Power to the People
Jonathan Isaby at Conservative Home has exposed the weakness of the arguments of the No to AV campaign for next year’s referendum. It is a shame that the No vote is likely to win if it cannot do better than this. These are Isaby’s 11 reasons, which actually amount to three or four, for rejecting the Alternative Vote:
1. AV IS OBSCURE: Only three countries in the world use AV for their national elections: Fiji, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. Well, that’s an argument of principle. Akin to saying that we shouldn’t have an NHS because other countries don’t.
2. AV IS UNFAIR: Supporters of fringe parties can end up having their vote counted five or six times – and potentially decide the outcome of the election – while people who backed the mainstream candidates only get one vote. The old Winston Churchill canard: voters who support a minority party have their vote re-counted only because their most-preferred candidate has been eliminated.
3. AV IS UNEQUAL: AV treats someone’s fifth or sixth choice as having the same importance as someone’s else’s first preference – but there is a big difference between positively wanting one candidate to win and being able to ‘put up with’ another. The same as no 2; the opposite is the case: under AV every voter has an equal chance of influencing the result.
4. AV IS ‘EVEN LESS PROPORTIONAL’ THAN THE CURRENT SYSTEM: So concluded the independent Royal Commission chaired by the senior Liberal Democrat Roy Jenkins in 1998. That depends how people vote; it is up to them. For most of recent history, the Liberal Democrats and predecessors would probably have won more seats.
5. AV IS ‘DISTURBINGLY UNPREDICTABLE’ – another warning from Roy Jenkins. Elections fought under AV would either wildly increase the majority of the winning party (e.g. Labour in 1997, the Tories in the 1980s) or create hung parliaments by giving the balance of power to the third party. Democracy is a bit like that.
6. AV IS NOT WANTED – EVEN BY THE YES CAMPAIGN: Before the general election, Nick Clegg described AV as “a miserable little compromise” and the Electoral Reform Society said they did “not regard it as suitable for the election of a representative body, e.g. a parliament”. I want it.
7. AV IS NO-ONE’S FIRST CHOICE: AV was not in the manifestos of either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Democrats. Many people who want voting reform have spent years campaigning for proportional representation – which AV is not. It is my first choice.
8. AV IS COMPLEX: The Government will have to spend millions of pounds explaining to voters how AV works to prevent a fall in turnout at elections. In Australia, the only reason they have high turnout is because they made voting compulsory. How stupid do FPTP supporters think we are? Are you able to rank more than two options in order of preference?
9. AV IS EXPENSIVE: Under AV we won’t be able to count ballot papers by hand on election night if we want a quick, decisive election result. Local councils will have to purchase electronic counting machines that are very expensive and prone to malfunction. AV can easily be counted by hand. How much longer it would take depends on how people vote; in many cases it will take as long as FPTP if one candidate has more than half of first preferences.
10. AV IS NOT THE REFORM WE NEED: There are lots of genuine reforms which would go some way to restoring people’s trust in politics – but changing our voting system to AV is not one of them. That’s why it’s a shame that we’re about to spend £90 million and five months debating a system that nobody really wants. Let’s have other reforms too, then.
11. AV WILL MAKE POLITICIANS’ PROMISES EVEN MORE MEANINGLESS: AV is a system which will deliver more hung parliaments and therefore necessitate more coalitions. Coalitions mean political leaders picking and choosing which parts of their manifesto they seek to implement after you’ve voted for it, meaning you cannot have confidence that they will stick by any of the promises they have made if they enter government. Contradicted by no 4. Proportionality is not an aim of AV; in practice, Australian elections have produced fewer hung parliaments than British ones.
The argument for the Alternative Vote is that it gives more power to the voters. As I have said before,
being able to rank candidates in order of preference gives more voters more of a chance of a say in the outcome. It is not morally superior, or perfection, but it minimises the need for tactical voting and reduces wasted votes.
It is a small but important change, and the real shame is that the confused arguments of the Nay-sayers are more likely to gain a purchase on political activists for whom the Coalition is a reason to be against coalitions in principle, which they associate with electoral reform.Tagged in: electoral reform
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