Why I’m voting no to AV

In the 2010 General Election only 56% of registered voters in Newcastle Central voted. And many residents of the city did not bother to register. For me, this is further proof that there needs to be change to refresh and reinvigorate our democratic system. A representative democracy cannot function if people do not vote.

So when I assess the Alternative Vote system the key question for me is : “Will it encourage democratic participation by those who are currently disenfranchised?” A separate but related consideration is “Is it a fairer system?” A fairer system should encourage more democratic participation because more people will feel their vote is important.

After considering AV in some detail for many months I have come to the conclusion that AV will not encourage further democratic participation and that it is not fairer. I will therefore be voting against AV in the forthcoming referendum.

There are many factors which have helped me reach this conclusion but I shall just mention two here.

· Canvassing on the doorsteps of Newcastle I meet many constituents who tell me they are not going to vote. Some volunteer that they are ‘non voters’. One little girl in Blakelaw told me that voting ‘wasn’t normal.” Clearly it did not happen in her family.

The main reason constituents give for not voting is: “Voting doesn’t change anything.” No-one has ever mentioned the voting system. I do not believe that changing to what is a more complex system would encourage large numbers of non voters to vote.

· The second main reason is the degree of fairness associated with a system which enables some voters to have ‘two bites of the cherry’ and others only one. I know there are theoretical justifications for this, but, intuitively, it does not strike me as fair.

Churchill called democracy the worst form of Government apart from all the others that have ever been tried. I have come to the conclusion that First Past the Post is the worst form of democracy – apart from the others being proposed. I do support reform of the political system, including voting, but it needs to be simpler and fairer than AV if more people are to use it,

I recognise that many supporters of AV genuinely believe it will encourage greater participation and that it is fairer and I respect their position. My experience talking to the people of Newcastle has led me to the opposite view: I will work to represent the people of Newcastle which ever system the country chooses.

22 thoughts on “Why I’m voting no to AV

  1. steve

    Dead right!

    If AV leads to more coalition governments – and it will, voters are even more likely to believe that “Voting doesn’t change anything.”

  2. A Passer By

    People are tired of politics because we now have three main parties who are, to all intents and purposes, the same. No party is prepared to take sensible and rational steps to fix this country’s problems – which, to my mind, stem from the practices of big business and the banking elite.

    I’d imagine they would like the chance to vote for alternative parties, with different solutions and ideas – but the FPTP system means that by doing so, their vote will be ‘wasted’ because not enough people will take the same ‘risk’. AV is indeed a “miserable little compromise”, but at least it has the virtue of allowing people to take a chance on something new. Furthermore, it could lead to a better system in future.

    You identify that people’s main gripe is that “voting doesn’t change anything”. But then you go on to say you’ll personally vote for no change – just think about that for a while…

    I sincerely hope you’ll reconsider before polling day!

    1. steve

      If only life were that simple.
      In theory, FPTP should encourage different candidates to say what they want to do and ask for support.
      As Passer By says, the onset of government by the media has already led to similarities in the messages parties give out before the election, even if what they do afterward is very different!
      Under AV parties and candidates will have to start considering how their message will ‘go down’ with second and third preference voters.
      They will be even less likely to say what they think fear of ‘scaring the children’, inevitably leading to the politics of the mushy middle.

      1. A Passer By

        Only career politicians and the discredited parties (Con, Lab, Lib) within which they reside will choose to triangulate on the centre ground.

        Smaller parties, I would propose, are less concerned with appealing to everyone. They have ideas about what will work for the country and they will continue to present those regardless.

        What the AV system will do is embolden these parties. People can give a smaller party their first choice vote and not have to worry about the pressures of tactical voting. I have no doubt that with AV, the number of people voting for smaller parties will increase.

        We need more choice in British politics. AV will help with this.

