t be a reason. The issue at stake is the biggest change to our voting system since universal suffrage under Lloyd George (if my history is correct).But it is also a fundamental change to our future political culture. Will it encourage politicians to genuinely “reach out” beyond narrow Party politics or will it be a race to the bottom to see who is the most bland and inoffensive? Ultimately only you can decide.

    • Craig: you have put your finger on a big problem with preferential voting – which is, would it lead to some kind of soggiest common denominator bland out?

      Still, what we have now is pretty much a race to the bottom, as all parties compete for a votes in a few key marginals and sod the rest. Can you really be so certain that AV is going to be worse than this?

      You are right that it will not be a the end of the issue if AV is voted down. This would be the rejection of a preferential system, not a more proportional one.
      Regional, county-based top-up MPs will be the best way to go in this event.

    • Craig – bland candidates will not get many first-preference votes, so they will be eliminated early on. AV would generally find a winner who is (a) not bland and (b) generally acceptable. FPTP can easily return a “winner” who is considered unacceptable to the majority of voters.

  10. The real issue is how to get more people engaged rather than disillusioned with politics leaving it to the activists to fight party credos.

    AV or FPTP? I await the turn out stats with interest, if there was no local election I doubt if more than a few people would actually turn up and vote if this was the only topic.

    Sad really.

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