AV; a No Vote From a ‘Meh’ Man

This May the British electorate face a choice as to whether they want to keep FPTP or adopt the AV system of elections for members of the lower chamber. Overall this as exciting a decision as helping Ken Barlow choose a tie, but the campaign has become a bit heated lately and wherever I sense an argument I’m straight in, as regular readers will well know (all one of you – hello mum).

The whole premise of the debate is being framed by ‘Yessers’, they will to you that AV represents a ‘fairer’ vote. They will tell you that AV is fairer, it is more democratic and as we get closer to the vote in May, that you’ll be more attractive to the opposite sex (probably).
In 2011, after a year of abuse the word ‘fair’ has about as much meaning as the word ‘progressive’ and an apology from Richard Keys. ‘Fairness’ as a concept is bloodied, bruised and begging to be left left alone, but still Yessers can sometimes talk like they have a monopoly on fairness.

However, let’s look at it this way, if you give everyone of voting age one vote each, with the candidate that gets the most votes winning, that sounds like a pretty fair type of democracy to me.

Some people live in areas that have large populations of voters for a single party, but that is democracy. It does not mean a vote has less value, it just means that in democratic terms that constituency/region should return a candidate for that party. In fact, if we want fairness shouldn’t we be giving candidates with bigger majorities a larger vote in parliament? (No, of course we shouldn’t)

It’s simply not the case that AV is fairer, as there is no set definition of fairness. What AV is, is an attempt by those who don’t like the results they get to change the system in their favour. If voters are too bunched up do something about boundaries (more on that later), do not chuck away a perfectly democratic system.

We need also to think about the potential results that we could have. We could end up (indeed we will end up) in a situation where a candidate who has the most votes is beaten by candidate who has mopped up second & third choices etc. How is it fair that the candidate who is wanted by the most constituents does not win the seat to someone who is no.2?

This is the real reason the Lib Dems want AV, it is not for fairer votes or to be more democratic, it is because they know they will benefit the most from 2nd options at a national level. A Tory is unlikely to put Labour as their 2nd option, they are likely to put a Lib Dem, a Labourite is unlikely to put a Tory as their 2nd option, they are likely to put a Lib Dem (bit less now I assume). The Lib Dems will campaign hard for AV because they believe it is they who will benefit most by mopping up 2nd options and this must be prevented.

If it were about democracy, do we believe they’d be going for AV in the lower chamber? Like it or not, the lower chamber IS democratic. If the Lib Dems cared so much about democracy, if they cared about reform would they not have held out when they were in a massively strong position during the coalition negotiations to have forced through real reform?

Why tinker with the lower democratically elected chamber whilst we still have the House of Lords? Much as Yessers will tell you that anyone against AV is a dinosaur, I want real reform to our parliament. I want a fully elected upper house, I’d also like to see the monarchy replaced, or at least having all political power (even ceremonial) stripped away (the latter is unlikely I know). We live in a society where many of those who make our laws are unelected, but we want to mess around with the elected lower house? Someone’s taking the piss. This is a fop to reform, designed basically to somehow draw a line under the expenses scandal, designed to essentially keep everything the same in Westminster, keep the Lords sitting, keep the whole thing ticking along much as it was before, when in the electorate there is a real hunger for change. I’d go so far as to say that not only is AV no fairer, it’s actually an insult to the electorate to offer up such a miserly reform, to waste tax-payer’s money like this. AV is a clever distraction from the real problems of Westminster politics. A no vote is the only possible answer to such an insult.

‘But if you vote no there’ll not be any future reform’ the yessers will tell you. Real reform is already dead, for a parliament at least. Real reform died when it was allowed off the negotiating table when the coalition was being formed, it was so easily put to one side one has to wonder if it was ever a real objective for those negotiating. Does anyone believe after what looks set to be a spiteful campaign about something that the electorate simply don’t care about that the same electorate will have any stomach for another referendum? When the press go to town on what a huge waste of money the referendum has been will there be any politician who will stand up and say ‘encore’?

