Alternative vote: a reconnaissance by fire

I’ve realised that I don’t know where I stand on electoral reform. (With that, even my readership vanishes into the distance like Libyan rebels encountering Gadhafi’s one loyal artillery observer.) So I’ve decided to abuse both sides in the hope that they react interestingly.

For AV: What, you want to give Nick Clegg what he wants? Crush! Like! Rat! Are you chicken? Anyway, it’s not proper proportional voting – it’s just a weak compromise that happens to give Cleggy Boy a life pension without even the embarrassment of going to the Lords. Alan Beattie is right. The Left, the Greens, the ‘kippers and fascists and God knows what, they’ll all be shut out just as much as ever. And, y’know, AV is cheating, like stealth aircraft and quantum computing and gas barbecues. Caroline Lucas didn’t need AV to get elected – she had to do it the hard way. And if the Lib Dems get AV, do you really think they’ll be in a hurry to concede STV? They get all the benefit of AV, and then they’ll pocket it and just sit there. No is good. Look at the polls, anyway – the solution is to force a general election as soon as possible. Power, baby!

Against AV: Well, nice mates you’ve got there. Have you seen the fuckos and liars and thugs and gargoyles on your side? There’s “Tom” “Newton”-“Dunn” of the “Sun”, talking about “Baroness Warsi warns that the DANGEROUS alternative vote system will let FASCISTS into the House of Commons…” Rather than the papers, where they belong. It’s the M factor – whatever Murdoch wants is evidently wrong. There’s the charming No campaign, which is so rich it refused to take its public funding so it didn’t have to admit to who’s funding it. And just imagine Eric Pickles’ face! And Redwood! The horror of it! We have a moral responsibility to vote against the Tory in all its forms.

Does that cover everything? I’m teetering between the principle of spanking Clegg and the principle of doing anything the Murdoch papers are lying about. On the merits, as far as I can see, AV is a little better than the current system, but not really enough to be worth having and certainly not enough to let the Lib Dems off the hook. And I’m in the mood for approval voting, the system where you cross off all the candidates you absolutely reject and the least hated wins. But please try to convince me.


  1. Another advantage of AV — it makes it easier to get rid of unpopular MPs. I would love to see the look on Clegg’s face if AV wins and the voters of Sheffield Hallam use it to get rid of him.

  2. aelle

    Not an answer, but an interesting and possibly relevant fact, given your comments on Caroline Lucas: Two weeks ago, in Germany’s land of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the CDU was removed from power after 58 years in government. There will now be a Green-SPD coalition, with the Greens the stronger faction. It was considered remarkable that the Greens “even” managed to gain 4 seats as “direct mandates” (i.e., achieved a first-past-the-post style victory in four districts). Almost all the other direct mandates remain in the hands of the CDU.

  3. Best thing to do is to just not bother with voting this time and refuse to validate the idea that this actually matters.

  4. Raphael

    What. The. Fuck? Did Nick Clegg cut funding for your brain, too? Basing your opinion, let alone your vote or lack thereof, on this in any way or to any extent on your opinion of Clegg or the Lib Dems is so incredibly fucking stupid that I wouldn’t believe anyone would actually do it if I wouldn’t see it with my own eyes. It’s as if you’d become a climate change denier after Al Gore did something that pissed you off.

    Clegg will be history in four years (at worst). A very well paid piece of history, and perhaps, as you say, with a guaranteed lifetime seat in the Commons, but still, history. The outcome of the Referendum, on the other hand, might well affect UK politics for decades.

    As far as I can tell, if voters don’t act too stupidly, the main effect of AV in Britain would be that the Tories (or UKIP, or the BNP,) wouldn’t be able anymore to win a constituency where most voters are more or less left of centre or centre-left through a split in the left-leaning vote.

    Which, going by past results, might mean that it would become a lot more difficult for the Tories to win a majority in the Commons anytime soon, or even to get as close to an outright majority as they’re now again.

    And I think that matters a bit more than the fact that you’re angry at Nick Clegg.

  5. Phil

    Against AV: Well, nice mates you’ve got there.

    Is that it?

    And just imagine Eric Pickles’ face! And Redwood! The horror of it! We have a moral responsibility to vote against the Tory in all its forms.

    No. Tories will always be Tories, and they will almost always be visibly loathsome. The fact that a No vote is something they happen to want is regrettable, but it doesn’t really change anything – it certainly won’t make anyone voting No think that the Tories are suddenly good guys. Whereas Clegg’s Lib Dems – and this coalition – still have credibility to lose. Anything that makes the coalition less cohesive is good for us (and for the country), as is anything that stops the Lib Dem leadership from carrying on as if 2010 was politics as usual.

