Saturday, August 28, 2010

Second preferences and beyond

Reading the Labour leadership 'you ask the questions' in today's Independent I came across this interesting question. "If you were forced to choose, which other candidate would you recommend your supporters to make their second preference? "

It's a good question because the answer tells you something useful about the candidate both politically and in terms of how open and honest they are prepared to be. Sadly the responses only told us that two of the candidates are brothers and the other candidates don't have the gumption to answer the question.

It's not a question that is only going to be faced by Labour leadership candidate. If AV is introduced for the next general election then every Parliamentary candidate in the country could well be asked a similar question and it's worth considering how candidates should approach it.

In Australia where AV has pretty much bedded down, having been introduced in 1919, every party issues a 'voting card' often after hefty negotiations with other parties. As you can see here sometimes parties give a detailed list and others they just give the top preference. Unlike the Labour leadership candidates Australian politicians do not shy away from the idea that some rivals are politically closer than others.

Despite the fact that sometimes candidates even tell the electorate to ignore the party's voting card locally, and bloggers put out their own versions (and obviously voters are free to vote how they like) these cards seem pretty influential not just in determining who wins close contests but also helping to define where parties stand on the political spectrum.

For instance Labor's comprehensive voting card (pdf) which details every candidate running in the country shows that they second preferenced Adam Bandt, the first Green MP, in Melbourne. Likewise the Greens recommended second preferences go to Labor in the same seat even though they were our closest rivals.

This seems pretty grown up to me.

I was really pleased that at the last London Mayoral elections the Greens backed a second preference for Livingstone, and on the doorstep it really did feel like it made some sort of difference in an election that is won or lost on second preferences. I'm also pleased that this is not a long term arrangement so that if Labour selects Oona King we can stick our fingers up at them - I'm certainly intending to.

That doesn't mean there's always an obvious second choice, but I really don't get those who refuse to answer on principle.

I'm in the Greens because, among other things, they want to liberalise immigration controls, they oppose the wars, oppose privatisation, want to tackle climate change and have an understanding of life that's not dominated by capitalism. Other parties will be closer or further away from those policies and so it's understandable that I'll have sympathy with some rival candidates and want to ensure others are not elected.

What's wrong with admitting that?

More to the point, if we do get AV, every party will have to decide what their approach is to second preferences. I hope that those who refuse to suggest how they'll be voting will be punished by the electorate as close minded tribalists who can't work with other parties.

It would be nice to think that politics can be a little bit more upfront than the Labour leadership candidates are prepared to be at least.

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