Political Promise

Why you should vote NO to AV

In Uncategorized on December 3, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Max Wilson sets out the arguments against introducing the Alternative Vote.

AV is a rubbish system. Clegg called it a “miserable little compromise”. Beckett said, “AV doesn’t help democracy, it stands in its way”, Blunkett branded it “unwanted, unfair and complicated” and Prescott reminded us that “this is the system that nobody wants. It’s a shoddy little deal that the Lib Dems made with the Tories as their price for power.” In the current financial crisis, it seems criminal that the government feels that it is appropriate to spend £90m on a referendum on a voting system that essentially everyone hopes will fail.

The bizarre thing about choosing the AV voting system as the proposed route for electoral reform is that it is such an obscure system. Only three other countries in the world use the AV voting system. These three countries are Papua New Guinea – with a population of 6.7m, Fiji – which has a tiny population of 850,000, and Australia – with a population of 21.8m (still tiny compared to the 61.8m people living in the UK). This voting system will become even more obscure as Fiji is about to get rid of it, and the Australians want to get rid of it (6 out of 10 voters want to return to FPTP).

Australia, with the largest population, is the best case study of AV. It is interesting to note that under the AV voting system, Australia has struggled to encourage political participation leading to the introduction of compulsory voting. In the UK, we already struggle with voter turnout and this problem will only get worse under AV, as our Australian case study shows. If the Australians are clamouring to get rid of what they clearly consider a useless system, why are we even considering it?

We must remember that the AV voting system was not in either the Lib Dem or Conservative manifesto and was later rejected by the Labour party; it has clearly been deemed surplus to requirements by those elected to represent us. An interesting example of this was the announcement of Labour MP Ben Bradshaw to front the Labour Yes to AV Campaign. He, like Clegg, has been shown to have previously shown scorn for AV. He has been quoted as saying “I’ve never supported AV…I’m not suddenly going to pretend that I’ve changed my mind.” Moreover, it seems that the more we as an electorate find out about AV, the less we like it – at least according to the YouGov polls. Support for AV has been slowly declining and, according to the latest poll, support for the AV voting system has fallen to 37% whereas support for FPTP is at 39%. Ironically, most Yes campaigners don’t in fact support the AV voting system but see it as a stepping-stone to PR.

I think change for the sake of change is dangerous in itself especially as electoral reform in May would likely be the end of electoral reform for a while. We will be inevitably stuck with AV because the Labour and Conservative parties who benefit from FPTP and would continue to benefit from AV will be resistant to a further move towards PR. The fact that a referendum will be held in May will give the two main parties enough ammunition to hold off the Lib Dem demands for further political reform. Clegg acknowledged this fact: “you can’t constantly ask people. Referendum’s have a fairly definitive feel to them…I wouldn’t be expecting another one“. AV will not give the Lib Dems enough power to initiate further reform – an analysis of how the parties would have faired in the 2010 election under AV showed the Lib Dems would have only got a further 22 seats (the 1998 Jenkins commission actually found that AV was ‘even less proportional’ and ‘disturbingly unpredictable’).

The AV voting system is undeniably complicated. I believe that a good example of this is the London mayoral elections. Obviously, these elections do not use AV but STV still has the concept of second preferences which is the most complicated switch in moving to AV. An amazing 17.14% of second preference ballots were spoilt in the 2004 election and even more worrying than this is that it only got marginally better in 2008 with 17.05%. There was not the same detail collated in regards to the 2000 election but it is safe to assume that the figure will at least be 17% but more likely be higher. These figures show that the electorate failed to get a grip of the second preference system and they still fail to understand it; the number of spoilt ballots will get even higher under AV when you have even more preferences to distribute. This is worrying because it will lead to more power being given to political activists who fully understand the system whereas perhaps the average man on the street will suffer.

The Labour leadership election arguably served as the greatest test for the AV voting system and it would seem AV again failed. Its failure was summed up well by The Guardian:

          “…Mr Miliband is nevertheless the first leader or deputy leader in Labour history to be elected without the  majority support either of his MPs or of his party members…the issues cannot be ignored or, worse, denied. They raise large political and democratic issues…”

Other important things to gather from the election was that 22% of MPs and MEPs voting only cast one vote – they didn’t even use the AV system when it was available to them. This 22% included MP Ben Bradshaw who is supposedly leading the Yes campaign.

AV recycles preferences of losing candidates to give the winner a majority of 50% but the process seems too artificial to me. Moreover, it gives supporters of the extremist parties ‘more votes’ – their preferences will be counted five or six times whereas supporters of the mainstream parties will only have one preference counted. This process of preferences is likely to lead parties to the centre ground as they seek second/third preferences of unconventional supporters. We do not want parties to converge on the centre ground. We want them to stand for something and represent us rather than their manifestos being governed by a necessary process to win an election.

Nobody is saying that FPTP is a perfect system but it is definitely better than AV.

AV is obscure, unfair, unwanted, complex and irrational. That is why you should vote NO to AV.

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  1. “Moreover, it gives supporters of the extremist parties ‘more votes’ – their preferences will be counted five or six times whereas supporters of the mainstream parties will only have one preference counted.”

    What confusing lies you weave. Preferences are counted more times the higher they are up the preference list. A strongly popular 1st preference for most, with votes in other people’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th preferences get counted many more times than these “extremist parties” you talk about.

    In multiple rounds, say 4 rounds, where a strong candidate has a fair share of the vote as first preferences alone, let’s say 40% of the vote, that candidate gets that 40% counted *multiple times* too.

    But then your type of campaign leads off of misleading people so why should we be surprised 🙂

    • I apologize, I realize now that I haven’t made my point clearly… What I was trying to say is that:

      A candidate who receives a first preference of course retains these votes from round to round. But, what I see as the problem is that those who perhaps choose a non-mainstream i.e. an extremist party as their first preference will have their other preferences counted in subsequent rounds as their other favored candidates are eliminated whereas if you choose a mainstream candidate as your first preference then none of your other preferences count because your favorite will not be eliminated.

      It seems strange to me that an election may be decided effectively by the fourth/fifth vote of those who support marginal parties. It would seem that in a way they get to ‘have their cake and eat it’ whereas in reality little will change for those who support the mainstream parties (i.e. the majority of people) and in fact in reality putting second/third/fourth preferences etc will in fact be a waste of time for the majority of us.

  2. I spoke to Simon Hughes the other day who was at Sutton’s Lib Dem AGM. He said that if the AV system and PR system for the Lords both go through, in ten years time it will be a given that the Commons should change to PR too. He does, however, think that the PR system the lib dems SHOULD be aiming for is the AV+ system (I think he said that and not AMS – either way, it would top up seats as per the vote for the party whilst keeping constituencies, unlike STV).

    As for supporting the change to AV, I’m not sure. What worries me more is the fact that the electorate cannot get their head around a change between an X in a box and a few numbers in a box.

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