Why I am still voting no to AV

The post outlining the reasons for my decision to vote no to AV attracted quite a few comments and kicked off a debate on my website which was interesting and generally better informed than a lot of the official campaigning.

I believe that AV is a subject on which honest people can honestly disagree. To those AV supporters who accused me of being dishonest, stupid and/or motivated purely by self or party interest in my reasoning I just want to say that that is exactly the kind of mud-slinging I thought AV was supposed to do away with.

I do want to address a few of the genuine comments made.

Firstly I know I missed out many points. I was not trying to write a comprehensive treatise on all the advantages and disadvantages associated with FPTP and AV because that’s not my job. My job is to represent the people of Newcastle Central. I have had five emails on the subject and it has come up once on the doorstep. So I don’t think they want me to be spending all my time on this.

Many people made good points which I had missed out. But the central driver behind my decision is the impact AV will have on voter engagement. Some thought that I should be more concerned with fairness. But both AV and FPTP have elements of unfairness and as I explained I do not believe AV is significantly fairer than FPTP.

Some made the argument that turnout in Newcastle Central was only 56% because it was considered a safe seat and, by making it less safe, AV would encourage more people to vote.

If this were the case than it would strongly influence me. But the evidence suggests otherwise. Newcastle Central was not a safe seat a year ago, a poll had the Lib Dems winning it: http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/north-east-news/evening-chronicle-news/2010/04/27/poll-predicts-lib-dems-will-win-newcastle-72703-26325635/

In the election the Newcastle Central ward with the highest turnout was West Gosforth at 74.5%. The ward with the lowest turnout was Elswick with 47.8%. Elswick is a relatively safe Labour ward, West Gosforth a relatively safe Lib Dem ward. The differences between the two wards are about levels of deprivation, resident turnover, educational attainment etc. These and other factors seem more likely to influence turnout, in Newcastle at least.

I do hope one day to vote for election reform which engages more people in the democratic process and helps make MPs more truly accountable.

But AV is not it, and voting for AV now will make it less likely that we take the time to address the fundamental flaws in our democracy.

10 thoughts on “Why I am still voting no to AV

  1. @JohnstonLD

    Voter engagement.
    AV asks more questions of the voter. It gets more information about what the voter’s views on the candidates are. How can one argue that you engage less with someone when the ‘dialogue’ such as it is, is more detailed?

    As far how many votes each person has – this has already been answered: to say that if someone starts voting for the ultimate winner their vote is only counted once is patently ludicrous.

    As to the value of a 3rd or 4th vote: suppose someone is a fan of two or three parties that are NOT putting up candidates in that constituency. In FPTP any vote they make will inevitably be their third or fourth preference; so would you discount those as well?
    In AV – as has been mentioned before, it is the same as voting systems where voters go to the polls several times, except that the same questions are asked all at the same time: If your favoured candidate were not to stand in the second round, who would you vote for? With AV the second or third preference is the voter’s first preference in that round, since their preferred candidates are no longer in the running. It’s really not that complicated!

    To say that AV is a complicated voting system is disingenuous. It’s like saying that searching on Google is complicated on the basis of not understanding the algorithms involved. With Google you put in your question and press Search. With AV you put the candidates in order 1.2. 3 – the same as a competition on the back of a cereal packet – except that you don’t have to number all of them – and the system works it out for you.

    Lastly to say that one system or another costs more is hardly a relevant argument – democracy is expensive. We want the fairest system not the cheapest! Why not discourage voter turnout, that will save money!
    The fairer and more representative a system is seen to be the more likelihood of a larger turnout and more expense counting all those extra votes, so that’s a bad idea?

    This is not about Newcastle, it is about fair voting nationally, and, in many many seats, unless we ask more about what voters want, we deliver a result that does not accord with their wishes. FPTP worked fine with two parties, now it just distorts the wishes of the voters and is only preferable if you go for power over democracy, for that is the choice: NO votes for the status quo and devalues and disregards the wishes of all those who don’t currently support Tory or Labour as a first choice; YES votes for a fairer more democratic system.