No, reform, for this parliament, has been killed stone dead, it’s in the ashes of the purple ‘revolution’ of the election and it makes me angry that we’ll have yet another few years of unelected cronies being given jobs for the boys and having a say on our lives.

(Obviously, the real reform many yessers want is full PR, the fact that FPTP has worked relatively well for hundreds of years, is democratic and has never returned some God-awful extremist government and by and large keeps extremist candidates out of parliament is to be ignored. No, yessers want full PR, because many yessers are Lib Dems and Lib Dems like PR because it would give them the constant balance of power. PR isn’t being discussed but I raise it because it’s part of the debate. One day I’ll write a fuller blog on it, one day, maybe…)

Let’s not forget that AV, this vast step forward in democracy has been bundled in with a direct and unhidden attack on democracy. The bill for the referendum has been bundled up with a guillotine of 50-odd MPs from parliament, the reason is vague, ‘we need to level out boundaries’ (why? Different constituencies are very different, even the geography can impact on the MP’s role) ‘we need to save money’ is the other one you’ll hear, whilst exactly 50 new unelected Lords were sworn into the other chamber (this is actually amazing in its breath-taking arrogance). I may be stupid but more representation feels more democratic to me.

It stinks doesn’t it?

What else stinks has been the nasty, spiteful Yes2AV campaign, which has not only had to fire people for making islamophobic jokes in support of AV (I shit you not) but the campaign has so far been a consistent barrage of abuse, making out that anyone who is against AV is against democracy, against fairness, against reform, is stuck in the past, is a dinosaur, even linking no2av with such shits as Nick Griffin (again, I’m not joking). The vote isn’t until May and the yessers have got to this phase already.

The effect of this negative campaigning has been very real, it has changed me from being a simple no to AV with a big ‘meh’ to the whole thing, to a firm campaigner for the no camp.

One of my other major problems with AV is that for many Westminster is already too consensual, many don’t feel they have any real options. AV will help make Westminster even more one-dimensional. It will mean that candidates will spend too much time playing to second option voters more than their core vote, whose votes they will feel they can count on. It’ll be the bland leading the bland (well, only leading once you’ve factored in 2nd and 3rd votes). This is the exact opposite of what we want right now. The major parties have to be able to display their differences or we are at real risk of seeing swathes of voters move to the fringes. AV could well lead to those extremists doing well in the longer term as mainstream candidates become more homogenised, more like eachother, more bland to avoid dropping 2nd votes. I think that’s pretty bad for democracy myself, and it’s another reason I’ll be voting no.

The final consideration is more of a happy accident really, voting no will give Clegg a bloody nose, it will take us closer to a world we once again have a socially liberal Lib Dem party and much as it’s no reason to vote against AV, it’s an enjoyable extra benefit.

Let’s not get too hysterical because the electorate frankly don’t care, but join me in May in voting No 2 AV. Join me in giving those who would insult the electorate with this fop, this sorry little compromise, a slow clap for throwing away the chance for real reform. But mostly join me in holding the whole thing in the disdain it deserves.

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13 Comments

Filed under Activists, AV, Cameron, Campaign, Civil Liberties, ConDems, Election, Expenses, Labour, Lib Dems, Liberals, Meh2AV, No2AV, Voting Reform, Yes2AV

13 responses to “AV; a No Vote From a ‘Meh’ Man

  1. Good points. I did’nt know about the 50 new Lords and the 50 less MPs either. I was a ‘yes’ as I am sick of this two tribes system, Labour the ‘least worst’ option. The Lib Dems have now lost all credibility. I was hoping some independents and alternatives will get a voice with AV. Now I’m not sure.

    • I’d like to see smaller parties more involved in Westminster as well (though I do declare I am Labour). I think the best way to do this would be to have a fully elected upper house using full PR. This would enable parties to get a foothold and become established in Westminster politics. It’s not going to happen overnight though whichever way we go!

  2. Democratic electoral systems should result in the establishment of a government which reflects and represents the popular will with a mandate derived by the majority will of the people.

    FPTP fails this on all accounts miserably.

