Sunday, August 22, 2010

The AV Campaign Starts Now

I'm delighted Matthew Elliott will be heading up the anti AV campaign. He knows all there is know about grassroots campaigning, having made the Taxpayers' Alliance such a success. However, the success of this campaign will in part be determined by the campaign's ability to garner support from across the political divides. Matthew is not a Conservative Party hack, but because the TPA is considered to be on the right, he will be painted as such.

I'd say the majority of Labour supporters I know are opposed to AV too. It would be good if Matthew appointed a leftish deputy.

There's a reason only one other country in the world uses AV. It's a half way house. It tries to be a PR equivalent of the First Past the Post system, but in reality it is no more proportionate than straight out FPTP, and in some cases can be less so.

First Past the Post isn't perfect, but then again no electoral system is. But I would fight to defend it against STV. I just do not buy the claim by supporters of STV that it too can protect the constituency link. It doesn't. Multimember constituencies dilute the constituency link. They have to be big enough to allow representation from different partes, and the bigger they get the less likely people are to either know who their representatives are or be able to relate to them. Just look at the system used for European elections. I realise this is not pure STV, but even so, the effect is the same. Even I would struggle to name the MEPs in my region, and I suspect most people reading this blogpost would too.

So I will be campaigning against the Alternative Vote. It doesn't do what it says on the tin, and there may be faults in our existing system, but AV won't fix it.

36 comments:

cherami said...

If the English weren't so parochial, they'd look across the Channel at the Europeans. The French system seems to work - and certainly gets the voters out on polling day.

gregblogs said...

Iain you know full well that STV constituencies would not be as big as European Parliamentary ones. If we, say, elect 3 MPs per constituency then Ealing would become one constituency. Six, and you would see somewhere like Gloucestershire becoming one constituency. These are areas people can relate to and are much smaller than the European constituencies. Indeed MEPs used to be elected in constituencies that were roughly this size - did they lose their link to the constituency because of this? The European Parliament elections are not pure STV - they are not any form of STV. They are a party list system and it is pretty poor of you to try and muddy the waters by comparing them.

I cannot name my local London Assembly Member (elected by FPTP). This isn't because of the electoral system - it is because there is minimal media coverage of him/her and what they do. Same for MEPs.

Finally the vast majority of those supporting AV are not doing so on the basis it is proportional. It is evidentially not.

More accuracy please

Richard Baron said...

Fair enough, Iain, but can you also please come out loudly in favour of equalizing constituency sizes. We must not lose the chance to sort out the constituencies if AV is not introduced.

Iain Dale said...

Of course I am in favour of equalising constituency sizes. Only thise in favour of pro Labour gerrymandering are against that.

rob's uncle said...

Re: ‘It doesn't do what it says on the tin, . . ’: I am curious to know what you think it says on the tin. In the U.S. it is called the ‘instant-run-off’ system and that is exactly what it provides: the equivalent of a series of run-offs between the most popular candidates until one gets 50 % + 1. See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_Vote
and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_and_use_of_instant-runoff_voting
for details of where it has been adopted and the outcome, including cases of a switch back to FPTP.

‘The intention of IRV is to find one candidate acceptable to a majority of voters . . In the November 2007 Australian elections, at least four candidates ran in every constituency, with an average of seven, but every constituency was won with an absolute majority of votes.’ About half the seats were decided on preferences.
http://results.aec.gov.au/13745/website/

How many UK MPs won with an absolute majority of votes? If you think this doesn’t matter, please explain why not.

Salmondnet said...

AV may not solve the problems of FPTP but it does at least acknowledge them. FPTP is democratically indefensible as Conservatives in Scotland ought to be pointing out. Speaking as one who is, in most respects, an unrepentant reactionary, the only thing that will stop me voting for AV is the offer of a more proportional alternative. The fault line here is between those who want to preserve the ConLab duopoly and those who don't.

Libertarian said...

all of you supporting AV and citing other countries successful use of it have overlooked the main issue which is...in all the countries mentioned the Executive is directly elected.

If we also did that here we would have democracy as we don't it matters not one single jot which system we use none of them are democratic

trevorsden said...

I cannot say I am massively in favour of changing the status quo - though I am going to give serious thought to AV. But whilst there may be a case against AV, I am not sure you are making it Mr D.

If I am honest (and sorry to say), its posts like this that make be relieved that you are not an MP.

PS
I cannot name my MP; he used to be Boris Johnson and before that it was Michael Heseltine. I'm a Tory. I am not proud of not knowing who my MP is, but this simple fact casts significant doubt on the main plank of your argument.

