Thursday, February 17, 2011

Can we have alternatives to the AV campaigns please?

In my continuing attempt to shake off any remaining readers I've decided to use this space to come out against both the yes AND no campaigns on the referendum for AV. I mean I'm difficult to please at the best of times but the both of them seem to delight in parading false information, vapid slogans or just generally seem to be talking to themselves.

If we start with the no camp we have people who tried to demand a 40% turnout requirement despite the fact that they are perfectly happy with councillors, MEPs and MPs elected on any turn out at all - and of course these were people in the Lords who weren't even elected but think they have the right to run the country.

The fact that they are proud of this undemocratic motion fills me with disdain.

We also have their campaign saying the cost (which they claim is £250 million, although their full article shows they have no idea what the figure might be really) would be better spent on other things. Their video shows one gentlemen suggesting we could use the money on tax cuts. Well that's less than £5 per person over a year - I simply can't imagine what I'd spend my forty pence a month on, the possibilities are limited.

The no camp have a series of posters saying things like "He needs a bullet proof vest not an alternative voting system", "she needs a home help not...", "she needs a maternity unit not..." etc. I have to say they've made that invented £250 million stretch quite a way haven't they! The fact that this also appears to be an argument cancelling all future elections seems to have escaped them, but hey ho.

The main problem with the cost argument is that they seem to be including the cost of the referendum itself, which they are clearly encouraging people to take part in. They're fighting yesterday's battle and hoping we wont notice.

William Hague wrote to me today and said that AV was unfair because "supporters of extreme parties like the BNP would get their vote counted many times, while other people's vote would only be counted once."

Which is a deliberate attempt to imply it makes the election of BNP candidates more likely even though AV is actually stacked against minority candidates. As Rupert Read points out the BNP are campaigning against AV for that very reason.

Jo points out Labour are little better than the Tories and seem to be arguing that it's the number of Labour MPs that get elected that determine how democratic a system is. I keep forgetting how alienating I find tribalism and then up pops john Prescott to remind me.

But what of the yes camp? What have those blighters been up to? Well, for a start this week they decided to hitch themselves to the Royal Wedding. A spokesperson said "around the wedding it will be a coming-into-summer, more optimistic, more of a yes mood," That's another reason to vote against then as it's spitting in the eye of Clegg AND the royals - bonus.

And of course they've been telling us to "follow your heart", or in other words stop thinking about it. Simon from Bristol tells us "Lately it seems like people have fallen out of love with politics. We were out on the street at the weekend to make shoppers the best proposal they’ll get this year; to love their vote". That's the best proposal the good people of Bristol will have all year? I'd heard it was a miserable place but Christ alive it's worse than I thought.

Just for the record my heart tells me to vote no, but my head is still open to persuasion. When people tell me to follow my heart I tend to think "Interesting, I wonder what they don't want me think about too hard?"

In this case I assume it would be the fact that AV embeds the idea that only those with majority support should get representation in Parliament - the polar opposite of the kind of system I believe in, where every party is represented according to the proportion of the electorate that supports it. My system says 10% of the population should have the kind of representation they want - AV, of course, says if you can't win 50% of the vote you'd better learn to lump second, third or fourth best.

Rupert argued the other day that AV contains FPTP within it and therefore we can all relax and vote it through. Apart from highlighting the fact that AV is just another variant of single constituency voting that keeps minority voices out of Parliament it also completely fails to address the argument it claims to have put to bed.

Rupert says that FPTP fans can just use the one vote themselves and leave others to do as they please, but the argument, as anyone who has followed the debates will know, is that party loyalists don't think someone else's second, third or fourth preference should count as much as their first preference. In other words it is precisely the fact that others get to vote differently that irks them.

I don't have much time for this particular anti-AV argument but it's pretty disrespectful to not bother trying to understand someone's argument before claiming that "it really is unnecessary for FPTP-lovers to oppose AV at all."

There are lots of good arguments on both sides, but neither campaign seems to be putting these at the front of their stalls. Instead we have misinformation and empty posturing, which at times can feel little better than bullying.

Ed Miliband argued in the Guardian the other day that "AV will also force parties to admit where there is agreement between them, prising open our confrontational system so that similarities sometimes become as important as differences". I completely agree with this and one of the tempting points to AV is the idea that it could undercut the compulsion political parties suffer from of treating all other parties as "the enemy".