    In 2010, 2/3 of all MPs were elected by a minority of their constituents. More people DIDN’T vote for the winner than did. In 2005 the Labour government was elected with 35% of popular total vote. In fact the last time a government was elected with majority support was 1931.

    Democracy? It’s a pathetic, corrupt system.

    AV is used to elect Labour party leaders, Lib Dem party leaders, governments in Australia, UK parliamentary officials and even the Speaker of the House of Commons, to name but a few. If it’s good enough for the MPs to elect each other to posts, then it’s good enough for the rest of us to vote them in.

    • Theodore, I have to congratulate you on reeling off some of the Yes2AV campaign’s key messaging. I understand HOW FPTP works, I also understand its failings. I have made my view on balance of looking at both systems.

      As the Yes2AV campaign are reeling these ‘facts’ off I’ll deal with them point by point. Firstly however, you’re guilty of doing what the yessers always do, talk in objectives terms about subjectivive issues. In fact, every time yessers use hyperbole like ‘corrupt system’ it strengthens my resolve to see a no vote returned.

      Democratic electoral systems should result in the establishment of a government which reflects and represents the popular will with a mandate derived by the majority will of the people.

      FPTP fails this on all accounts miserably.

      In 2010, 2/3 of all MPs were elected by a minority of their constituents. More people DIDN’T vote for the winner than did. In 2005 the Labour government was elected with 35% of popular total vote. In fact the last time a government was elected with majority support was 1931.

      This is 2 points. Firstly you’re attacking FPTP as undemocratic, standard hyperbole. But AV doesn’t represent the will of the people, if it were the will of the people THEY WOULD ALL VOTE FOR THAT PERSON. In fact, as I get the impression you haven’t read the blog (seeing as you haven’t responded to a single point raised) I will repeat that I believe it is perfectly democratic for the person with the most votes to win, I simply don’t agree with you.

      In AV (again, I say this above) we will end up with people who have had less votes but more 2nd options and I believe this represents the will of the people even less than FPTP. Therefore, in my opinion, AV is no more democratic and no better represents the will of the people. I appreciate your opinion that AV is more democratic, but it is just that, an opinion.. Hopefully readers will see that we are both coming from a subjective POV and favour the one making the most reasoned arguments, having developed their reasoning independently having looking at the issue rather than repeating received wisdom.

      Democracy? It’s a pathetic, corrupt system.

      *HYPERBOLE KLAXON* I cannot take this point seriously until you provide some evidence of the corruption that would be unique to FPTP.

      AV is used to elect Labour party leaders, Lib Dem party leaders, governments in Australia, UK parliamentary officials and even the Speaker of the House of Commons, to name but a few. If it’s good enough for the MPs to elect each other to posts, then it’s good enough for the rest of us to vote them in.

      It’s not a Question of ‘good enough’, it’s a question of right. What works for the election of a single individual is not comparable with an entire nation, I complained heartily during the Labour leadership which is a dreadful example (so democratic many members were able to vote several times, there’s democracy for you) and not everyone in Oz is happy with their system. Many countries hold up our system of parliamentary democracy as a shining light too, so your reasoning here is simply not unique to your side of the debate.

      It seems to me that you would like full PR and see AV as a stepping stone. But full PR creates coalitions (and some would argue that AV would too) which are less representative of the will of the people than anything FPTP can produce. Just look at the government now, using a Coalition Agreement that has no mandate. Then when promise after promise is broken we hear the excuse ‘well we’re in a coalition’. Full PR (and maybe AV) is a system that ensures none of the electorate get what they want and that elections merely become a vehicle to deliver leverage in behind closed doors negotiations and horse-trading that delivers governments like this one, that no-one wants.

      • A lot of fair points made there…

        In terms of electoral systems I don’t see any as resolving the problems of democracy – democracy is unattainable, an abstract idea I believe, but in my humble opinion FPTP is the worst, most pathetic attempt at achieving democracy out of all the options.

        Personally, I think I favour AV+ over AV or any form of AV (actually I’d be willing to put up with the FPTP in the Commons if it was countered with some form of PR for an elected upper house).

