Political Promise

Mike Indian: Vote YES on May 5th

In Michael Indian on April 7, 2011 at 8:59 pm

In less than a month, Britain will go to the polls in a second nationwide referendum in its history, writes Mike Indian, offering us the chance to help shape the future of our democracy. 

In the days after the inconclusive general election result last May, hundreds gathered before Nick Clegg and shouted “Give us electoral reform!” That moment is almost upon us.

Across the country, the ‘YES to Fairer Votes’ teams are stepping up their hard-run campaigns for the final gasp to polling day. Across the nation, there are a high proportion of undecided voters. In the West Midlands, a region of five million people, the balance of referendum hinges on the efforts of activists. This week, in sunny Solihull, campaigners were met with enthusiasm from shoppers enjoying the fine weather. The public are keen to hear about the referendum and the Alternative Vote.

Increasingly, the central role of those on the ground, is not just raising raising awareness, but also myth busting. Firstly, is AV a complicated system? No, in the words of Charles Kennedy, if you can count to three, then you can understand AV. The voter can list as many preferences as they like. If you want to vote for just one candidate, you can.

Secondly, isn’t AV is an unpopular and discredited system? Actually its not. The Australians currently use a preferential system, similar to AV. A prominent point in the literature of the ‘No to AV’ campaign has been that Australians wants to get rid of their system. However, Former Australian PM John Howard confirmed this week that Australia is not trying to get rid of its system and were not likely ever to.

Finally, won’t AV just help the BNP? Not a chance. Even the BNP themselves do not think that they’d do any better under the Alternative Vote. In fact, they are campaigning against the change. They feel they are more likely to make gains under the current system.

May 5 represents a rare moment of pure democracy for Britain, where your opinion will impact directly on our political system. Unfounded rumours and scurrilous speculation threaten to obscure the truth that AV is a change for the better.

See past the fog of confusion and vote YES on May 5.

Do you disagree? Is the Alternative Vote the right system? Comment or send us your response: politicalpromise@yahoo.co.uk

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  1. I am Very sorry to disagree with you quite so violently, but I do. So I might as well explain why:

    It’s Complicated. You said No. I say Yes. Charles Kennedy may well have thought that AV is as simple counting ‘to three’. It’s not. Yes, you rank your candidates ‘in order of preference’ but what was not mentioned here was the fact that the bottom candidate falls out if the first candidate’s first preferences do not make 50% of the vote. The candidate that dropped out then gets his votes redistributed. If you voted him for your first choice then your second choice…..ETC.

    It’s complicated. Little point in denying it.

    You said that it wasn’t discredited and unpopular. Lets deal with unpopular first. FPTP, our system, is used by well over 50% of the democratic nations in the world. AV is used by 3 countries. Papua New Guinea, Figi and Australia. I think its fair to say that 3 nations does make it unpopular. Is it discredited? Yes, because Papua New Guinea are about to drop it, making it 2, and despite what you say, their are significant calls to drop AV in Australia amongst the people (and quite what Howard – a FORMER PM knows about it I don’t know).

    Finally, AV will help minor parties. There’s little point in denying that or the YES campaign wouldn’t want it. If it didn’t help minor parties then there would be no point having it… BNP or otherwise, they will get helped. Helped enough to get a seat? Well, we’ll have to wait and see.

    There are many arguments AGAINST AV, and more of the pro-camp’s to rebut, but these are why this article is wrong. [No indictment on you or your writing, merely the message that has been put across…]

    • Your concerns are understandable Archie. In the spirit of this debate, allow me to respond.

      Firstly, the issue of complexity is a matter that keeps coming back to dog this debate. I stand by the fact that the Alternative Vote is not a complicated system. Indeed, you have just demonstrated an excellent understanding of it. It must be conceded that First Past the Post is a straight forward system, but it is also straight forward in its disenfranchisement of large swathes of our population. At its most basic level, AV embraces the choice and spirit of pluralism that is integral to any liberal democracy. In the twenty first century, most people have a preferential order for parties, rather than a fixed allegiance to one. A voting system that allows an expression of this is progress and is easily understandable.

      Secondly, let’s address the credibility and popularity of the respective electoral systems. There are some interesting points that I would like to raise. Firstly, this week, in the Daily Telegraph, Andrew Gilligan confirmed that David Cameron’s claim that the Australian people wished to get rid of their preferential voting system was based on one anomalous opinion poll. Secondly, the personal credibility of John Howard is not the issue of this debate. Nevertheless, as a man who was Prime Minister of Australia for eleven years, introduced radical free market reforms and fought four elections under a preferential voting system, he can offer a considered opinion. Finally, personally, I do not believe that a scope of a systems use reflects upon its democratic viability. However, we cannot ignore the fact that five of Canada’s provinces are debating whether to get rid of their first past the post systems. The debate over the credibility of FPTP is not confined to our shores.