I am even more ashamed to say I do not understand the point about the executive being directly elected. We directly elect ours - its called the house of commons from which the great bulk of the cabinet are selected.

Re. instant run off - I have little problem with this; but I would prefer it to be a fresh vote between the top 2. Like in France

Dan Sullivan said...

Iain, there are many arguments to be made against various electoral systems. God knows we have our own complaints against PR-STV here in Ireland. However, you make your argument against AV based on problems with multi-seat which is not in AV but in PR-STV and with MEPs who are elected by a list system. It's like someone complaining about soccer because they don't like scrums (that's in Rugby)or time-outs (American Football). They might all be field sports or electoral systems but that doesn't mean they're interchangeable.

This isn't the first post where you've said stuff about AV that is wholly inaccurate which causes me to wonder if you've actually unable to make a case AV itself at all.

Ian R. Thorpe said...

So you'd rather risk another Labour government than go with AV or STV. First Past The Post has not favoured the Conservatives for a long time and the consituency link argument is spurious because the majority of MPs are party hacks and have little connection with the people of their constituency.

Newmania said...

Iain if we are conservatives should we not endeavour to judge when the time is right to give a little to save a lot?
With the main Parties taken together having declined so much since the war the calls for proportionality are bound to grow and the legitimacy of a government representing only 8,000,000 votes like the last one is surely questionable
Are you quite sure the “No no no” is the right way to preserve what we can of the system we have ? I am not but I am open to arguments on either side

Robert said...

One of the problems with the Euro-elections is not so much the voting system, but the party list.

Under the party list system you cannot vote for a candidate except the one at the top of the list.

Another stitch up by the politicos.

DeeDee99 said...

I will be voting against AV because all it will do is perpetuate the current arrangement with either Labour or the Conservatives winning with the LibDems coming third and if they are very lucky just possibly holding the balance of power.

AV will ensure that the minority parties who cannot win a seat under FPTP will continue to be unable to win a seat. With very occasional exceptions, their candidates will be voted out in the first round and the 2nd preference of people who voted for them will then be allocated.

It can be assumed that most UKIP voters would put the Tory candidate as their second preference (and most BNP voters would nominate Labour). Thus the two main parties will recover the votes they have lost to the minority party but without having to make any concessions whatsoever.

That is why Cameron isn't too bothered by AV. What both he and Labour are very concerned about is to prevent any form of PR because THAT would give the minorities a foothold in Parliament - and once they're in, their support will grow very quickly.

This is a heads I win/tails you lose situation. If we vote for FPTP to continue, we will be told the electorate had the opportunity to vote for reform and rejected it - so no need to consider any other electoral system. If we vote for AV, we will be told that no further electoral reform (ie PR) is justified.

The main concern of both Labour and the Conservatives is to keep UKIP out of Westminster.

MikeyP said...

A question to AV supporters. What do you do if you only want one candidate to win and consider the rest to be a bunch of clowns? Is your voting paper considered spoilt if you do not put all the candidates in order?

There is no way I would lend the slightest support to a Labour, Lib-Dem or Green candidate!

Ann said...

Iain, I agree with most of what you say - especially about a left leaning deputy.
After seeing him being interviewed about AV immediately after the election, I think your old mate Tom Harris might be a very good choice.
He'd certainly make the best use of the web.

Iain Dale said...

Dan, I have re-read your post and cannot agree that I mix up STV and AV. Read it again.

Michaela said...

Yes you do! Why refer to STV and a "fight" when it isn't on the 'ballot paper' next MAY?!

Libertarian said...

@trevorsden

we do not elect the executive. We elect members of the legislature. The Queen then decides who forms the executive normally based on the number of representatives of each party .

In the US etc a vote is cast for the candidate for President

Osama the Nazarene said...

Totally agree with you Iain and it is ironic that the right wing independents in Oz who might help form a new Liberal coalition government would have been elected by the second, third etc. votes of labour supporters.

Tim said...

Do you think we should abolish multi member council wards?

Alister said...

Living and voting in Scotland, I've seen many voting systems.

The biggest issues I have with the current system is the number of
electors of the constituencies and the number of big majorities there are. This of course ignores the "West Lothian Question" - please can we have an answer to this before we mess with the voting system?
If you take the 3 smallest seats in Scotland (with its own parliament) and the biggest in England then you find that electorates are 100598 to 103480. This simply can not be right, given an average of 68175. If we move to 550 MPs the average becomes 80570, the situation becomes worse.