        In terms of it being democratic for a person with the most votes to win, we’re going to have to agree to disagree there. I can’t see *any* form of democracy in someone being elected by a minority of their constituents. I disagree with the opinion that a 2nd preference vote isn’t a vote – in a system where voters HAD to rank every single candidate in order I can see some scope for that argument being accepted but when voters only have to rank the candidates they want to (as proposed) then I personally see any preference as a valid vote since the voter has democratically chosen to vote for them.

        Which countries see our democracy as a shining light? Because FPTP is *the most* scrapped electoral system of all the electoral systems in the world (ie more countries have got rid of FPTP than any other) and not a single one has chosen to adopt it or re-adopt it…?

        The reason the current coalition is unrepresentative is because there was a severe lack of transparency in the campaigning by the parties BECAUSE of the “winner takes all” electoral system… if the system were more likely to produce coalitions then parties would campaign more openly about what they would do in the event of a coalition, I believe, as they do in most other countries.

        And re. “corrupt”, apologies I meant more in the context of “it has been corrupted” through a bias in the electoral system, dis-proportionality and changing electoral geography of the UK.

  3. Pingback: AV . . . Again! | Jude's Journal

  4. As far as I can see only 3 countries world wide use AV in this form in parliamentary elections – Australia, Fiji & Papua New Guinea – hardly a ringing endorsement I’d say.

    Whilst I’d agree with much of Drummer Boys blog (and possibly all of it) could I deliberately throw a few spanners in. In the past I’ve lived in safe Labour seats, and now live in a safe Conservative seat, whilst living in parts of the constituency that weren’t particularly sympathetic to the ‘safe’ candidate. In both cases there was quite a large vote for the Lib Dems – and in fact councillors for the wards I lived in were reasonably safe Lib Dem.

    However this is in first past the post. Imagine a few years on, and people are heartily sick of this coalition. Chances are they’ll stop voting in that tactical way. They’ll either just cast a “1” vote for Labour or Conservative, or they’ll cast “1,2” for the big two. There’s nothing compelling anyone to make a second choice. Frankly if I can’t have a Labour government, I’d rather have a Tory government than a coalition. A coalition represents the third choice holding the whip, and the second choice having far less power than the third choice.

    Personally I feel that it’s entirely fair and democratic to have safe seats – they become safe because lots of people vote for the same party. The system was really designed though for a two party system, and there are usually several candidates in all constituents. Rather than AV I’d think it would be fairer (but less practical) to have run off voting in a seperate ballot – because the reality of the results does affect second preference – How many voters who flippantly voted for an extremist group like the BNP as a third choice, would do so if they thought there was a real chance that they would be elected ?.

    This is presumably impractical though.

    What I do find frustrating is that in a safe Tory seat, it doesn’t matter if Labour misses out by a few dozen votes, or a few thousand – it has no different impact on the final result nationally – I would like to see a top up list of regional or national candidates that are not specifically constituency based in recognition of this.

    AV offers none of this, and will in my view, increase the possibility of coalition governments. Some may feel that this leads to real politics – with wheeling & dealing and compromising to achieve progress. I feel that it leads to unholy alliances, and an avoidance of thorny issues. No party won the last general election, but the Lib Dems certainly lost it more than either Labour or the Tories – and it’s very unsatisfactory that they have such representation in Government.

    So the question for me is – is AV a step on the way to a better system ? or is it better to stick with the devil I know ?

    At the moment I’m thinking the latter.

    • More people use PR than FPTP. Hardly a ringing endorsement of FPTP. More people drive on the right than the left in the world, hardly a ringing endorsement of left hand drive.

      This sort of comparison is irrelevant at the end of the day, each country runs its systems in the way it wants. The reality is that the entire combination that the UK runs (local governments, with devolved parliaments voted for by proportional systems, with a FPTP GE and non-elected Lords) is (to my knowledge) not seen anywhere else in the world. But that in itself isn’t a reason to move away from what we do or endorse it…we govern in a way that suits us, and the best way to govern better is to adapt and amend, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      Comparisons with other countries, statements like “only three other countries use AV”, it’s just lazy and disrespectful to the legacy and independence of each nation taking it’s own path to democracy as it see’s fit.

