Monday, September 06, 2010

The Anti-AV Campaign Must Be Positive

Today sees the first stage in the parliamentary battle over AV. Labour is cynically going to vote against the bill even though the measure was in its manifesto. Their reasoning is that they will vote against because the bill also contains measures to make constituencies more equal in size - as if any rational person could think that is a bad thing.

I too am against AV, yet I would have no problem in voting this bill through. Why? Because it was in the coalition agreement. Simple as that. But that's as far as my support would go. Once it is passed it's then open season, and those of us who wish to defend the status quo mustn't be defensive about putting forward our arguments. But rather than just attack AV, we should explain why FPTP works and why we should continue with it for Westminster elections.

And let's not pretend the political roof will come crashing down over our heads if AV is adopted. We all know that it's actually a tepid sort of FPTP-lite - i.e the least worst alternative to FPTP.

One thing, though, is that I think serious consideration should be given to a threshhold level in any referendum. I suggest this should be based on turnout rather than set an artificially high level for a Yes vote. Say, for example, only 20 per cent actually bother to vote, and only 51 per cent of those vote Yes. You'd have to question whether 10 per cent of the whole electorate voting Yes constitutes a real mandate for an important constitutional change, wouldn't you?


Anonymous said...


Burnleydave said...

So let me get this straight. The Labour party is castigated for voting AGAINST a measure they agree with, and had in their manifesto, while the author of this article would be glad to initially vote FOR something that he disagrees with. That sounds like an honourable draw to me.

Sean said...

I'm quite happy with AV or FPTP. A reasonable argument can be made in favour of either.

I am more interested in your other point: the turnout at the referendum. I agree it needs to be set at a minimum level, which we could debate. However, if this is going to be done, the electorate need to be made well aware that staying at home is equivalent to a vote for the existing system.

Daedalus said...

Having had a read of different voting systems on Wikipedia (so not sure how accurate it is). FPTP is the only way to go some of the others just make your head hurt. They all seem to need a fiddle factor to make them work.
The trouble with the threshold level is that this is a fiddle factor again. Maybe it should just be compulsory to vote; even though this goes against my libertarian instincts.

RonLiddle said...

Cynically? Surely the Tory line that they're looking to reduce MP's in line with private sector redundancies is more cynical.

In business, if orders coming into your work reduce then naturally you'd look to reduce costs. However, an MP's work will increase if there is increased unemployment, stress on public services and suddenly the requirement to stimulate the growth of the regional private sector. To reduce MP's is to decrease the MP to electorate ratio. Our population is continuing to grow, will we find the need for more MP's in the future?

Ian M said...

Bearing in mind the 1978 Scotland and Wales Acts, Labour MP's George Cunningham's amendment whih required the proposed assemblies to have the support of 40% of the electorate is not an unreasonable requirement.

Sceptical Steve said...

I can almost hear the cogs whirring as Labour MPs attempt to think up way to justify the status quo. e.g. They represent areas of greatest poverty, so the demands from their consituents are greater, so they need smaller consitituencies." Simples, innit?

From my own selfish point of view, I live in Ed Balls' consituency and, from the moment he and his lovely wife were parachuted into adjacent rock solid Labour (ex-mining) constituencies, they've been virtually immune from electoral scrutiny. I'm conscious that he would have been out on his ear if we'd had AV at this year's election so, as you'll guess, I'm strongly in favour of AV!

HampsteadOwl said...

Sorry to be obvious, but wouldn't it be more logical to write that the pro-FPTP campaign must be positive?

Roger Thornhill said...

Until sovereignty is returned to Westminster, AV, FPTP, STV, STV+ is just a distraction. A circus.

It is amazing how there is focus on how to vote but denial over what one is voting FOR - a Provincial Gauleiter.

Cameron wants Localism, but it seems he is quite happy to turn Westminster into a Local Authority.

Unknown said...

"Labour is cynically going to vote against the bill even though the measure was in its manifesto"

Iain, you're not a politician, so quoting rubbish like this is unnecessary.

They said they would support AV - they didn't say they would support redrawing of boundaries.

If they have a genuine concern about gerrymandering, then its their right to contest it. Also bear in mind that they haven't said they would oppose AV - only oppose the bill in its current form.

If people are looking for someone to blame, then look no further than the coalition government. If they'd kept the bill to what it should be - ie, AV only - then this "battle" wouldn't need to happen.

Jabba the Cat said...