There was a pretty good correlation between size of majority and size of expenses repayment. A MP with a slender majority knows that they have to follow their voters wishes else they will be kicked out. I would like to see as many slender marginals as possible - voting for the loosing party when the majority is 20000+ is effectively a wasted votes & a discouragement to vote.

As to Multi-member constituencies, what happens in a by-election? if there are 4 MPs in a zone and it is 3A + B, and B dies then the whole of area will ensure that the result becomes 4A (seen in Scottish council by elections)

These are fundamental issues that need to be addressed.

Nic said...

I think the European elections don't work mainly coz nobody seems to care about them here and they don't seem to be promoted at the time.

STV at a general election would only be 3/4 member constituencies and i believe i would have a much better link with my MP if i actually liked my MP or if i knew at least people weren't voting for her just because of the party she represents(Labour) and that they actually think that she is a good MP. I don't think she is a good MP. I think Labour could get a monkey elected in my seat even under AV. In fact, i think they have actually done that. i know they've done it in Kirkcaldy and made the monkey PM.

At least with STV, you get effectively open primaries at every election so if your MP has proven to be rubbish then you can choose another candidate from the same or different parties.

Why, i don't like primaries is that you have to vote in every single primary to get the candidates you want then see how they compare together and then vote on which candidate you actually want as an MP.

We also need a separation of powers so we can vote for a representative and a government separately.

gregblogs said...

Iain - politicians in the USA represent either huge geographical areas (ie Alaska), huge populations (New York) or even both. The vast majority of Senators (and indeed many Congressmen) represent constituencies that are larger than any European Parliament region. Do these politicians instantly lose their connection with the electorate. If not, why would British politicians find it harder to represent large constituencies?

Iain Dale said...

Gregblogs, as you well know, that was not the point I was making. I am all in favour of larger single member constituencies. In America, that's what they have.

charlie said...

I'm sorry, you say a closed D'Hondt list is "not pure STV"?

That's a bit like saying a Ford Fiesta "is not a pure Saturn V rocket" - as the two things are completely different, sharing only a very few rudimentary similarities on any level.

cabalamat said...

Newmania: With the main Parties taken together having declined so much since the war the calls for proportionality are bound to grow

This is a good point. Over the last half-century, the combined vote share of the largest two parties has been going down (here's a graph).

In 1955, the big 2 between them got 94% of the vote. By 2010, this had dropped to 65%. And in last year's European election, they got 43%; in fact, in both of the last two European elections, most voters voted for parties other than the Tories and Labour.

Paddy Briggs said...

Oh Dear - what a shame, Iain, that for you Conservative with a big "C" has also to be conservative with a small "c".

Change is nearly always incremental. I don't think that AV is the ideal system. But it is a step in the right direction. The goal must be that at a National count level every vote must matter. The votes of Tories in Teeside and Labour supporters in Hampshire just don't count. They should. AV won't get us to a proportional sustem but it is a move forward. You should support it.

trevorsden said...

This is total rubbish Mr Libertarian. The Queen is a constitutional formality.
Our executive are formed from MPs ie the people elect the executive.

In America the legislature are totally separate from the executive and the only members of the executive the public vote for are the President and the VP.

Whilst clearly the President is important he appoints the entire Executive who are not elected at all. No one voted for Hilary Clinton, but she is Secretary of State and accountable to no one except the President. No members of the US cabinet have to worry about annoying their voters because they are not elected in the first place.

Right Hon. said...

Hear Hear Paddy Briggs.

As a non-tory living in a constituency with an enormous Conservative majority I have been effectively disenfranchised nearly all my adult life. I'll vote for any system that will improve the current state of affairs where my vote counts for absolutely nothing.

Unsworth said...

@ Paddy Briggs

As I see it you are advocating adoption of a faulty system on the basis that it is 'a step' towards your chosen goal. How do you ensure that further 'steps' will be taken and when, and for that matter what are those 'steps'.

Seems to me there's a vast amount of blind faith and unreasonable/ing optimism in your position.

Village Bookworm said...

Can't say I am enthused about anyone from TPA running the campaign. They seem to be dominated by the 'anything for a headline' brigade who usually are unable to justify their arguements when put under strong examination. A bunch of second rate student debaters.

Martin said...

Trevorsden, the people in the UK don't elect the executive. Of the 6 or 7 reasons people vote for an MP, who they want to form a government is only one of them.

Saying the executive in the US isn't accountable is ridiculous, not only is it directly elected and 100% accountable to the electorate but it can actually be stopped by their legislature. The legislature under our system is a talking shop. Purely because it is so totally controlled by the front bench. Separate those powers and you have a much busier, useful Parliament.


