No To AV

I have been wanting to write a blog on this subject for a while, but it appears to be the most boring subject known to man. Half way through writing, I want to break down, cry, question my life, and then jump off Westminster bridge. That’s how soul destroying the subject is.

In about two weeks time, the United Kingdom get to vote on the future of our electoral system in a referendum. The first referendum we’ve had since we didn’t have the referendum on the EU Constitution that we were promised. The subject matter is quite simple, do we wish to change from First Past the Post, to the Alternative Vote. My answer; No.

I will not comment on the FPTP system here, because the referendum is not about FPTP. I despise FPTP. It’s a ridiculous system that allows a party to be the governing party, with far less than 50% of the vote. In 2005 Labour won the election with 36% of the vote. 64% of the electorate did not want a Labour government, yet we got one. FPTP is far from proportional. But, so is AV.

The way to win under AV is to be the least hated candidate, not the most popular. When the Unions back Ed Milliband for leader of the Labour Party in 2010, their goal was to make Ed the least disliked. That way, when it came to the fourth ballot, Ed would just about edge ahead of his brother, to win. David Milliband was winning after the first ballot. David Milliband was winning after the second ballot. David Milliband was winning after the third ballot. Ed Milliband won.

Tactical voting according to the Yes to AV campaign would be eliminated under AV. This is nonsense. And it is proven nonsense. Australia uses AV and tactical voting just becomes a bit more complex than it is here. It isn’t eliminated, it is just different. Political parties in Australia publish lists telling you how to vote for a specific party, how to order your preferences, to give them the best chance. According to the Constitution Society briefing paper:

“the evidence from Australia is that voting in AV elections is in general highly ‘tactical’ since it is necessary to place the candidates in a very specific order of preference to maximise the chances of any particular favoured candidate. Tactical voting does not disappear under AV; instead its arithmetic becomes more complex.”

Tactical voting is prominent in any election where there are three or more candidates, regardless of the system. This is called the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem.

I am most unimpressed with the idea that if I vote Labour in my constituency, and my neighbour votes BNP, and the BNP are eliminated in the first round, then my neighbour gets a second chance. His second preference is counted. I however, will not get a second chance. If Labour are winning after the first round of voting, the Tories second, the BNP are eliminated, but they voted UKIP next, and then UKIP are eliminated, leaving just Labour, Tory, and Lib Dems, I still don’t get another vote, but those who voted BNP first and then UKIP now get to decide the outcome of the election. Labour are still winning, but now the third choice (and third choices aren’t exactly popular, they are just “there”) has redistributed the UKIP votes to the Tories, and the Tories suddenly get the necessary majority of votes, whilst I got no second choice, let alone a third choice. A candidate under AV, could potentially have the majority of first, second and third preferences combined, yet still come last and be eliminated after the first round. This means that they do not progress to the next round, even though they would have amassed many more votes, and won a majority, if we are to give serious weight to second and third preferences.

For example:
100 people are voting to elect a candidate. They vote as follows:
The preference sheet of 36 citizens: C > A > B
The preference sheet of 34 citizens: B > A > C
The preference sheet of 30 citizens: A > B > C

FPTP is awful, because candidate C would be elected under the system, despite the fact that most people would rank candidate C below both A and B. Candidate C would be the least liked by the majority, and yet still elected. It is a poor shambles of a system. However, the mentality to rank candidates is not present in FPTP, so it is irrelevant to describe the preferences of voters under FPTP because it doesn’t exist. But it does exist under AV, and under AV candidate B will win. A gets knocked out in the first round, those votes are redistributed, and B wins. Yet in a run off between candidate B and candidate A, candidate B only gets 34 votes, whilst A gets 66 votes. Not only that, but in a straight run off between candidate A and candidate C, candidate A would win too. In a run off, Candidate A clearly beats both B and C, and yet under AV, B would win.

Our system of AV will differ somewhat from the Australian system, in that we will not require the voter to list their preferences if they don’t wish. They can just put a “1” and nothing else. As the preference counts go on, less and less votes will be counted, and so it means less and less votes are needed to win a seat, and so many MPs will still win a seat with less than 50% of the vote. The speaker of the House of Lords was elected using AV, with 45% of the vote. So the argument that AV will mean an end to minority rule, is nonsense.

