The AV campaign is pants

The campaign for AV was launched today.  It was rubbish.  I could have made a better case for AV.  Leaving aside the misuse of the English language, given it a weight it cannot reasonably bear, some of the claims were either demonstrably untrue or highly dubious.  We are told that employing AV will get rid of ‘safe seats’.  What?   This suggests that either its proponents don’t understand AV or haven’t looked at voting behaviour.  Which are the really safe seats?  Er, those in which the MP already gets over 50% of the vote and so would be declared elected under a system of AV.   At the last election, that accounted for 214 MPs.  I leave aside those who got 49% of the vote and would likely have won under AV.   So how exactly will AV get rid of safe seats?  Bit too late to say they only meant semi-safe seats.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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17 Responses to The AV campaign is pants

  1. Carl.H says:

    I really am annoyed at this. It hasn’t been looked into properly as a system and will appear incredibly complex, we’re still wrangling now, months after we fisrt started debating and finding all the right information. It isn’t being explained properly, the yes side don’t seem to understand that AV will indeed help the extreme vote. Even the BNP don’t realise it will help them in a lot of places, a lot of labour voters and Tory for that matter will put BNP second.

    As you say AV will not affect safe seats, it will not make politicians work ANY harder and if bought into effect will make weaker Governments. The Lib-Dems are now misguided if they think it will help their case, as Nick Clegg said when Labour offered the same, it is a miserable little compromise compared with what the Lib-Dem party wanted.

    It is a comparitively complex system that has the oddity that can throw out a clear leader in the first round for an outsider in the second. It does nothing to proportionalise the voting system and winners can still be a minority vote, that is below the 50% of the electorate.

    The referendum is not about choice, most preferred systems have been precluded. It is a costly PR effort in order to satisfy a minority party in order to keep them happy. It is millions of pounds of tax payers money being used to bribe the LIb-Dems to continue with a coalition in which they are being put very firmly in the firing line. Nick Clegg’s career is over, it’s just a question of whether the Party wishes to follow him into obscurity.

    This is the most dreadful waste of taxpayers money at a time of cuts and job losses. AV the only system where if you get it dreadfully wrong you get another go. The system where his vote counts twice. The system where the BNP only have to get through the first round to stand a bloomin good chance. I only hope the “No” campaign will be good cos if the people see this as the Tories saying “NO” they probably will vote yes. My advice to Dave, do what Clegg has been told-keep quiet.

  2. ladytizzy says:

    Day One: a campaign launched by comedians, with no politicans, and replacing Tony Robinson’s picture with that of Benjamin Zephaniah on leaflets for Londoner’s (see what I did there?) was nothing short of brave. Almost as brave was the decision to use the winning Colin Firth rather than asking us to witness the spectacle of Mr Clegg and Mr Brown sharing a platform, united in one message. I almost burst in tears.

    Oh, for those halcyon days when their pitch was simple, “AV is better than FPTP” – now the Coalition has gone and ruined everything. Never mind, they said, let’s make paper tiggers ‘cos tiggers are wonderful things; I cannot do justice to the wealth of opportunity to parody that the yestofairervotes.org offers in this short space.

    I would like to know what Yessers have in mind to sort out the mess they will be creating if successful. If I can start with just two: first up, lost deposits from candidates. Currently, those with less than 5% of the vote lose their £500 deposit, after AV, what? Secondly, Short Money, in particular the c.£30 for “every 200 votes” gained by eligible parties* in Opposition. That’s going to push the bill to the taxpayer up if left without further definition. Or, as the Green Party says after a suitable amount of hand wringing:

    “The immediate impact of a General Election for the Green Party fought under AV would be significantly fewer lost deposits and a greater allocation of Short money if we were to win at least one seat in the next General Election. As I made clear in my last post, the decision to back AV or not should not be about what is good for the Green Party, but it is vital that the practical implications of the change are understood for us as a party.”
    http://www.greenfeed.org.uk/feeds/?p=1866

    * Parties in the House of Commons that have secured either two seats or one seat and more than 150,000 votes at the previous General Election.

  3. Carl.H says:

    From Roy Jenkins Senior Lib-Dem (Deceased)

    From the 1998 report of the Jenkins Commission on proportional representation on the AV system.

    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. Simulations of how the 1997 result might have come out under AV suggest that it would have significantly increased the size of the already swollen Labour majority. A ‘best guess’ projection of the shape of the current Parliament under AV suggests on one highly reputable estimate the following outcome with the actual FPTP figures given in brackets after the projected figures: Labour 452 (419), Conservative 96 (165), Liberal Democrats 82 (46), others 29 (29). The overall Labour majority could thus have risen from 169 to 245…

    Added to this, AV on its own, because it makes use exclusively of single-member constituencies, would fail to address several of the more significant defects of FPTP which we identified earlier. 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…

    The Commission’s conclusions from these and other pieces of evidence about the operation of AV are threefold. First, it does not address one of our most important terms of reference. So far from doing much to relieve disproportionality, it is capable of substantially adding to it. Second, its effects (on its own without any corrective mechanism) are disturbingly unpredictable. Third, it would in the circumstances of the last election, which even if untypical is necessarily the one most vivid in the recollection of the public, and very likely in the circumstances of the next one too, be unacceptably unfair to the Conservatives. Fairness in representation is a complex concept, as we have seen in paragraph 6, and one to which the upholders of FPTP do not appear to attach great importance. But it is one which, apart from anything else, inhibits a Commission appointed by a Labour government and presided over by a Liberal Democrat from recommending a solution which at the last election might have left the Conservatives with less than half of their proportional entitlement. We therefore reject the AV as on its own a solution despite what many see as its very considerable advantage of ensuring that every constituency member gains majority acquiescence.

