Voting No To AV With A Clear Conscience

Why is it, that when I think of the informative, mature and exciting nature of much of the Great Debate on the Alternative Vote in recent weeks, this image comes to mind?

Tomorrow’s the day when we decide whether we want the Alternative Vote or not. As my last post suggests, I am going to vote ‘No’ as I want Proportional Representation. If AV is sent packing, I won’t cry. No more than those Australian Republicans who did not vote for the abolition of  the Monarchy in the referendum of 1999 because the alternative- a President nominated by the politicians in Parliament, rather than one chosen by the Australian people- was worse than the status quo.

I guess that , if you can be asked to vote, you have already made up your mind about which way to vote. So I’ll just say and post a few things which you can look at if you are suffering pre-voting insomnia.

One aspect of this referendum campaign (if you noticed it) was the prominence of celebrities in the ‘Yes’  campaign. Look, there’s people off the telly- vote for us! The sight of Stephen Fry, Eddie Izzard, Colin Firth etc giving their opinions on AV reminds me of the likes of Jim Davidson, Paul Daniels and Phil Collins telling us back in the 1980s and 1990s that they would leave the country if Labour got back in.

Anyway, I will give in and  quote a celebrity of sorts on AV. A bit like me, he is pro-PR but anti-AV.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Labour councillor, (unsuccessful) 2010 General Election Parliamentary candidate and Blur’s drummer, Dave Rowntree:

Now I am absolutely in favour of reform, but not just any reform. I want to see proportional representation. If a party wins 40% of the vote it should get 40% of seats in the Commons. If a party gets 20% of votes it should get 20% of seats. It isn’t a hard concept to understand, and there are systems in place in countless other countries that produce this sort of result.

But AV is not proportional representation. It doesn’t stop majority governments being elected on a minority of votes, it doesn’t stop landslide results and it doesn’t do anything to ensure minority parties get even one seat in the Commons.

Thne there is the excellent NO to AV, YES to PR website (which has helped me keep sane in the last few weeks), which I think is worth a gawp at. For instance, it has a thorough demolition of myths about AV for pro-PR types who are on the cusp of  voting ‘Yes’:

AV Myths

AV isn’t even a ‘step in the right direction’; it doesn’t address the major problems facing Britain’s democracy and, in many cases, it will make things worse. We need real reform, and AV is not the answer.

MYTH: AV will be a ‘stepping stone’ to PR

REALITY: No country has ever moved from AV to PR

The notion of AV as a ‘stepping stone’ to PR is wishful thinking. If AV proves popular, there won’t be demand for further change; if electoral reform proves unpopular, voters will demand a return to first past the post. That’s what has happened elsewhere:

  • The Western provinces of Canada returned to first past the post after using AV for over twenty years
  • Six out of ten voters in Australia say they want to return to first past the post, not a change to PR
  • Polls ahead of New Zealand’s referendum on whether to keep PR show that first past the post is the leading alternative

By contrast, many countries have moved directly from first past the post to PR, including New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland. That’s the change we should be demanding. As Lord Owen says in his ‘No to AV, Yes to PR’ letter to the Guardian, ‘a new voting system has to be tested for a substantial period of time – otherwise it will destabilise our political system and encourage cynical attempts to change the system for partisan gain’. Constitutional change doesn’t – and shouldn’t – happen regularly.

That’s why it’s important to support real reform, not change for the sake of change. If AV passes, we’ll be stuck with a system that is no more proportional than FPTP and significantly worse in other ways. In Nick Clegg’s words ‘Referendums have a fairly definitive feel about them – not forever – but I wouldn’t be expecting another one’.

MYTH: A No vote will end any chance of PR in the future

REALITY: A No vote will keep the door open for real reform

Obviously the defeat of AV will not immediately trigger a referendum on PR, but a progressive ‘No to AV, Yes to PR’ can keep the door open. The reasons for PR won’t go away after a NO vote; the pressure for PR won’t go away after a NO vote; the fragmentation of political parties won’t end after a NO vote. It’s our job to capitalize on this and put real reform on the agenda after the referendum.

And the organisations that have – before their damascene conversion to AV – campaigned for proportional representation won’t disappear after a No vote. As the Electoral Reform Society stated, ‘The electoral reform movement is not going to go away after AV and accept a permanent settlement that is not based on proportionality’. There will be future opportunities for real reform, whether for the House of Lords, local council elections, or, perhaps after another hung parliament, Westminster.

Implementing AV, however, would end the reform process, burdening the UK with an unfair, disproportional system for the foreseeable future.

MYTH: AV will ensure that candidates have the support of 50 per cent of local voters

REALITY: More than four out of 10 MPs won’t get 50 percent under AV, and the threshold is a red herring anyway

Under AV, many MPs will be returned without the support of most local voters, let alone a majority of constituents. Professors Rallings and Thrasher at the University of Plymouth have estimated that ‘more than four out of ten’ MPs will get less than 50% of vote under AV.

More importantly, MPs should be representatives of all their constituents, not just those that voted for them. Basing legitimacy on 50% of the vote disregards the interests of those who didn’t vote and gives the illusion of legitimacy to elections with low turnouts.