  2. steve

    The trouble with this debate isn’t voter apathy, the side show of fellow ministers slinging mud at each or spurious claims about ‘fairness’. The trouble is nobody seems to have asked the fundamental question – what are elections for?
    Are they to give voters the opportunity to choose between broad brush approaches about ‘what needs to be done’ over the next five years i.e. elect a government, or choose representatives who they hope will go to Westminster and act together ‘for the good of the country’ i.e. elect MPs.
    They are not the same!
    In the days before the formation of the Whig and Tory tendencies in the late 17th century, MPs were elected by a handful of propertied men and they may well have known most of their voters. Those voters may even have voted on who they felt would best represent them or their interests in Parliament.
    Of course we know there were ‘rotten boroughs’, that some MPs never visited their constituencies and votes were bought and sold for as little as a couple of pints of ale.
    As political parties became more formalised and the franchise was extended in the 18th and 19th centuries voters had to rely on party allegiances to make their choices.
    Supporters of AV say that it will make MPs more representative and they will have to take more account of voters’ views, but with the new constituencies of 70,000 voters, regrettable or not, it is just not practicable for MPs to ‘know’ their electorates.
    They have to rely on party ‘brands’ at least as a backdrop to their campaigns for election. The trouble with AV is that they will then have to consider where their second preference votes will come from.
    In recent years, deliberately or not, LibDem candidates have benefitted from tactical voting by supporters of weaker parties ‘to keep the other lot out’. In some parts of the country ‘the other lot’ were Labour, but in others they were Tory.
    With AV, candidates from the same party, but different parts of the country will try to gain second preferences from first vote supporters of different parties.
    With AV some LibDems will court Tory supporters and others Labour, while some Labour candidates will try to get second votes from Greens and others from disaffected voters who may have voted BNP in the first round and the Tories will have to decide whether to go for LibDem, UKIP or BNP supporters. Of course with AV, ‘minor’ party candidates could do well in the first round and be looking for second and third preference votes as well.
    In some very marginal seats all candidates may find themselves facing three or four ways at once!
    Most people agree that AV is likely to increase the likelihood of coalition governments.
    We have seen what has happened to LibDem support amongst voters who voted for them in 2010 because they thought it was a progressive party. With AV there will inevitably be groups of MPs within each party who have gained there second preferences from the supporters of different parties – e.g. LibDems who were elected with Labour second preference while others got elected with Tory support. They will have to be ‘looking over their shoulders’ all the time.
    If that happens we certainly won’t be electing governments!
    Finally AV supporters say that AV is just like systems where if a candidate doesn’t get 50% in the first round there is a second ballot, but it’s all done on the same day. Not true!
    France is our nearest neighbour with a two round voting system.
    In the 2002 French Presidential election the far right candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, beat Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin into third place.
    Had they had AV, I do not believe many Socialist voters would have voted for the centre right Jacques Chirac as their second choice. Some may have voted Green out of sentiment, but many would have cast no second vote – not believing that Jospin wouldn’t at least come second.
    In the second round though, most Socialists ‘held their noses’ and voted for Chirac giving him 82% of the vote. A defeat so large for Le Penn that in the next Presidential election, five years later, he was relegated fourth place.
    It always difficult guessing why electorates vote in certain ways, even more so when it’s electorates in other countries, but if France had had AV, Le Penn could have come much closer to winning in 2002 and who knows what may have happened then.
    For those and many other reasons I have voted No in the referendum – by post.

  3. Alan Pritt

    “I do not believe AV is significantly fairer than FPTP.”

    While I disagree with the degree of significance, the frustration is that you seem to be agreeing that they system is at least somewhat fairer, but would prefer to vote in favour of the worst system. Perhaps I am reading that incorrectly, but if I’m not I hope you change your mind and understand that an improvement is a good thing, even if it is not as big an improvement as you would like.

    “…voting for AV now will make it less likely that we take the time to address the fundamental flaws in our democracy.”

    As an MP it is your choice to address these flaws or not. Are you not going to bother pushing for further improvements if AV gets backed? Why? And what if we have the same disagreements about another electoral system? Might we stay on FPTP even though we all dislike it, because we can’t agree on which system we like the best?

    “I do hope one day to vote for election reform which engages more people in the democratic process and helps make MPs more truly accountable.”

    I think you’ve got that opportunity now, but I at least look forward to seeing you fight for electoral reform after the referendum. What system do you favour?

  4. Peter Ruck

    One of the main arguments advanced for voting NO to AV is that the current first past the post system is simple and easily understood and that AV would destory the present method of forming a government. Possibly this would be a good thing.

    Successive governments voted into office during the last 60 years have resulted in Britain being in recession every ten years; do I want to vote for more of the same? I don’t think so.

    1. steve

      Whereas, of course, STV (the purest form of proportional representation) has produced a fantastically booming economy in Ireland.

      Come on!

        1. steve

          I really am not prepared to get into a falacious argument about which method of electing MPs is better for the economy.

          The two largest countries in the world (in terms of population) China and India are both in the middle of an economic boom that’s been going on for far more than 10 years.

          India elects its MPs by FPTP, while China is a quasi military dictatorship.

          And the country with possibly the highest per capita income, Saudi Arabia, operates on a one man one vote system – the Kings!

          What does that prove?

          1. A Passer By

            Steve, I think you’ve misinterpreted Peter. To my mind, he was suggesting that he wanted to vote for a party that would actually address the distortions and imbalances in the economy, rather than the three main parties who seem to just do whatever the financial elite tell them.

            AV would help him do this because he’d be able to vote for who he genuinely wanted, rather than vote tactically.

            And actually, to be fair, reading back your reply to Peter, it looks as if you were the one to glibly link voting systems and economic success.

  5. A Passer By

    Chi, if this referendum is lost, then we won’t have another chance to fix the system. At least, not in my lifetime, and not in yours. I’m vaguely depressed that people can’t see this.

    A “No” victory would be shaped as a mandate to prevent future reform for a long, long time.

  6. Paul

    The “voter engagement” was for electoral reform, before everyone decided to give Nick a kicking. Most people I spoke to were in favor of AV.. but only because that was all that had been offered. If given the choice between REAL PR and AV, i’d also vote against it. But we werent given that choice (and werent given it by Blaire either, despite his promises in 1997)

    Now any reform is off the cards for another generation, so you MP’s can keep your noses in the trough then…

    Last century the tories were in office for 2/3 of the time, despite 2/3 of those voting going for centre/left parties, simply because the vote was split between Labour, Liberals, Greens etc etc.

    It looks like the 21st Century will be the same.

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