  4. Carl.H says:

    The problem with AV was summed up perfectly by Winston Churchill at the beginning of this century when he pointed that it allows an election to be decided by ‘the least important votes of the least important candidates’. Those voters who have backed one of the two strongest candidates in a constituency get no further say in the process, whereas those who have voted for minor parties and crank candidates then get a second vote to determine the outcome between the two leading parties. I can see no logic to justify a majority of the representatives in parliament being determined by a small minority of voters in each seat who will be allowed the luxury of a second vote.

    • Chris K says:

      Have you seen the referendum guide? It’s just come through my letterbox and it is appalling.

      Why on earth did they give a different example for the hypothetical situation under AV compared to under FPTP? The example they gave for the AV scenario was candidate A and candidate B having roughly equal 1st preference votes, with the winner decided by later preferences.

      Lost a lot of respect for the Electoral Commission.

      • Carl.H says:

        Ficticious scenario

        Blackburnton Town 1000 vote turnout

        1st Round
        Labour 402 Votes (40% winning vote is normality under FPTP)
        BNP 278 Votes
        Tory 223 Votes
        Other 97 Votes

        2nd Round
        Labour 412 Votes
        BNP 347 Votes
        Tory 238 Votes

        3rd Round
        Labour 414 Votes
        BNP 506 Votes

        BNP Wins

  5. macarthursmutterings says:

    I am intrigued to see this ‘launch’ of the campaign now….

  6. Tim says:

    With regard to Carl.H’s scenario (which I don’t seem to have a reply link for):

    I won’t argue with your numbers (apart from pointing out that BNP coming second in first-preference sounds a bit implausible), but imply with the end point. The last round’s figures show that more of the electorate who cast votes for parties not already eliminated (i.e. anyone else wasn’t going to get their candidate in anyway) want the BNP candidate than the Labour candidate. In those circumstances, I don’t see that it is unreasonable to for the constituency to return the BNP candidate.

    • Carl.H says:

      So you are happy for the 97 who voted for obscure parties initially to carry the result for the BNP ?? Because essentially this is what they are doing, less than 10% are controlling the whole election and yet Labour had an initial what 13% lead ?

      The 15 of the 97 who voted Tory in the second, then get ANOTHER GO at voting. Three votes all carrying the same weight, absurd. This system CAN be manipulated.

      Only a Government accountant would be happy with those figures.

      • Tim says:

        Yes. (basically)

        I don’t see that your first preference has any relevance to whether your opinion between Labour and the BNP should be counted. As a thought experiment (which you’ve probably done), if everyone except Labour and the BNP decided they couldn’t win and didn’t stand, assuming everyone wasn’t lying, the BNP candidate would still be elected. Do you object to that?

        The fact it can be manipulated is to a certain extent irrelevant. The question is how easy it is to manipulate. The Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem (Wikipedia’s article) is relevant if you want to try to design a way of doing it that can’t be manipulated.

  7. Carl.H says:

    if everyone except Labour and the BNP decided they couldn’t win and didn’t stand

    Then a certain amount of people would not go out to vote at all. So yes I object.

    And before you say they don’t have to vote more than once, I know, but some will.

    • Tim says:

      Ok, but if we had the same results? You’re arguing that in that case some people wouldn’t vote which would change the results. That’s probably true, but it wasn’t the case I was asking about. The hypothetical case is supposing that the same results occurred under that situation, ie that the same less than 10% swung the election, etc. Of course, it is possible that some people voted for the BNP because they were there and they didn’t quite consider that that vote did mean “I prefer the BNP candidate to the Labour candidate” as you say (or indeed for Labour under the same situation.) But the assumption in all of these has to be that the electorate is well-informed and knows what it’s doing, otherwise what’s the point of the election? Of course, it might not be a very strong preference, and that I admit is an issue (lots of people who marginally prefer candidate A can outvote one person who’s really keen on candidate B) – but that can (I admit possibly less frequently) occur under FPTP.

      • Carl.H says:

        This doesn’t sound very good coming from me but…..

        “But the assumption in all of these has to be that the electorate is well-informed”

        I’m afraid in my opinion that assumption is wrong in a large percentage of cases. It’s also a question of informed of what ? The Manifesto’s that no one I know, save here, ever reads or has ever done in my 5o odd years that I know. How many stories about EU regulations that are pure myth have been believed by the public ? A large portion of the electorate are not well informed, my Dad voted Labour cos he was working class, he knew very little. I’ve never been well informed, the first manifesto I ever read was for 2010, in 2011.

        I’m afraid my idea is not of the electorate studying and making a decisive decision based upon all the evidence. It is more of they caught a headline in a red top, or heard something as they went to switch over, or John down the pub told me Labour plan to pay immigrants more, or Jim said the Tories will increase tax. Opionated yes, informed no.

        I’m informed a lot more now than I ever was and have never been so confused. However I do know that AV is wrong pure and simple, it will confuse, it will lead to cries of fraud, it will be more expensive and much more.

        People are human, the swing voters and they are the ones that count, will vote differently if there’s two seperate rounds than if you ask them to make an AV preference.

  8. ladytizzy says:

    Gibbard & Satterthwaite must have met my mother-in-law whose only wish is for a system that keeps the Tories out.

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