      • Lee I’ve no idea whether more people use PR than FPTP – but do remember we’re talking about AV – not PR.

        I take your point that just because only 3 countries use AV that it necessarily means there’s anything wrong with it – However I made that point in response to the Yes camp’s assertion that one of the reasons for moving to AV is that we would then be more like the rest of the world. That’s certainly not the case.

        Saying it’s lazy and disrespectful of to say that is a bit far fetched in my humble opinion.

        A large number of countries and voters use both FPTP and PR systems of one kind or another – which could be considered endorsements of both – how “ringing” those endorsements are is clearly open to debate.

        Similarly large numbers of countries and people drive on the left, and the right around the world. Which could again be seen as endorsements of either. None that I know of have legislation to make people drive down the middle. Which I would say is hardly a ringing endorsement of driving down the middle of the road.

        It doesn’t of itself provide evidence that it’s not a good idea – just that no one’s taken it up. It does however start one thinking about why they haven’t taken up that policy – and in the same way I wonder why people haven’t taken up AV.

        I’m fairly neutral on this issue by the way, but as I say I’m beginning to be inclined towards a “No” vote

  5. This is really interesting to me because I’ve only really read arguments from the Yes side of the campaign. I’m personally just an outsider looking in – being a follower of British politics from a republic with a pretty long-standing tradition of PR (open party list, votes counted using D’Hondt method, one chamber parliament with 200 MP’s) and coalition governments. The comparison to Finland is always kind of looming in the back of my head, not to say that my country’s system is better, more to the point that different histories create different systems that work in different ways.

    Having never voted for a big party (in Finland we’ve got three), I just really enjoy the idea that even if the Green or Left Alliance (this is a small-ish Finnish left-wing party) candidate I vote for does not get in, my vote is counted in favour of the party, so it might help another candidate get in, and thus the party I vote for gains representation. So I really dislike the idea of safeseats and any system that creates such.

    At the same time I am incredibly wary of AV as a system where coalitions are a very rare, new thing and parties are not used to working together in the least. I’m definitely with you on wanting bigger change overall, and because British smaller parties have never governed, never even been involved in governing and aren’t considered as credible alternatives to the bigger parties, going from the current system to AV would just benefit LibDems, which hardly seems … wait for it … fair.

    So while I in theory don’t really take a strong stance either way, I guess I am more skeptic towards AV than anything. I’m interested in seeing how this vote turns out, though – I’ve seen some Yessers say that it’ll go through because everybody who wants it to, votes, those who don’t want it, don’t feel passionate enough to vote against. In the end, it’s not really the electoral system that reforms the country, but the politicians elected through it. In Finland, coalition governments helped build a welfare state which I enjoyed fruits of from kindergarten to free university education. In Britain as I understand it, post-war Labour governments carried out largely the same mission. To me it’s one of those things that just goes to show, no system is perfect but no system is without merit, either. (AV is a weird one, though. I talked to an Aussie who’s lived in London about it some months back, her feelings were summed up with this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMvIzV2D2LM)

    (Sorry for rambling comment. In my own wishywashy strange foreigner way I am agreeing with you. :D)

  6. An excellent post, sums up most of the arguments against AV. I find it worrying that the electorate will go to the polls (those who bother) thinking ‘oh, a change must be better than this’ and vote Yes. That campaign group is being deliberately vague on the specifics because when AV is explained (especially in terms of helping the Lib Dems) people don’t want it. Well, good! The job for us No people is to educate as many others as we can find. Otherwise Yes will win by default.

  7. Alas I can’t see as much reason or worth in this article as Lucy above does. I’ve rambled a bit, so please find my response here. http://j.mp/gcyRFk

    I will, however, gladly be specific on any aspect of AV you wish if you tweet me on @niaccurshi (because I am unlikely to keep checking back here) and disprove this fallacy that there are no arguments supporting AV.

  8. Saadaab Janab

    Wholeheartedly agree with every single point. Nothing left to be said.

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