Shall I write?

The Liberal Democrats are threatening to report senior Conservative figures to the electoral regulator after accusing them of misleading the public over the impact of changing the voting system.” Daily Telegraph, 25 April 2011.

Hmm, just wondering if I should write to the Electoral Commission to complain about untruths or misleading claims made by supporters of the Alternative Vote, such as that AV gets rid of tactical voting, eliminates safe seats and ensures that a candidate is elected with the support of more than 50% of those who go to the polls.   Then there is the tortuous way in which they try to hide how few voters use AV to elect their parliaments…

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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23 Responses to Shall I write?

  1. Carl.H says:

    The Electoral Commission says it cannot investigate claims of dishonesty during the AV referendum campaign.

    Such utter desperation from the “yes” camp is ludicrous and I feel inpart caused by their willingness to accept AV as the system to vote on. It is not a system that would be approved by parliament nor should it be by the electorate. The AV system is simply a way of saying ” Oh look you didn’t vote the right way initially, try again” with someones 4th preference counting the same as my first. The “Yes” lobby have lied about the system from the start and now the LIb-Dem party as a whole and Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg are accusing people, in Cleggs case the PM and conservative party, of racketeering and being utterly dishonest whilst they KNOW the AV system will empower minority parties into a manipulative position as they are now.

    57 Seats and 23% of the total 2010 election vote have forced our Government to act in this manner and yet the Lib-Dems want this system to stop minorities ruling our country. Pot & kettle.

  2. Dave H says:

    Serves them right for thinking that most of us believe what either side says. There’s also the Streisand Effect that guarantees that pretty much everyone, even those who’ve tried to avoid it all, will become aware of the statements now the Yes campaign have obligingly highlighted them.

  3. Stuart says:

    Is not mentioning something the same as trying to hide it? The Yes campaign has been horrendous and misleading in many ways, but I don’t think commenting on the wider sub-national use of AV is the same as concealing the minimal national use. (A fine line perhaps). That said, your blog post about the claims re Conservative and French elections highlight their misleading conflation of voting in rounds with voting by AV (the X-Factor analogy seems to be similarly misguided).
    I can’t help noticing No To AV (e.g. Louise Bagshawe on Have I Got News For You) talking about AV bringing coalitions “after every election”. For a start, this ignores the trend towards closer elections that resulted in the current coalition following the 2010 hung parliament and the evidence that AV would (probably) have given majorities in the elections of the 1990s and 2000s, with a question-mark over 1992 and (unsurprisingly) a hung parliament in 2010. It also presupposes both that hung parliaments will result in coalitions and that FPTP will avoid this result, the latter painfully obviously incorrect given last year’s result and the former undermined by the last two election results in Canada.
    Both sides are trading in half-truths, exaggerations, outright lies and the assumption that politicians cannot be trusted. Shameful really.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Stuart: Quite. I always try to ensure that any claims I make are empirically valid. Coalitions may be more prevalent under AV – one can see the reasoning that would lead to that conclusion – though at times it may produce a government with a massive majority. We can only make assumptions based on experience elsewhere and current voting behaviour. However, we cannot be certain as to the consequences, since once you introduce a new voting system electors’ behaviour may change quite radically.

  4. David Rostron says:

    Yes you should write. It will give a balanced view.

    • Lord Norton says:

      David Rostron: It would have to be a political gesture if I did. The Electoral Commission cannot investigate such complaints. One presumes those writing were unaware of this fact…..

  5. Andrew Allison says:

    Lord Norton: During his interview on the ‘Daily Politics’ a couple of weeks’ ago, John Howard commented that in the UK we have a large third party – the Lib Dems, but in Australia this is not the case. There is the coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party, and Labor, with other parties polling a low percentage of the vote. Although one cannot state that coalitions will be an automatic result of AV, it is more likely that those voting for one of the main parties as their first preference will give the Lib Dems their second preference vote. In many seats there is the likelihood of the majority of people not getting the MP they wanted by using AV. I also cannot see how it is fair that second, and even third and fourth preference votes are given the same weight as first preference votes.

    If Lord Jenkins rejected AV, then it must be an awful system. I am not averse to voting reform, but until a system is devised that is better than FPTP, I want to stick with the status quo. I certainly don’t want the form of PR that gives us a BNP MEP in Yorkshire, when over 90% of the voters rejected that party.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Andrew Allison: I suspect that were AV to be introduced it would soon become unpopular for the reasons you mention. The Jenkins Commission did indeed see the faults with AV, which was why they were against introducing it in its present form.

  6. ladytizzy says:

    The Independent of 22 April ran the headline:
    “Voting referendum neck-and-neck as Yes campaign gains support”.

    As the dryly noted,”[the headline]… incidentally, wins our coveted “crap media reporting of polls” award by claiming this shows the YES campaign gaining support. It does not – there is no earlier TNS poll to compare it to.”