Given the importance of this issue, the majority criteria should be fifty percent of the electorate and not just fifty per cent of those that bothered turning out, otherwise we are setting ourselves up for a potential tyranny of a Libdim minority.

Libertarian said...

And what about all of us that don't think FPTP, AV or our present system is in any way democratic.

Your article summarises everything that is wrong with politics and why 60% + of people never take part. It is tribal no thoughts for what is best for democracy or the future of the country jus point scoring over the other lot

Guido said...

as a fan of FPTP where there is no threshold to be reached before someone is elected, why do you want a different criteria for a referendum? Unless you want compulsory voting (like Australia) is the assumption that those who can't be bothered to vote accept the result, whatever it may be?

Verblet said...

I guess you mean PR-lite, but I still have had no answer from any Pro-FPTP person with regards to this question:

If we had AV, or STV, what would your argument be for switching to FPTP? And do you really think anyone would buy it?

The arguments for AV, AV+, AMS, and STV are all solid. Problem with your 'positive anti' campaign is that there are no reasons for keeping FPTP, just reasons not to choose one of the above alternatives.

Oh, I forgot about the ever-ephemeral 'Constituency Link'.

HarveyR said...

First you say that in any case AV is just "FPTP Lite", next you're saying it's a "major constitutional change" for which any referendum in favour must pass a threshold. What happened to the fundamental principle of a simple majority of one of votes cast being enough to pass a motion? I seem to remember that principle was all the rage when a threshold was proposed for a vote in the House to dissolve Parliament.

Yes, please, let's have a positive argument put for retaining FPTP. It does have some good points as does AV. But really this proposed change isn't one which is going excite the public at large, the vast majority of whom could care less.

Surely, a low turnout in a referendum simply means that people don't really mind one way or the other? I don't see how you can assume that staying at home equates to wanting the status quo, which is what a threshold implies.

Of course, you know the turnout will be low, and you want the status quo, so be honest. You are not proposing a threshold because of some high flown principle about constitutional change, but simply because you know it would deliver the outcome you want.

Man in a Shed said...

As a long standing Conservtaive I thought initially I'd be against AV, but now I'm not so sure.

Interestingly I could be persuaded.

A change in voting system would mean a change in the parties ( and oddly I think the Lib Dems will be the biggest victims of this - they are no where near as popular as they think they are ).

So I'm really looking forward to the debate ....

Salmondnet said...

You are right Iain. The size of constituencies should be equalized.

You are wrong though, to defend FPTP. In 2010, the Conservatives got 36% of the popular vote and 47% of the seats. Labour got 29% of the popular vote and 39% of the seats. The LibDems got 23% of the popular vote and 9% of the seats. How anyone can defend this while at the same time arguing that constituencies should be equalized on "democratic" grounds is beyond me. I can only assume you have your tongue firmly in your cheek.

As to thresholds for important constitutional changes, there were none for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly referendums, both events with much greater significance for the constitutional future of the whole of the UK than AV. If a threshold is imposed Nick Clegg should walk.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not a LIbDem, I did not wish to see them in coalition and I certainly don't want to see them in power. In a proper democracy, however, you can't always have what you want.

Unknown said...

As Guido has said, I can't understand why anyone would require a minimum turnout unless they also believe in compulsory voting.

Also, it has already been pointed out that, in the event of a minimum turnout requirement, anyone who doesn't bother to vote would in effect be voting for the staus quo.

The real puzzle though is why, if AV is such a bad system, do the three main parties all use it to select their leaders?

Tom Harris said...

"Their reasoning is that they will vote against because the bill also contains measures to make constituencies more equal in size"

Wrong, Iain. Our objection is to the entirely arbitrary reduction in the number of seats, which is simply a crude attempt to curry favour with the rabid right-wing anti-politics brigade. We have no objection whatever to the proposal to reduce slightly the modest difference between the average sizes of constituencies.

The Bill also abolishes the right for local people to have a say at a local inquiry when their constituency boundaries change. We oppose that, so why on earth would we vote for the Bill?

Newmania said...

There is a straightforward case to support AV derived from traditional conservative principles. Not to reflect the shift from main Parties since the 50s risks destabilising and de legitimising government. That is decidedly not what any Conservative would want
The problem is, in a sense, the Liberal Party. Here you have a coherent organisation capable, in short time ,of leaping to the left of Labour and then allying with the right. It is a ruthless acquirer and user of power
Whilst the principle of a greater proportionality may have some claim the fact of handing power in perpetuity to the Party the country likes least is obviously a perverse outcome .