However, overall we just have point scoring or emotive tosh from the campaigns. While I will vote one way or the other in the referendum it wont be an endorsement of either campaign but on the basis of which system I'd prefer us to go to the next election with.


darryl said...

Twitter's going to be unbearable in the lead-up to the poll.

A few weeks back I quietly unfollowed someone who was retweeting loads of AV stuff - I just found it a bit dull. He asked why, and said it was about him retweeting lots of AV stuff.

His reply? "I didn't know you were so sensitive..." before mentioning me to some Labour MP as some example of how thin-skinned the other camp are.

The thing is, I don't think I've ever mentioned a preference either way on there.

Perhaps it'll be a good idea to extend those royal wedding-avoiding holidays on Mars to include the referendum (sorry to those with other elections on that day). Or just switch off my internet for a week.

AdamB said...

Great post. I'm finding myself increasingly in the neither camp unfortunately. Have yet to hear a convincing argument for either voting system (as opposed to against the other voting system).

Both systems have obvious flaws and neither solves the biggest problem, which is under-representation. At the moment I just can't see myself voting for either.

JB said...

The No side's argument on costs is rubbish. They claim the ballots will need to be counted on new electronic machines, but Australia has been counting AV ballots by hand for decades -- it will be simple and add little time to getting the count done.

As to the yes argument, the Aussies again have something to tell us. Smaller parties can contest everywhere. You should interview party leaders over there and see why they wouldn't trade AV in for first-past-the post.

DocRichard said...

Jim, AV is not inspiring, but neither is it difficult.

If AV falls, the idiots will say "That's settled then. The people have voted for FPTP. End of." and we will be stuck with FPTP for yet more dreary decades.

If AV, for all its pusillanonimity, wins, the FPTP log jam will have been broken. This will be s symbolic change. We can then campaign for its upgrading for AV+, which will mean that the will of the people is represented in Parliament.

Jim Jepps said...

The idiots will say all sorts of things - indeed they are. Sadly I think either way PR for the commons is dead for decades. You can't go back and have referendum after referendum - if the people 'choose' AV you can't take it away from them again soon after.

I'm watching australia with interest. Right now AV is working hard to keep out Greens - but then again I'm not for or against any system on whether it's good for the greens or not.

Book me one of those mars flights pronto :)

Bob said...

Jim, I think this is the only sensible thing I have read about the referendum. All of the reasons for supporting voting yes, including Doc Richards, may be good enough reasons to vote yes, but they are in themselves bad reasons, of the if-we-don't-then-things-might-be-worse order.

Is there some way we can have a mass ballot-spoiling campaign, "Neither AV nor FPTP but international socialism" perhaps.

Jessica Goldfinch said...

Thanks Jim, just when I thought I'd made up my mind and you go and mess it all up again! ;O)

Seriously, it's probably a good thing; think-think-and-think again before making these types of decisions. It will, after all, change 'things' forever.

I am hopeful, however, that this whole affair will get folk thinking again...well I can hope! When on the doorstep, as with most issues, I state the Green Party position and I try to be fair in pointing folk towards all of the arguments and encouraging them to decide for themselves.

Perhaps, as has been said, this will be the small step to further change.

I've got some more thinking to do. Best, Jessica (Goldfinch)

Jim Jepps said...

Glad to oblige Jessica and Bob, glad to oblige.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Jim, but do think of the carbon emissions before you book that trip to Mars!

Stuart Jeffery said...

The referendum is like saying would you prefer the rock or the hard place.

DocRichard has expressed the sentiment that I hold, that the log jam will be broken with a Yes decision.

I think though that the most interesting comment on your post goes to anonymous. Did you know that according to Google, порно is porn in Russian?

Simon W said...

Thinking in terms of increasing minority party representation is largely a smokescreen, as at a given election AV won't make it easier for a minority party to get elected than FPTP, which is of course how it should be IF we have single-member constituencies[1][2].

The reason that FPTP should go is that it is manifestly unfair - a vote for a party other than the top two [3] in a particular constituency is a wasted vote, and those voters are effectively dis-enfrancised for that election, their vote having no impact on the result. AV gives every voter the chance to determine which of these top two parties get elected in that constituency.

This is of course talking only in terms of one particular election. There is a reason to dis-enfranchise yourself in a FPTP election; you are trying to turn a minority party into one that can win at a later election but that is a multi-election process (which is of course how the Green Party won in Brighton Pavilion [4]). AV helps here for minority parties as people would no longer need to dis-enfranchise themselves for this purpose and so would be much more likely to vote minority, knowing they can still vote for which of the large parties ultimately win.

