Friday, March 11, 2011

A reply to Historians against AV

In a letter to the Times (blocked behind a paywall) a group of historians have declared themselves against the proposed AV voting system. Unlike some others commenting on this I link to the full letter which can be read here.

The arguments they present fall into two camps - 1. It's not democratic; and 2. We've rejected it in the past.

I'll deal with the second point first. It was rejected in both 1917 and 1931, but not by the people. It was debated and rejected in Parliament; no-one beyond MPs had any say in the matter. It's worth re-examining their arguments for rejecting it, but the simple statement as presented here has no validity.

Therefore we are left with the first argument that it's undemocratic. A lot is made of universal suffrage and one person, one vote. The argument presented is that under AV one person's vote would be held to be greater than another's. This argument is undermined by the very quote they use for their second point in that such elections would be determined by

"the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates"
except that's not the case. The value of being worthless only occurs under the current FPTP system; under AV every vote gets counted and despite what those opposing the system say only get counted once. In essence the AV system results in the equivalent of a two-candidate race in which you get one vote which you can use or not as is your own choice. No-one gets two votes.

To use an analogy the current system is like choosing a meal of a menu. I'll have the chicken, you have the vegetarian option. Oh sorry we're out of chicken so you don't get a meal "But if chicken's not available I'd eat the vegetarian" "Nope you can't do that you wanted chicken and that's all you're allowed to want".

Rather than being undemocratic the system allows for for one of the main principles of democracy which is election by majority. As it stands under FPTP a person can be elected on 30% of the vote while the remaining 70% wish they'd drop dead. Sure some of that 70% who didn't directly vote for the winner may be happy they got in over their closest rival but we can't know that. Under AV we can.

Hardly undemocratic; hardly a stab at universal suffrage.


Eran Adams said...

The AV system is really a bad voting system.

An important claim of the supporters of the AV is that “It penalises extremist parties, who are unlikely to gain many second-preference votes.” Well, yes, if you assume the following:


You are a Labour voter. Therefore, you are not in any way going to vote for Tories. So you are left with the option of voting for the LIB-Dem, or any other party – all of which are extreme in one way or the other – may it be the Greens, the BNP or the Loonies.

So, if you decide that voting for the Lib-Dem is not your wish, you will be voting for a party that have one major theme engraved in it’s manifesto that is close to your heart. That will also be the epitome of Tactical Voting – You will be trying to pass your party a message that this or that issue is important for you.

That will put to shame the other claims of the yes campaigners for AV: “It eliminates the need for tactical voting.”

Now, how stupid can the UK voters be! You are lead into the best laid down trap: The Lib-Dem said that the AV is a compromise instead of having the proportional voting system.

This is not true. The AV is a lot better for them than the proportional voting system – as many UK voters will indeed avoid voting for a small extremists party – so they will vote for the Lb-Dem – they will think that they really do not have another choice for the second preference. The Lib-Dem will than be piggy carried to victory in many constitutes with the combined second choice of the two main party’s voters.

And at the same time, we will have some small and extremist parties in our Parliament – just like in the proportional voting system.


With two thirds of the MP’s lacked majority in their areas, one should not be blame to think that the Lib-Dem will become the biggest party in the Parliament. Now, that may not be a bad thing, you might say. Well, the fact is that if that happens, it means that the Lib-Dem won because they where the forced ‘there is nothing better to vote for as second choice’ for most voters.

Well. ‘nothing better’ is not really a political endorsement.

The Lib-Dem went to government for the AV and the AV alone – and not for the ministerial jobs at the current government, as James O’Brian from LBC claims. That calculation is the long term motivation. It promises all the current Lib-Dem MP’s government jobs in the future.

That is nothing less than the biggest political fraud ever. It is only one step down from a military putsch by the Lib-Dem, with the same effect of a revolution.

FlipC said...

Are you saying that extremist parties will get more second-placement votes in contrast to the claims of pro-AV supporters? What if they do?

Let's be blunt when it comes to placement in most parts of the country it's going to be two or three of the big three at the top of the pile for the second round.

So it doesn't matter if any other party garners more or less second-placement votes; only the multi-preference votes for one of those three will actually count. If you voted BNP, UKIP, Con your vote will be added to the Con vote.

Next your point on tactical voting. It does remove a huge chunk of such activity. Rather than voting for the Labour candidate to ensure the Conservative one doesn't get in and thus giving the false impression of a mandate under AV you can vote for the person you want to, but think they have no chance of winning. Then second place the one you think stands a chance and who you'd prefer over someone who might also win.

Will the LibDems become the biggest party in government? It's a distinct possibility given the attitudes between each of the big three (LibDem vote Lab; Lab vote LibDem) which is why LibDem's are for it; Labour is split; and Cons are against it.

Ignore all the political surface stuff and answer this - Should an MP who is elected to a constituency be done so knowing that a majority of that electorate are happy for them to be there?

Which system allows us that knowledge?