      Lastly, should minority parties benefit from a change in our election system? Absolutely, I’ve already outlined my firm commitment to pluralism above. Britain has taken the first steps towards ending the era of two party politics with last year’s election, now it’s time to complete that step. However, Archie, it is vital to stress the lack of faith the BNP have in this opportunity for change. Other minority parties, including the Greens and UKIP, have lined up behind change, but the BNP have stayed away. Why? Because they realise that they cannot command cross-section of support needed to succeed under the Alternative Vote. Instead, they feel their best hope rests in the continued fostering of entrenched minorities in certain areas. They hope to exploit one of FPTP’s fundamental weaknesses to their advantage and they are probably right. The BNP represent a vile undercurrent in our society and plenty of voters wish to support a change that would see them on the fringes once more.

  2. Interesting discussion going on here.

    Mike, you are quite correct when you make the point that ‘unfounded rumours and scurrilous speculation threaten to obscure the truth’. Considering the scarcity of referenda in this country and the potential impact AV could have, the lack of solid fact (as opposed to propaganda) widely available is very disturbing.

    Your myth-debunking is completely valid, but I doubt the impact it will have on the NO2AV campaign: issues like the complexity level of AV should be irrelevant and only cloud our judgement. I agree with Archie that AV certainly is more complicated than FPTP – but I would say, ‘So what’? As long as people can understand the face-value numbering (I would despair of our nation’s IQ level if not), the relative complexity of the technicalities is unimportant if it works.

    This same irrelevance also surrounds issues like popularity and cost. Why are these so often brought up when they tell us nothing about whether AV would actually be a better voting system or not?

    The questions that will tell us the most – and which should be discussed more – are the ones like ‘Is AV really much more fair?’, ‘Will AV really end safe seats?’ and ‘Will AV really end tactical voting?’. It seems to me that all the answers are ‘No’, which inclines me to be sceptical of AV like Archie, but I am open to any attempt to persuade me otherwise. I also think you are right in addressing the question of whether it really will help minority parties or not, as it is an vital question that I have not yet seen settled decisively.

    Anyway, a thought-provoking article.

    (By the way: If there are any editors reading this, I would like to make a writer application. I sent an email two weeks ago, but don’t bother with it as the article attached is now outdated.)

  3. This is a very interesting debate. I am against AV for the following reasons;

    1) No rationale is being presented here on why we should change. The Yes campaign are riding on two prevailing and irrelevant themes, populist, but irrelevant 1) AV makes MPs work hard (which is a very subjective view) 2) the expenses scandal (which is a matter of the judiciary not national referendums). Even if we are to take the two themes at face-value they are absolute hogwash. What guarantees are there that MPs will work hard just because the electoral process changed? Please don’t make me laugh. If people have issue with the expenses scandal during the on-going albeit quite investigations, picket at those MPs’ homes and get the media to come – expose them. If the Yes Campaign people have such issues… why are they taking the most irrelevant steps of bothering other people with changing the voting system? How bizarre.

    2) This myth about AV binging fairer or representative should really be put to rest and I employ the case of Australia. Most Australians were against the war in Iraq, what did the MPs who rode in on AV did within the Howard government? They went to War. What did the MPs of the Blair government did when they were sent in by FPTP system when people were against the war? They went to War. Two different systems same outcome. MPs under AV being more representative of all constituents? Rubbish. MPs under AV being fair? Rubbish. MPs under AV work harder? Says who exactly? Where’s the evidence? Who can promise that?

    The Yes to AV Vote is not even supported by the government and the main opposition is split almost 50/50. And we citizens are going to vote in a national referendum whether to change or not without any understanding of the rationale behind AV, without seeing the evidence of AV’s “benefits” and having both the government and main opposition not endorsing it fully… what kind of a circus is this? Even that Nick Clegg dismissed the AV as a miserable compromise… if he detests it, why should we bother? This referendum is completely meaningless.

    The problem we have in this country is we have no laws dishing out great penalties (Tudor style) on disgraced MPs. We give rewards and bonuses which I agree, but we don’t dish out penalties. We have no effective way to un-elect MPs, to give them the boot. Until we sort out that aspect and engage other more intellectually stimulating propositions of constitutional reform, changing the electoral system is just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  4. I have never commented on this website but came across this article and also read some of the many flimsy arguments being presented in the above comments. I am not an expert in politics but am a supporter of AV so I will attempt to answer some of the arguments.

    @Archie Manners. The system is not complicated as you have just explained it fully in 2 lines. Yes it is more complicated than the FPTP system but I do not think it is beyond the understanding of the voting public. It might sound harsh but if a voter cannot rank candidates in order of preference, which is something we do without thinking day in day out, then I don’t think he/she should be voting.

    You also said that the system was unpopular. AV is a system used throughout British politics. It’s used to elect our party leaders and even the speaker of the house. Why it cannot/has not been used to elect our MPs I do not know.