[1] Brighton isn't a counter-example, as the Green party aren't a minority party in Brighton.

[2] Unless the problem is one of signalling - no-one votes Green (say) because they think their vote will be wasted even though a majority may actually support the Green party. See my third paragraph.

[3] Actually, not always, as there are the odd 3 party marginals, but they illustrate the problems of FPTP even more clearly.

[4] Green %age of vote in Brighton Pavilion (via Wikipedia): 1997 2.6%, 2001 9.3%, 2005 21.9%, 2010 31.3%. Local election of course will also help in the signalling/building support problem.


Party that gets the most votes wins - obvious.

Alternative methods of counting to give less favoured contestants a chance of winning - stupid.

Phil said...

What, no mention of the disgraceful omission of the Single Transferable Vote (aka STV)?


How proportional representation would have changed the general election 2010 result

Dani said...

I agree it's a somewhat 'rock or hard place?' decision, but if that's the choice we have to make in the referendum, I can't see any decent argument for voting no.

The clincher for me is that AV would eliminate the need for tactical voting. That's pretty much all it would achieve, but it's not nothing.

Tactical voting blights British election campaigns and gets right in the way of people discussing politics at election time.

If I could vote between a bigger range of electoral systems, both AV and FPTP would be way down my list of preferences, but AV would definitely be higher. I'm just going to pretend all my preferred systems have already been eliminated.

Jim Jepps said...

I agree with a lot of what you say there simon.

Gideon - I agree there is a simplicity to FPTP or, say, Presidential elections, but I personally don't think it's justifiable that only those with majority support should have a voice in Parliament.

If a party has, say, 10% across the country then I think a democratic country would give that party something like 10% of the seats in Parliament. FPTP and AV do not address the fact that minority voices are, a priori, excluded.

Dani, I've heard this before and I think the Australian example is instructive. FPTP will replace our current tactical voting with a different set of tactical voting decisions.

Tactical voting, for example, helped us get our first Ozzie MP and it will also may prevent us from getting a second.

Anonymous said...

I do hope those who think that AV and First Past the Post are just as bad as each other/want to show that they only support genuine PR etc etc will just decide to abstain or spoil their ballot paper. You should only vote No if you prefer the FPTP system to AV. If you can't decide or don't care then stay at home.

I think AV is a small but genuine improvement so I will be voting Yes.

Darren Johnson

Anonymous said...

I'm a pro-AV Green, but I think Darren, Jim et al have said all needs to be said here.

I must just add though that the YES campaign is NOT hitching itself to the Royal Wedding campaign. That is a completely false report by the media.


Anonymous said...

I'm a pro-AV Green, but I think Darren, Jim et al have said all needs to be said here.

I must just add though that the YES campaign is NOT hitching itself to the Royal Wedding campaign. That is a completely false report by the media.


Neil Harding said...

Short arguments for AV that are true:
AV will make more seats competitive and reduce the number of safe seats.
AV will (in nearly all elections) be more proportional than FPTP.
AV will reduce in practice (if not entirely) tactical voting.
AV will allow a momentum for change - logically STV for local elections and PR reform of Lords.

If this is not enough, remember ONLY vote NO if you are absolutely happy to keep FPTP probably for the rest of your life and make Cameron very smug, even if it does prevent a smug Clegg!

Jim Jepps said...

Sorry Neil but I'm, not entirely sure these are right.

The calculations I've seen are that less tha twenty seats would have been any different in the previous election - and none of the ones that would have changed hands were safe.

AV accentuates trends and safe seats can actually be safer under AV than FPTP. The problem iss single constituencies.

When AV is more proportional it is by accident. Certainly many elections (like 97) would be less proportional.

AV will *change* tactical voting of that I'm sure. The two horse race thing will be much less effective (although I'm sure it will stagger on). However the lesson from Oz is that AV elections are incredibly tactical in a really complex way.

Of course I like tacticalness so I'll be happy, but it isn't true that it will do away with tactical voting just because particular arguments will fade away.

Momentum for change. Well, you might be right on that one, although personally I fear the moment has passed on that one.

We'll be choosing between AV and FPTP so I'll vote for the system I want (orr not vote).

There are good arguments for AV but I'm worried that there are things being stated as solid fact that are rather contestible.