AV is not a nice system which gives 3rd place party supporters a defacto 2 votes. E.g. In a close Labour-LD marginal, why should Conservative voters get a 2nd vote but Labour or LD voters not?

Morda said...

Iain - you make only two arguments against AV. Whether or not other countries use it is pretty irrelevant really, so I'll just scratch that one. Then you say that it is less proportionate than FPTP - and you don't back this up with anything! I can't see any theoretical reason why it would be any more or less proportional than FPTP so I'm guessing it's based off a projection, which is liable to be largely guesswork anyway.

Before explaining why I think FPTP is a terrible voting system I will counter your (very long) argument against STV. There are many reasons why people don't know their MEPs and I don't think that the fact that they have more than one comes into it at all. Also, the party list system used in mainland UK is not a form of STV at all.

Firstly - the EU is primarily run by representatives of each state within it. Quite frankly, MEPs are nowhere near as important in the EU institutions as MPs in the UK ones.
Secondly - MEPs aren't exactly heavily covered in the media so they can remain obscure even in their own constituencies. This also applies to obscure backbench MPs.
Thirdly - in Northern Ireland STV is used for European elections and assembly elections. They don't know their MEPs but they are damn well aware of who their MLAs are - elected under the same system.

In my eyes, you can't really get much worse a voting system than FPTP. It isn't preferential, it's not proportional, it has single-member constituencies, it's very open to gerrymandering and its supposed benefit of the constituency link seems, to me anyway, quite mythical.

Preferential voting is a must as, quite frankly, FPTP is terrible for wasting votes. AV and STV both allow for people to vote for their ideal candidate first and to put more tactical choices lower down - having their cake and eating it. This should result in safe seats being a lot less safe, making "safe" MPs a lot more accountable to their constituents. It also means that MPs depend on second preference votes and so can't afford to be so mindlessly tribal as they are now. Proportionality speaks for itself.

I fundamentally disagree with single member constituencies because I think it unfair that a genuinely popular candidate can lose everything to a marginally more popular candidate. Those kind of minuscule victories have nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with sheer luck - for instance, if the Boundary Commission just happened to include such-and-such ward in the seat instead of a different one. These kind of processes are open to gerrymandering as well.

There were plenty of these kind of results this time round - people winning by less than 200 votes is really just sheer luck rather than real democracy in my view, the most ridiculous result was in NI where a Sinn Fein MP got elected on the basis of two votes. Hampstead & Kilburn also deserves a mention.

AV doesn't improve this but STV in my view does, as inherently the only person who can lose out in this way is the last MP to be elected in that seat. In a six-member constituency he's the sixth most popular candidate so, even if it is just bad luck, at least you're not losing an MP with a genuinely high level of support. Also, in bigger STV constituencies it's far less likely to happen anyway.

Morda said...

Iain - you make only two arguments against AV. Whether or not other countries use it is pretty irrelevant really, so I'll just scratch that one. Then you say that it is less proportionate than FPTP - and you don't back this up with anything! I can't see any theoretical reason why it would be any more or less proportional than FPTP so I'm guessing it's based off a projection, which is liable to be largely guesswork anyway.

Before explaining why I think FPTP is a terrible voting system I will counter your (very long) argument against STV. There are many reasons why people don't know their MEPs and I don't think that the fact that they have more than one comes into it at all. Also, the party list system used in mainland UK is not a form of STV at all.

Firstly - the EU is primarily run by representatives of each state within it. Quite frankly, MEPs are nowhere near as important in the EU institutions as MPs in the UK ones.
Secondly - MEPs aren't exactly heavily covered in the media so they can remain obscure even in their own constituencies. This also applies to obscure backbench MPs.
Thirdly - in Northern Ireland STV is used for European elections and assembly elections. They don't know their MEPs but they are damn well aware of who their MLAs are - elected under the same system.

In my eyes, you can't really get much worse a voting system than FPTP. It isn't preferential, it's not proportional, it has single-member constituencies, it's very open to gerrymandering and its supposed benefit of the constituency link seems, to me anyway, quite mythical.

Preferential voting is a must as, quite frankly, FPTP is terrible for wasting votes. AV and STV both allow for people to vote for their ideal candidate first and to put more tactical choices lower down - having their cake and eating it. This should result in safe seats being a lot less safe, making "safe" MPs a lot more accountable to their constituents. It also means that MPs depend on second preference votes and so can't afford to be so mindlessly tribal as they are now. Proportionality speaks for itself.

I fundamentally disagree with single member constituencies because I think it unfair that a genuinely popular candidate can lose everything to a marginally more popular candidate. Those kind of minuscule victories have nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with sheer luck - for instance, if the Boundary Commission just happened to include such-and-such ward in the seat instead of a different one. These kind of processes are open to gerrymandering as well.