Yes To AV claim that AV will do away with safe seats. Rubbish. No it wont. And why should it? If the majority of the electorate in my constituency vote Tory (which they do), then why should that change? The Tories won my seat, with 49% of the vote in 2010. Under AV, it is likely that the Lib Dems would have won the seat. (Labour voters will always rank Lib Dems ahead of Tories, and Tories will always rank Lib Dems ahead of Labour). Tory voters wouldn’t get a second choice, they’d have to sit back and watch whilst the 228 (out of 54,865) people who voted “Independent” and came last, get another vote, and then whilst the 568 who voted “English Democrats” (i’ve literally never heard of that party) get another vote, and then UKIP, BNP, Labour, until potentially the Lib Dems get pushed over the line, on a fifth preference count. How ridiculous.

Regardless of the weak arguments put forward by the “Yes to AV” Campaign, AV will not make politicians work harder for your vote (how anyone can measure how hard MPs work, is beyond me), it will not do away with safe seats, it will not promise a majority, and it is not proportional. I am not entirely sure how to respond to Ed Miliband’s claim that voting Yes to AV will be a chance to “choose hope over fear”. Empty soundbites have become the only argument the Yes campaign have, and they’re losing, badly.

If people vote No simply to kick Nick Clegg whilst he remains possibly the most hated politician in the Coalition, they are idiots. People should read the arguments and decide for themselves. Stop listening to people who say “The No campaign is funded by Voldermort“. It doesn’t matter who funds the campaign. They don’t pay for arguments. The arguments are there for all to see. Research it yourself. If you like the system, vote Yes. If you don’t, vote No. The funding for the campaigns should have absolutely no impact on how you vote.

The campaigns on both sides are limited. Both the Yes and No campaigns cannot foresee the consequences of media, donors, and party politics, in a system of AV. Especially in its early days. We have no idea what the “likely” out come of a change to the system would be. To say silly things like “it will make your MP work harder” is empty and based on nothing of substance. We shouldn’t fall for it.

It is true that no voting system is perfect, in any way. FPTP certainly isn’t, it’s horrific. Yet AV does not even promise a majority. It is just as bad as FPTP, it has just as many flaws, and yet it is far more complicated to explain than FPTP. This referendum is not about FPTP. If the question was “Do you want to keep the FPTP voting system?” I’d also vote no. The question though, will be “Should the UK adopt the Alternative Vote electoral system for General elections“. Until I hear a convincing argument, the answer will remain “No“.


3 Responses to No To AV

  1. David says:

    I am most unimpressed with the idea that if I vote Labour in my constituency, and my neighbour votes BNP, and the BNP are eliminated in the first round, then my neighbour gets a second chance. His second preference is counted. I however, will not get a second chance.

    But, … in the second round your vote (for Labour) is still being counted as support for your first preference – which, if you were asked, is surely what you would want.

    You are in danger of falling for the Baroness Warsi Fallacy – all votes are “counted” in every round for as long as the voter has a preference. AV is, despite what she says “One man[/woman], one vote” – you are just allowed to express preferences for how you want that vote used.

    In some respects AV is like exhaustive ballots, but without the delay and additional expense. An exhaustive ballot (with the bottom candidate knocked out after each round until you end up with a run-off between two surviving candidates) seems to me marginally preferable to the same party (under FPTP) always winning a constituency with say 36% of the vote – possibly with fringe candidates throwing in a “lottery factor” in closer contests.

    But – “I agree with Nick” – AV is a miserable compromise, and I can’t get too enthusiastic about it.

    However, in 35 years on the electoral roll, I have never been in a constituency that has changed hands at an election. My current constituency has been “blue” since 1924 and under FPTP will ever be so. Now, if my county was a single multi-member constituency electing MPs under STV, politics wuld be much more meaningful – but this miserable compromise does not do this.

    Either, this miserable compromise will be rejected – and “they” will claim that “the people do not want electoral reform – they want FPTP”, or this miserabnle compromise is accepted but changes little and people will think “we tried reform and it dod not work”. The whole referendum is a recipe for mass disillusionment – futile democracy indeed.

  2. I don’t think it’s a fallacy. Whether my vote gets counted or not is irrelevant, because someone’s second, third, fourth, or even fifth choice is given the same weight as my first choice.
    “One person one vote” is just semantics. It is far more complicated than that.

  3. diarygirl13 says:

    Thanks for this Jamie, it explained a lot to me!

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