  3. Conor

    Lack of participation in the democratic process is a problem, I agree, but it is a problem aside to and apart from whatever democratic system they are abstaining from. Using that as a reason not to bring in improvements in the democratic system is just a smokescreen.
    It doesn’t strike me as particularly surprising that an MP of one of the big three are voting against democratic reform.
    The whole “extra bite of the cherry” thing is rubbish. It’s a way of making sure that, whatever the outcome, each person’s vote has been tallied and applied to the final candidates. Consider it a league rather than a final. The majority of a constituency will be content with the outcome, and nobody can realistically argue against a scenario like that, unless they’re hiding something or protecting their own interests over those of the people perhaps…

    1. Stephen

      I’m not clear why though that each person’s votes should be applied to the final candidates. We have the right to a vote but not to vote for a winning candidate.

      For example, it seems unfair to me that someone’s 3rd, 4th or 5th choice preference would get the same weight as others’ 1st preference votes. If I’m a Labour voter in a Lib Dem-Con marginal I give my first preference vote to Labour, say my second to the Greens (still worthless) and then I might decide that I’m still prepared to give the Lib Dems my 3rd preference to stop the Tories. Surely it is unfair that having had 2 says on who I want to be my MP my third (purely a tactical, negative vote) choice gets the same weight as someone who voted Tory for 1st preference and can be highly influential on the result.

      1. A Passer By

        Think of it as a series of votes, each happening one after the next. Your candidate stays in the first round, so the second round you vote for him again. He then stays in again so you vote for him in the third round. You haven’t had one vote, you’ve had *three* – it’s just that you voted for the same person each time.

        Everyone has the SAME NUMBER of votes.

      2. Conor

        You’re all overly concerned about some votes being “worth” more than others. The main point is: if your party doesn’t have the support of the majority then they shouldn’t represent them, regardless of where they were on your voting sheet. To then bleat on about it being unfair afterwards would be absurd, cos it would be to believe that your preference is more important than that of the majority of the people. I honestly haven’t seen any convincing argument against AV. All those attempts at arguing against it seem to be centred around one person defending their vote, rather than considering what would be best for everyone. Rather selfish and short sighted if you ask me

  4. Andrew Emmerson

    I can tell you the exact reason only 56% voted in this constituency.

    It’s a safe seat, a seat that will never be anything other than a Labour seat. What’s the point?

    Hardly anyone in my family even bothered, so disenfranchised with the current system, yet so strong in feeling for a multitude of other non Labour parties didn’t bother going to the ballot box.

    For goodness sake Chi, let them have their say, do the decent thing.

  5. Rob Carr

    A well-argued case for your vote Chi and one I thoroughly agree with. I think the AV vote is a waste of resource when there are so many more pressing matters to campaign on at the moment. Now is not the right time to have this as such a high priority. It’s just a case of the Lib Dems making it a big issue as part of their deal to keep the Tories in power. Misguided at best.

  6. Craig Johnson

    Voting against AV for the reasons you outline is like voting against a bill regarding the price of cheese because it wouldn’t affect the price of chalk. 56% of people voted because Newcastle Central is still considered to be a rather safe Labour seat.

    You received 45.9% of the vote in 2010. Some seats finished with the winner receiving below 40% of the vote. Campaigns focused on areas where they were confident of receiving support, not whole areas to show why their actions were benefiting communities.

    The two bites of the cherry allows voters to register a preference if they have one. Many will select just one preference or two, knowing that they no longer have to tactically vote, as many did in 2010, and previous elections under FPTP.

    You say you support voting reform but reform must be simpler and fairer than AV. Fairer than AV is proportional representation, which is much more complex than the AV voting system. Calling for something simpler and fairer is a contradictory in terms. AV is 1, 2, 3, just like the system we used to elect the Labour leader.

    There are arguments against AV. I’m sad to say that I find your reasons rather flawed, and I would encourage you to assess your decision.

  7. David Stockdale

    This is probably the best argument against AV I have read so far but I think I would go one step further and say that AV would actually discourage people from voting. AV is a much more complex voting system then one person one vote and as such it simply isn’t a viable option. I think a much better option to combat voter apathy would be to introduce open primaries and encourage more people to get involved in politics and eliminate safe seats. I also think the government should further empower parish councils which in theory are the first tier of representation and therefore people should feel more connected to their parish councillor — that connection in turn should encourage people to become more involved in the whole political process.