There were plenty of these kind of results this time round - people winning by less than 200 votes is really just sheer luck rather than real democracy in my view, the most ridiculous result was in NI where a Sinn Fein MP got elected on the basis of two votes. Hampstead & Kilburn also deserves a mention.

AV doesn't improve this but STV in my view does, as inherently the only person who can lose out in this way is the last MP to be elected in that seat. In a six-member constituency he's the sixth most popular candidate so, even if it is just bad luck, at least you're not losing an MP with a genuinely high level of support. Also, in bigger STV constituencies it's far less likely to happen anyway.

Morda said...

Iain - you make only two arguments against AV. Whether or not other countries use it is pretty irrelevant really, so I'll just scratch that one. Then you say that it is less proportionate than FPTP - and you don't back this up with anything! I can't see any theoretical reason why it would be any more or less proportional than FPTP so I'm guessing it's based off a projection, which is liable to be largely guesswork anyway.

Before explaining why I think FPTP is a terrible voting system I will counter your (very long) argument against STV. There are many reasons why people don't know their MEPs and I don't think that the fact that they have more than one comes into it at all. Also, the party list system used in mainland UK is not a form of STV at all.

Firstly - the EU is primarily run by representatives of each state within it. Quite frankly, MEPs are nowhere near as important in the EU institutions as MPs in the UK ones.
Secondly - MEPs aren't exactly heavily covered in the media so they can remain obscure even in their own constituencies. This also applies to obscure backbench MPs.
Thirdly - in Northern Ireland STV is used for European elections and assembly elections. They don't know their MEPs but they are damn well aware of who their MLAs are - elected under the same system.

In my eyes, you can't really get much worse a voting system than FPTP. It isn't preferential, it's not proportional, it has single-member constituencies, it's very open to gerrymandering and its supposed benefit of the constituency link seems, to me anyway, quite mythical.

Preferential voting is a must as, quite frankly, FPTP is terrible for wasting votes. AV and STV both allow for people to vote for their ideal candidate first and to put more tactical choices lower down - having their cake and eating it. This should result in safe seats being a lot less safe, making "safe" MPs a lot more accountable to their constituents. It also means that MPs depend on second preference votes and so can't afford to be so mindlessly tribal as they are now. Proportionality speaks for itself.

I fundamentally disagree with single member constituencies because I think it unfair that a genuinely popular candidate can lose everything to a marginally more popular candidate. Those kind of minuscule victories have nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with sheer luck - for instance, if the Boundary Commission just happened to include such-and-such ward in the seat instead of a different one. These kind of processes are open to gerrymandering as well.

There were plenty of these kind of results this time round - people winning by less than 200 votes is really just sheer luck rather than real democracy in my view, the most ridiculous result was in NI where a Sinn Fein MP got elected on the basis of two votes. Hampstead & Kilburn also deserves a mention.

AV doesn't improve this but STV in my view does, as inherently the only person who can lose out in this way is the last MP to be elected in that seat. In a six-member constituency he's the sixth most popular candidate so, even if it is just bad luck, at least you're not losing an MP with a genuinely high level of support. Also, in bigger STV constituencies it's far less likely to happen anyway.

pop said...

FPTP vs AV is really, really simple.

FPTP = What flavour Ice Cream do you want? – If it isn’t available you’ll get whatever flavour your given.

AV = What flavour Ice Cream do you want? – If it isn’t available what flavour do you want instead?

People who are scared of hung parliaments are scared of PR, but as is endlessly pointed out AV is not PR – so it doesn’t raise the risk of hung parliaments!

As far as complexity goes – marking acceptible candidates in order is no great challenge. This compares with FPTP where one often has to make all sorts of guesses who best to vote for to avoid ‘unacceptable’ candidates – rather than just selecting your preferred candidate.

Conservatives and Labour most like FPTP because they are most likely beneficiaries of tactical votes – and the more parties there are, the more important ‘tactical votes’ are to these parties.

A handy by-product of AV is that nationally people first preference votes will be a full an honest representation of the peoples support for the various parties. And should PR come to be considered desirable the relative number of first preferences gives proportions that each party should command.

That the 'No2AV' campaigners need to bang on about STV and other complex PR systems when PR isn't actually on the table is just a diversionary tactic to make the FPTP vs AV choice seem far more complex than it really is.

The 'No2AV' campaigners sound just like the 'Yes2IdCard' campaigners - vague waffly FUD... no concrete (or ice cream) scenarios.