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May 2, 2011


To A/V or Not to A/V

by quaesitor

I’m certainly no psephologist (though I do totally and absolutely love the word). But as we approach this referendum on Thursday, I’ve been feeling torn. I think I’ve worked out what I think but am not completely settled yet. And even if I was, I don’t think I would tell you. What I say now is probably (certainly) full of psephological flaws…Feel free to comment.

I can quite see that there are unfairnesses in the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system – not least because those elected invariably get less than 50% of the vote. That can be a source of deep frustration to many. We are furthermore informed that it is the root cause of lazy MPs, safe seats and the BNP getting in by the back door

Though I can’t quite see that there are many fairer means to preventing any of these things. Is it not a fact of life that no democratic system is perfect? Or is that just cynical resignation?

However, I did feel the need to comment on the little YES to AV Campaign video from the venerable Dan Snow – click the summary infographic to watch it…

Well, here’s the flaw in that argument: all would be fine if all the options to going to the coffee shop were similar – ie 3 different pubs. As the illustration indicates, an alternative vote lead to everyone going to the pub. But what happens if the alternative people give is something completely different:

  • One or two might want to stay at home if they can’t go to the pub
  • The alternatives to the pub might include all kinds of things: staying in with a DVD, going to the cinema, going to a strip club, going midnight-fishing, having a curry etc etc.
  • Then, if the most common alternative to going for a beer is staying at home, it will mean that EVERYONE has to stay home.
The point I suppose is that in any election, it assumes that the alternatives to the one who wins FPTP are fairly indistinguishable – ie all various strands of progressive left (or perhaps right). But it doesn’t work if they are all really diverse – far right (eg BNP), far left (eg Communist), single-issue (save our hospital), celebrity candidate (Esther Rantzen), etc etc.
So I really don’t think AV is the answer. Unless you can persuade me otherwise by Thursday – and I’m open to it. That of course doesn’t mean I’m wedded to FPTP.
Whatever happens though, you should vote in it and not succumb to voter apathy.
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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Gareth Davies
    May 2 2011

    my thoughts will be posted up tomorrow morning on my blog on the CARE website- and the opposite view the following day!

  2. Chris Ferguson
    May 2 2011

    Thank you Mark for this – I was wondering if you’d post something on this subject, and you’ve given me some interesting food for thought. I particularly agree that voter apathy has no place here, but as yet I’ve no idea which way I’ll swing on the issue.

  3. May 2 2011

    The problem is that both options are pretty much the same thing and much less important than people are making it out to be. Both sides would have you believe that FPTP and AV are much fairer than the other, and voting the wrong one will lead to voter apathy and the BNP gaining seats. Most people in favour of AV would probably admit when pushed that it’s still a rubbish system, and most people in favour of FPTP would probably admit that AV is not that terrible. Having a vote between local parliamentary representation and a proportional representation system would be much much more critical. I’m voting against AV simply because it doesn’t really change anything, and so therefore seems pointless and inefficient to implement.

  4. May 2 2011

    The video at is interesting and helpful.

    Basically, AV gets rid of the problems associated with tactical voting and the spoiler effect (like Nader stopping Gore beating Bush in 2000).

    It therefore makes it easier for fringe parties with wide-based support or good independents to get in because people don’t have to vote for party A in order to stop party B. BNP wouldn’t get in because too many people hate them (rightly).

    I’m probably voting Yes2AV for the simple reason that most of the arguments put out by No2AV have been obviously wrong and patronising.

  5. Nick Fortescue
    May 4 2011

    Hi Mark. I know you shouldn’t generalise from specific examples, but let me give you the example from my constituency. Last election the libdem candidate was Evan Harris, the uber-atheist secularist lib dem. The consevatives traditionally were second, and labour a distant third. Many christians felt Dr Harris was the worst possible option, so voted conservative even when labour supporters. Nicola Blackwood, the Conservative candidate won by a tiny majority. However, we have no way of knowing how many votes were just against Dr Harris.

    If there had been AV, it might not have affected the result, but it would have avoided the election literature saying “labour can’t win here”, and made it clear how unpopular or not Dr Harris was. And allowed my many labour voting friends to vote for the party they believe in, before gritting their teeth and voting conservative. This reason alone is why I will be voting yes to AV.

  6. Tim Chesterton
    May 6 2011

    I live in Canada, and we had an election on Monday.

    In the province of Alberta, where I live, the Conservatives got 66% of the votes and got 96% of the seats.

    In the province of Saskatchewan, to the east of us. the NDP (moderate socialists and the ones who first introduced medicare to Canada) got 32% of the votes but got no seats at all.

    I am a left of centre voter in a Conservative province (Alberta). I know that whoever I vote for (Liberal, NDP and Green where my other three choices), the Tory will win. For the last 11 years I have basically wasted my vote – my vote has not sent anyone to Parliament.

    I’m not sure how this can be fixed, but it needs fixing. I’d vote for PR or AV tomorrow if we had the option here.

    • May 6 2011

      yes, i can quite see the frustrations of that…


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