Furthermore the assumption must be that any shift towards proportionality must be the slippery slope a Liberal hegemony .

G'Funk said...

So let me get this straight. Even if a vote for AV received over 50% of 'Yes' votes cast, if the turnout is too low, then the referendum should be invalidated?

Sorry, but I don't believe that's how our democracy works. If people do not cast their vote, that's their business. We can only consider those who do wish to cast their vote.

If we follow your logic, then David Cameron (who received 58% of votes cast in his constituency on a turn out of 73.3%), only received 43% of votes from everyone in his constituency. I.e. more than half of his constituents did not vote for him. Shall we get him to hand in the keys to 10 Downing Street now?

Cogito Dexter said...

In my opinion at least half the electorate must turn out in order for the referendum to be valid. The point is, after all, about moving to a more proportionate voting system and if the majority of people can't be bothered to cast their vote then I see no reason why big changes to the constitution should be allowed. Change of this nature should only occur when people are enthusiastic enough to say yes to it.

Furthermore, I really don't understand why the LibDems are pushing for the referendum to be held on local election day. Surely the Coalition is only fated to become more unpopular by that time as the cuts begin to become more apparent? In which case, a coalition party campaigning for a yes vote and being seen to prop up the 'evil Tories' is hardly going to be an encouragement to vote for something that party really really wants, is it?

Or perhaps this is a bluff? Maybe Clegg is pushing for that date because he knows full well the measure will be rejected?

Mirtha Tidville said...

I hope the rebels are successful...What this is, is the thin edge of the wedge..Sure this bit of AV might be light but what comes after it wont be....

Like all crackpot ideas it needs killing at birth..

Sean said...

The Labour claims that equalising constituency sizes is gerrymandering is demonstrably false. But it's a good soundbite, so I expect they'll continue it.

enhughesiasm said...

"The least-worst alternative to FPTP"

I find that an interesting phrase to use - it implies that you believe FPTP to be the best possible voting system. Is that right?

I can't believe that if we founded a new country tomorrow we'd pick FPTP, a muddled system we arrived at after centuries of compromise. In fact, new countries tend to go for some sort of 'full PR' variant, presumably for good reason.

Sean said...

> Neil

Most of the African countries which were British colonies went for some of FPTP.

Newmania said...

new countries tend to go for some sort of 'full PR' variant, presumably for good reason.

I am constantly in awe of the rich democratic traditions of Africa

Unknown said...

"Most of the African countries which were British colonies went for some of FPTP."

Well let's be frank. Given the various problems that most of these African countries have undergone over the last few years - and it isn't down to lack of resources, after all, these countries are resource rich - I'm rather surprised that anyone would put this forward as a model to follow.

Don said...

It would surely be a matter of common sense to combine the referendum on Av with a referendum on our continued membership of the EU, which exercise was promised to the British people but denied to them by obfuscation and lies.

Sean said...


I didn't put it down as a model to follow, just pointed out that Neil's assertion that new countries go for PR is by no means always right.

Alister said...

I've said it before but it's worth repeating

Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles) 21,884
Orkney and Shetland 32,181
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
Total 100598

Isle of Wight 103,480

Something is rotten here. The Average should be the average, Scotland has it's own parliament so if anything should have less MPs

Unknown said...

Thresholds for referendums are wrong. If you go down this avenue you might as well do it for general elections as well - 36% of the vote on a 65%turn out gives Cameron a mandate to govern from less than a quarter of the electorate.

Unknown said...

"I didn't put it down as a model to follow, just pointed out that Neil's assertion that new countries go for PR is by no means always right."

Might I also point out that those African counties aren't exactly new either? Half of 'em became independent before I was born - and I'm in my forties.

Unknown said...

How can you equalise the size of constituencies?

What are we going to do- repatriate half of Cowes to Stornaway?

Unless one poor sod is going to have to represent the whole Highlands & Islands (in which case bye bye United Kingdom) then you can't equalise the seats.

And when you think about fairness of MPs workload, it does look a clumsy attempt to wipe out Labour in the South- ironic as Labour basically rescued the Conservatives with PR in Scotland and Wales.

You can't really blame them for opposing the gerrymandering thats been linked with AV.

You're not going to eat your favourite sandwich if someone's slipped a dogturd in there are you?

AJUK said...

I'm not sure what your point is if only 20% voted then 80% should've if they'd cared.