    Your point about it being a bad thing that AV helps minority parties is wrong. It is not AV that helps minority parties but the voters. You can’t blame the system for which parties are being voted in by the public. If a minority party is being voted in by 50% of it’s constituency then I believe it has every right to be there. Yes were are against fascist parties such as the BNP being in any position of power but if they are voted in then that’s what the public has decided. In any case, BNP are voting against AV as they believe AV works against them. So effectively if you vote “yes” on May 5th you’re siding with the BNP.

    @Charlotte Tsang. Is AV really much fairer? Yes it is. FPTP is unfair as an MP can be elected with 30% of the vote in which case 70% of their constituency did not vote for them. More people didn’t want them to represent the constituency than did. With AV, the MP elected will have to gain 50% of the vote which means that at some point the majority of the constituents have voted for them.

    Will AV end safe seats? Yes it will. Currently there are “Safe seats” dotted throughout the country where MPs only need to gain votes from a core support who will vote for them regardless of them doing well. With AV, “safe seat MPs” will have to reach beyond this core support of around 30% of regular supporters to people who will need to be persuaded. Their seats will no longer be safe unless they can convince more people they are worth it.

    Will AV end tactical voting? Yes it will. Currently there are many people in this country who would like to vote for a minority party such as the lib dems, greens etc but do not as they have the “they’re not going to win so there’s no point in voting” mentality. They end up voting either Labour or Conservative based on the one they’d rather not have. This in itself is Alternative voting as you have chosen your 2nd/3rd preference. With AV, voters can vote for their preferred candidate and then put another party in the case that their candidate does not win. This is fair as it means your vote is not worthless just because you’re voting for a minority party.

    @Michael Pickles. The main rationale is that it is a fairer system. The ways in which it is fairer, I have explained above. The 2 points you have mentioned are sub-advantages.

    Your second point I believe is irrelevant to the argument of which voting system is fairer. The argument you make is more about MPs not listening to their constituents and just voting with their parties.

    And yes AV is a miserable compromise. The much fairer system is Proportional representation and AV is a logical step towards this system. If we vote “no” in this referendum we will have lost the chance to make this change for another century which is why I will be voting “yes” and I think you should too.

  5. Dear Tallah,

    If the rationale is fairness, which you believe it is, then we are in deep trouble. There is nothing fair in an election. There will always be losers no matter what system you put in place. This notion of AV being fairer is an unsubstantiated claim not to mention brazenly subjective. Even if we go along with this notion of fairness until you can provide me with hard evidence and not false promises of AV being a fair system, we should not bother the citizenry with such a national referendum. Democracy is not measured by fairness. What a random variable that should be thrown out. There is nothing fair or unfair in those elected into power via whatever electoral promise we have on the table. Fairness is a nice sounding word that is irrelevant to this debate. Hence there is no rationale behind the AV Yes Campaign only self-manufactured notions and beliefs based on very subjective views.

    The fact that some MPs are voted in by 30% (I assume that is the lowest minimum) of the vote is not indicative of a flawed system. The Yes Campaign people must not think that they have monopoly over explaining that political development. The 70% votes are divided up into the losing parties which they then go on to form the opposition. Maybe their votes, in a crude sense are “wasted,” in regards to not gaining power, but democracy does not end with elections or seeing those go into power. AV too can suffer from 50% minimum base which I can equally accuse as being unrepresented due to its votes being unaccountable.

    Tallah you need to be honest with yourself, you really think people in this country will put up with another electoral change for Proportional via another national referendum? You are too idealistic. Why should we take that extra and irrelevant step? If you concede that AV is a miserable compromise, why are you taking, in the words used at Goldman Sachs, that “shitty deal?” I’m more inclined for debate about Proportional and here we are, wasting time, energy and the national patience of referendums on something the Government does not want, the main opposition is split on and with vast majority of the citizenry being indifferent or ill-informed. My fear is that this ruckus over AV will dampen the interest and energy for Proportional. To demand a change now for the sake of another kind of change, which is what you are advocating, is irresponsible and dangerous. The electoral system should not be treated as something you can just play around with just like that, there will be social consequences in terms of political apathy and indifference.

    My Australia case still stands. The problem is not the electoral system. I produced a case of two democratic countries similar in so many ways, but with two separate electoral system, coming to the same outcome of dismissing their electorate’s opinions and demands regarding Iraq. In my view that event was totally unfair on top of it being unrepresentative. I would go further and call them political crimes. So the notion of MPs voted in by AV being somehow more hard-working or being fairer (to what respect exactly?) I think is absolute codswallop.

    As I said, reading from the populist sentiments advertised in Yes Campaign leaflets on expenses scandal and MPs not working “hard,” the issue here then is not the electoral system that needs changing in terms of electing MPs, but how to get rid of them without waiting for the next general elections.

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