Over the past few weeks I have written, tweeted and talked about AV for more than is healthy. Still, it’s all in a good cause. I promise this will be the last post on electoral reform in a while.
I alluded to my post on the Green Party Conference of an attitude within certain sections of the party to AV of what can be best described as “principled apathy”. As part of this, Jane Watkinson and Darrell Goodliffe have written an “AV Myth-busting” post which deserves attention.
Let’s get one thing clear: the referendum will be between First Past the Post (FPTP) and Alternative Vote (AV). Therefore all I hope to prove in this post is that AV is better than FPTP and deserving of a Yes vote. In the last point I’ll explain why AV is still worth voting for. Bear in mind, then: I don’t think AV is perfect – very little is – but it’s still an improvement on FPTP.
The article has five main points, which I have paraphrased:
1. AV does not eliminate tactical voting, because the focus then goes on second preferences, especially those of marginal parties
AV does not eliminate all tactical voting. However, it eliminates almost all tactical voting. Under FPTP voters like the Greens have to decide whether to vote with their head or their heart. Do you vote for a fringe candidate who’s policies you agree with, or do you vote for someone you agree with less but has more chance of winning? With AV, this dilemma is eliminated, as you can do both with a clear conscience. Or, as Roy Jenkins put it:
[AV] would increase voter choice in the sense that it would enable voters to express their second and sometimes third or fourth preferences, and thus free them from a bifurcating choice between realistic and ideological commitment or, as it sometimes is called, voting tactically
Hence, AV is better than FPTP on this score.
(I’ll deal with the issue of minority parties later)
2. AV is not a separate issue to the boundary review:
If the AV referendum falls then it would be quite legitimate and proper for the opposition to then insist that the government’s mandate to carry out the boundary review simply doesn’t exist and insist the whole Bill be reconsidered by Parliament.
Enough already about the bloody boundary review! As I have written before, there is nothing wrong about equalising constituency boundaries. These boundaries at the moment disproportionately favour Labour. On twitter tonight there was much talk of the latest Yougov poll that has the Conservatives on 40% and Labour on 39%. Someone from Labour tweeted excitedly that if replicated in a General Election, Labour would gain 321 seats to the Conservatives’s 281. Labour supporters tweet results like these, which show that the boundaries at the moment obviously favour themselves if they can win a majority of seats with fewer votes than the Tories, and then have the gall to complain that equalising constituency boundaries would be gerrymandering! What hypocrisy!
Also, the idea that one supposedly contentious topic in a bill renders all other bits of that Act of Parliament null and void is ridiculous. I trust that’s self evident.
3. AV would not elimated wasted votes
Here, Jane and Darrell quote Roy Jenkins:
AV on its own suffers from a stark objection. It offers little prospect of a move towards greater proportionality, and in some circumstances, and those the ones which certainly prevailed at the last election and may well do so for at least the next one, it is even less proportional that FPTP…In particular, there would still be large tracts of the country which would be electoral deserts for major parties. Conservative voters in Scotland, for example, might only hope to influence the result through their second choice…
This is all true, and why Jenkins recommended “AV plus”, which would probably be a better electoral system than AV, but not one being offered in May. However, if AV does eliminate some safe seats, and therefore some wasted votes, it is better than FPTP and therefore worthy of a Yes vote. Also, Jenkins does say that “Conservative voters in Scotland, for example, might only hope to influence the result through their second choice”. Scotland certainly is an electoral desert for the Conservatives, as they have no seats there at the moment. But if voters can influence the result through their second choice, than these votes aren’t wasted, are they? So AV is an improvement on FPTP and would help get rid of wasted votes.
4. AV will not elimate extremist parties like the BNP
I will give Jane and Darrell this point. It’s not electoral systems that can defeat the BNP, but debate. I also agree with them that the BNP deserves Parliamentary representation if people will be misguided enough to vote for them.
On the subject of the second preference votes of extremists like the BNP deciding elections: generally, people will vote BNP as a protest vote (in which case BNP would be their only voting choice and no second preference will be made) or they tend to be disaffected Labour or Conservative voters, in which case their second preference will go to them. Either way, I don’t think worrying about the second preference of fringe parties is worth it. As I wrote last time:
Burnley, for instance, was a safe Labour seat, and because it was a safe seat its sitting MP would not listen to the concerns of local residents. The BNP vote grew in Burnley because voters did not feel their MP was listening to them on issues such as housing and education. Their vote grew from zero in 1992 to over 4000 in 2001 and 2005: a reflection of how much voters felt their MP was ignoring them. It’s not as if 4000 people in Burnley suddenly became racist in nine years. However, an active Liberal Democrat party in Burnley began to campaign against the BNP and for the needs of local residents. This year the Liberal Democrats won almost 15000 votes in Burnley, tripling their vote from 1997, to take what had been a Labour seat since 1945, whilst the BNP vote dropped by a quarter. AV would make more seats more competitive, meaning that MPs would have to take more notice of their constituents. We’d have representative democracy, in other words.
5. A Yes vote for AV hinders the chances of future electoral reform:
In many ways, AV is the step in the wrong direction. It is unhelpful and does little to further the case for reform. It will act as a stalemate, and it will be very unlikely that there is another vote on electoral systems for some time….In conclusion, we have demonstrated the problems with the ‘AV Myths’ that are increaseingly (sic) being peddled by the pro-AV camp in its efforts to convince itself as much as other people of the worthiness of a system that was even described by Nick Clegg as a ‘miserable little compromise’.
If we are going to keep quoting Clegg’s remark, can we please put it in its proper context, in which he does say that AV would be a small improvement on FPTP. Which is exactly why you should vote Yes. It’s also strange that those in favour of PR are criticising the process by which we have this referendum, given that it’s a product of a coalition government, of a type we’d have lots more of if we had PR!
In a conversation on Facebook, someone made the point that:
We are not voting AGAINST AV – defeating the motion to vote FOR is just to say that we are neutral
Um…defeating the motion for is exactly the same as voting no. To say otherwise is a specious argument. As Rupert Read argued on Saturday, it’s a question on which one needs to ask oneself, “which side are you on?” – for or against reform. People standing in the middle of the road, as Nye Bevin said, generally get run over. A no vote would scupper electoral reform, probably forever, whereas AV is a step towards potentially something like AV plus. Voting no would certainly not show that the British people want a PR electoral system. The comment on Jane’s blog that she mentions is particularly dunderheaded, but it is correct to say, as Sunny Hundal argues, that electoral reform tends to be incremental.
AV is better than FPTP. Vote Yes for electoral reform. That’s all I want to say on the topic now, otherwise my mental well-being will be severely tested soon.