  7. ladytizzy says:

    Whether you dob in the YESers is like asking us to condone a sack of kittens being drowned – it’s brutal, and they won’t understand why.

    Awww, could you be so cruel, Lord Norton? Could you?

  8. Carl.H says:

    My main worry has appeared, Mandelson is calling for the referendum as a way of hurting Cameron/the Tories.

    This is beyond the pale in a venture that has always been a free vote, non party referendum. A lot of Labour MPs are in the “No” camp, where does this leave them. Might I suggest Lord Prescott, if he can find the time between TV ads, makes clear to the media not all the Labour party support Mandy in his call.

  9. Alex Bennee says:

    I doubt either side going to Electoral Commission is going to solve anything. Frankly I’ve been disappointed by the standard of debate on both sides of the campaign. The “No to AV” camp can’t maintain a moral high ground either with statements like “One Person, One Vote” with the implied slur that AV is less democratic. It seems the campaign has sunk into mostly negative campaigning – the last “Yes to AV” message I saw equating a vote for AV as a “progressive” vote against a Tory/BNP alliance.

    I appreciate I’m possibly a rarity as a pro-AV Tory 🙂

    While writing the commission isn’t going to solve anything between now and polling day I’d welcome your thoughts on those matters on this blog. At least the standard of debate here is of a consistently high quality!

    • Carl.H says:

      Alex you are politically minded and I would say possibly above average intelligence, not everyone whom you would ask to partake of AV is.

      I would like to try this experiment.

      Take AV voting forms into a working mans cafe and school playground, ask them to fill them in the preferential order. Go back a week later and repeat. My money is on same #1’s but very different results from 2-5 over the weeks. Some may say people outlooks will change over a week, it maybe true in a minority of cases where specific issues have arisen. My money is most will fill the cards from 2-5 as they would a lottery ticket. You have my blessing to try this experiment, I hold no patent on it 😉

      • Alex Bennee says:


        I think it’s dangerous argument to keep/reject voting systems based on the perceived ability of the population to understand the system. It is a bit of a council of despair if we don’t think the Electoral Commission can explain the system to the great unwashed.

        However it would be an interesting experiment to run. I suspect if the Yes vote wins you’ll also be able to do a statistical analysis after 2 elections and see if the scenario you describe is happening.

      • Carl.H says:

        I’m quite open to the thought of PR in reality but AV is far from that, I was hardly rejecting everything else out of hand by rejecting this, what I would call, bodge.

        PR is not a bodge, one person, one vote for their favourite party or member. None of this “if you can’t have them, who else would you like ” infinitely it would seem.

        It is not a council of despair to understand and see the people around me who are not going to look into the system or are not interested in having it explained to them until they turn up on the day. I am part of the great unwashed and those leaflets go in the recycling bin if you are lucky, well that’s where my wife, my 32 y.o. and my 20 y.o. put them and asking friends much the same happens.

        Politicians state clearly they are worried about voter apathy on just one person one vote – how does it affect upto 5 or 6 ?

        BTW you are my 27th favourite poster please wait to see if you get the position. What if there were 27 nominees ? How many recounts are you allowed ? 😉

  10. Both sides of the campaign have been spouting forth nonsense, but so far the only one which has put a leaflet through my door is the No campaign, so it’s the only one I can judge on any sort of organised campaign basis rather than single voices. As has been pointed out across the web this leaflet contains absolutely nothing with any basis in fact. This is the sort of campaigning that is being complained about, as it’s sheer scaremongering with no truth behind it. There are many reasons for not using AV, it is far from my perfect choice but I do see minor advantages to it over FPTP. Living in a die-hard Labour constituency, AV is not going to give my vote any more power but it is going to allow me to register my vote for the party I’d like to win in an ideal world, but then state my preference between the parties that have at least a vague chance of actually winning it.

    I am also worried that a No vote to AV will be taken as a No to *any* voting reform in the near future, something I am not willing to risk as I do not like FPTP.

    Lastly for now, I am also incredibly disappointed that Lord Norton is continuing to repeat that AV is only used by a small number of countries. This is completely irrelevant. Just as we can’t directly apply other characteristics and processes from other parliaments to our quite unique system, we can’t say AV is no good for anyone else therefore AV is no good for us. The “only x parliaments use it” argument is the same as saying “but we’ve ALWAYS done it this way, why change?”, it’s not an argument, it’s an excuse driven only by an appeal to history and inertia.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Chris Nicolson: Comparative analysis is not conclusive – much may depend on specific cultures – but it is not altogether irrelevant. AV was devised over a century ago, yet has been little adopted for the purpose of parliamentary elections. It is relevant to ask why that is so. Similarly, the fact that a particular system has been widely and consistently utilised merits the same question.

  11. Carl.H says:

    Off topic.

    My Lord you have turned comments off on the new post.

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