Given that so many Yes-supporting organisations, like the Electoral Reform Society, say they support PR, they should recognise the artificial and arbitrary nature of a 50% threshold. After all, winners under STV would be expected to get less than 50%.

MYTH: AV will end safe seats and make MPs work harder

REALITY: AV will make no difference in current safe seats, and won’t make MPs work harder

In the 217 seats where the winner got more than 50% of the vote in 2010, AV will make no difference. In another 74 seats where the winner had a majority of more than 20%, AV would almost certainly have no impact, making a total of at least 291 seats that would be unaffected.

AV only affects seats that are already competitive, because these are the seats where second and third preferences can potentially make a difference. Studies of the 2010 election confirm this; the 43 seats where AV would have made a difference were almost all already competitive seats (marginals such as Cardiff North and Dudley North).

Moreover, AV risks creating new safe seats. There’s no reason to believe that the order of voters’ second preferences will be any less consistent than their first preference; therefore an MP who wins by receiving 40% of first preferences and 20% of second preferences could be in a new ‘AV safe seat’.  As a report by AV2011 indicates, AV simply doesn’t end safe seats.

MYTH: AV will make Parliament more diverse

REALITY: AV won’t make it easier for small parties to win seats

Far from benefiting them, AV could make it harder for smaller parties to get elected.  Because it is not proportional, minority parties are unlikely to win even a single additional seat under AV.

In fact, the Greens and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists might struggle to hold on to their seats under AV, none of which were won with more than 50% of the vote. As Dr Cox put it, ‘using AV…it is possible that neither Plaid Cymru nor the Lib Dems will win a single seat (in Wales)’ (Institute of Welsh Affairs, Winter 2010).

Results in Australia demonstrate the difficulty of winning as a small party under AV. Only two third party MPs have been elected at a general election in the past 90 years. The Greens won their first seat in the House of Representatives in 2010, the same year as in the UK under First Past the Post.

MYTH: AV will end wasted votes

REALITY: Only PR can end wasted votes

Unlike PR, AV simply doesn’t end wasted votes. In a seat won on 51% of an AV vote, 49% of ballots would still be wasted. If Yes supporters believe that ‘wasted votes’ are a critical problem, they should be supporting a PR system such as STV.

Moreover, AV can reduce wastage for some people but increase it for others. If second preferences change the outcome of a race, votes for the losing candidate – who would have won under FPTP – will now be ‘wasted’ (unlike in the Single Transferable Vote system).

MYTH: AV will end tactical voting

REALITY: Only PR can end tactical voting

Although AV supporters like to say AV eliminates tactical voting, as Dr Roger Mortimore from Ipsos MORI argues: ‘This claim is simply untrue. Under AV there is a real incentive for tactical voting, because the order in which candidates are eliminated affects the result’.

In other words, under AV giving a candidate a higher ranking will sometimes cause that candidate to lose because the order of elimination determines whether voters’ later preferences count. In a close three-way race, for example, a Labour supporter may be more confident that their candidate can beat the Liberal Democrat than the Conservative candidate, and therefore vote for the Liberal Democrat to tip him or her into the final round.

Sometimes AV can even make staying at home tactically better than voting—the ‘no-show paradox.’ In the US, for example, Republicans in Burlington, Vermont would have been better off had some of them stayed home during the last mayoral election (3 March 2009). Had some Republicans not voted for their candidate, the centrist Democrat – for whom most Republicans cast their second preferences – would have made it to the second round and beat the left-wing Progressive.

Finally, is there anyone out there in ‘Yes to AV’ camp who would seriously fight on the metaphorical barricades for AV, as opposed to PR? Even some of the most high-profile ‘Yes to AV’ supporters seem to have had a four minute mile on the road to Damascus conversion to its merits (Hat-tip: Paul Anderson atAV is not PR for reading The Daily Mail so I didn’t have to!):

WHAT THEY USED TO SAY

I am not going to settle for a miserable little compromise thrashed out by the Labour Party. [Thrashed out by you and Call Me Dave is another kettle of fish entirely, Nick?]
Nick Clegg, Deputy PM, April 2010

AV is slanted in favour of the bigger parties. We need a simple, fair system, not a fake reform that covers its embarrassment with jargon.
Caroline Lucas, February 2010 [a bit disappointed with the Greens, seeing that Carloine Lucas put forward a proposal in the Commons to put a PR option on the ballot paper.]

[AV would] be an ill-fitting corset attempting to squeeze diverse strands of opinion into an inappropriate, deeply uncomfortable shape.
Chris Huhne, February 2010

If we want reform to rebuild public trust and confidence in politics, make MPs more accountable, give more power to people and establish a political and parliamentary system that more reflects the will of the public, then AV doesn’t deliver that.
Ben Bradshaw, director of Labour Yes to AV, November 2009

Anyway, there you have it from me. I’ll vote and we’ll what happens.  I’m sure, whatever the result, that the world won’t spin off its axis…

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Published in: on May 4, 2011 at 6:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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