    Turn it round: the fact that a Yes vote would make Nick Clegg happy wouldn’t be a good enough reason to vote No, but the prospect of a Yes vote consolidating Clegg’s leadership of the Lib Dems and hence stabilising the coalition is quite good enough for me.

    Having said all of that, if STV or even AV+ was on the menu I’d vote Yes, both because they’re good systems (I’m not at all convinced that AV is even a better system than FPTP), and because I think PR would open up & destabilise the political system in a way that would make Tory government more or less impossible. But it ain’t, and I’m not at all persuaded by the argument that rejecting AV will make PR harder to get – you could make just as good a case that implementing one major voting reform would make another harder to achieve.

  6. Chris Williams

    I’m with Phil on this: vote No to split the Lib Dems and bring down the Coalition ASAP. The next lot in will find it harder to screw up the public sector.

  7. aelle

    I should add that the point of my comment was meant to be that grabbing the data for that election and seeing whether the resulting change of government would be conceivable under AV might be helpful.

    Other than that, there seems to be an unspoken assumption that if the coalition fell apart in the near future, a general election would throw out the Tories. This is a huge assumption and in my view quite unwarranted, especially given Miliband’s lacklustre I’ll-cut-you-slower opposition.

  8. Cian

    What would keep the LibDems together if they got AV? I can’t really see it helping Nick Clegg either way.

  9. Chris Williams

    Would a General Election throw out the Tories? Not sure, but while they were worrying about it, it wouldn’t half set their legislation back six months. And once cuts start to bite, their chances of getting back begin to sink: quite a few people who are happy with the TPA fantasy about cuts are going to change their minds when they find out what they necessarily entail.

  10. “Caroline Lucas didn’t need AV to get elected – she had to do it the hard way”

    Very much agreed, and while I am deeply sympathetic towards the liberal creed they need to earn success, principally by not espousing policies that do not attract wide public approval.

    AV is not a terrible system, i like majoritarian systems, but it is IMO inferior to FPTP for reasons that i consider important, tho i realise they may not prove significant others.

    Everyone has priorities, what matters is where you place yours.

    I dislike systems that encourage coalitions, because the guiding ideology must be tempered to appeal widely to the broader electorate, but on the other hand I don’t like policy to be watered down to create room for compromise.

    Given that Oz has shown that policy does become less radical in the pursuit of compromise I consider that a significant mark against.

    Given that AV would tend to take seats away from either the Cons or Labour depending on who was unpopular, thus increasing the chance of a hung parliament, I likewise consider this a mark against.

    I respect the arguments that FPTP does not properly accommodate a more plural electorate as well as AV, but it simply isn’t a priority for me, nor too is the principle of proportionality.

    The worst mark against AV, in particular, is that it can in-extremis lead to massive landslide wins, for while I am in favour of majoritarian government I do want Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to be able to fulfil their allotted role; to hold the government of the day to account.

    If this was a choice between FPTP and PR of some variety then my objection would be stronger, as I value the direct constituency link, but as things are I merely conclude that AV is inferior at delivering the system of governance I value.

  11. Getting AV would help the Lib Dems in three ways, two symbolic and one practical. Firstly and at the most basic level, it’s good news for the troops: electoral reform is something they wanted and by god they’d have got it. Its effects on Clegg’s credibility within the party would be astronomical, given how microscopically low it is now. Secondly, also symbolically but on a slightly more sophisticated level, if the Lib Dems win the vote on AV it will show that the coalition enables them to give people something they want (proof: they voted Yes) in spite of the Tories (proof: they campaigned for a No vote). It would be a massive validation of the coalition.

    Come 2015, finally, we have an election run under AV in bodged-up new constituencies, and who benefits? The Tories benefit a bit from UKIP and BNP second prefs, but this is largely a self-cancelling process, because UKIP and the BNP get a lot more first preferences than last time. Labour and the Greens / Respect / whoever, same thing on a smaller scale. The big gainers are the Lib Dems – everyone’s favourite second choice. The problem is, there’s a difference between “when push comes to shove, gun to my head, I guess I prefer the Lib Dems to the Tories, ultimately” and “if my vote won’t elect a Labour candidate, please use it to help elect a Lib Dem”. STV and AV both over-value second and subsequent preferences in this way, but at least under STV you’ve got a good chance of getting your first preference as well. Rather than doing away with tactical voting, AV is liable to create a new kind of tactical voter – people who voted tactically without realising it.

  12. Phil,

    “The Tories benefit a bit from UKIP and BNP second prefs, but this is largely a self-cancelling process, because UKIP and the BNP get a lot more first preferences than last time”

    The largest recipient of BNP votes is likely to be Labour.

  1. 1 AV: roundup and conclusion of a sort « Alternate Seat of TYR

    […] 17, 2011 in politics So I asked for your help to decide what I thought about the alternative […]

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