  8. Chris

    I’m not so sure that voters really did consider Newcastle Central a safe Labour seat in 2010. People seem to have forgotten that before the election we were constantly being told about an impending Lib Dem breakthrough in all three Newcastle seats.

    The local press bombarded us with articles saying that the Lib Dems stood a very good chance of winning, particularly when the tragicomic “Cleggmania” got going in the aftermath of the first leaders’ debate. See this article in the Evening Chronicle, for example: http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/north-east-news/evening-chronicle-news/2010/04/27/poll-predicts-lib-dems-will-win-newcastle-72703-26325635/).

    To claim with the benefit of hindsight that Labour were always going to win in Newcastle is highly misleading. It seems to me that the current MPs put in a great deal of hard work to win their seats.

  9. James Maguire

    I was interested to find out your position on AV. I have come to the same conclusions as you have. I spend a lot of time trying to get my friends involved in politics as best I can and it was clear talking to them that they neither understood, nor cared about AV (and wouldnt have voted on it at all).

    When I explained the difference between the voting systems, even they, with little political understanding could see the inherent lack of fairness AV leaves itself open to. They also couldnt understand that while their wages are being held or cut and the wage they are taking home is becoming worth less as food, utilities and petrol prices rise, that money was being spent on this referendum which they were barely even aware of.

    The whole referendum is the folly of an elite and it shows again the total disconnect between what voters care about and what political strategists and wonks think they want. Its doomed regardless because of its association with the Liberals but it is also an unwanted distraction at a time when people are struggling from pay cheque to pay cheque as their services are cut and their job prospects diminished. What is clear from talking to friends and neighbours is the cuts are starting to hit people directly (our bins are now collected less frequently, often sitting on the street for a whole day as an example) and this is what people are concerned about. Not ranking political parties in order of popularity.

    Shame on the Liberals especially, I would have thought they would have understood the needs and wants of the people on the ground. I’d love to know where in Benwell or the Byker Wall or Wallsend Town Centre they found numbers of members of the public asking for a change to the voting system as a priority?

    Clegg talks about a ‘new’ politics yet this reeks of the same old, same old. Who is likely to benefit most from a change to AV, oh yes, the Liberals. And they wonder why people are cynical and aren’t falling over themselves to thank Clegg for this vote!?

    I respect your position Chi and I’m sure your voters in Newcastle will too.

  10. Craig Johnson

    I do not doubt the great work that MPs do, and whilst I support AV, I wouldn’t throw my support behind much of the campaign that Yes to Fairer Votes has run (nor would I throw my support the opposing campaign either), but my point the Liberal popularity was advertised to be national, not just in Newcastle. Labour winning in Newcastle Central was assured to many.

    Encouraging more people to vote is a much more deep problem than simply discussing a voting system. Even if a change in the voting system would not encourage it is a non-argument. The debate is fairer votes, not voter turnout, and it is here that I find Chi’s arguments flawed.

  11. Alvin Lucier

    “I know there are theoretical justifications for this, but, intuitively, it does not strike me as fair”

    Maybe if you try engaging your brain on the issue, rather than your intuitions. Gut instinct, intuitions and common sense are all simple refusals to engage with rational argument.

  12. Vin Riley

    I believe in conviction politics: I make a clear choice of candidate and am not influenced by the chances of success. I never vote tactically and have no desire to place all the candidates in any order of merit.
    AV certainly will make coalitions more likely. Those who claim that the days of overall majorities are over anyway, because the two main parties no longer attract such a a large share of the vote, forget that there was a landslide victory as recently as 1997 and that the Lib Dems are currently attracting only single figure support in opinion polls.
    I concede that the unfairness argument about counting second choices is not as strong as it appears: counting the second votes cast is, in a sense, equivalent to having a second (run-off) ballot when all votes are counted again. In other words the AV method is a shortcut version of exhaustive voting. (I hope you’re still with me!)
    However, my main objection to AV is simply that it could lead to weak, compromising administrations – lowest common denominator governments. It certainly rules out the prospect of a Socialist government.

    1. A Passer By

      Under AV, a party can win a seat with a simple majority. If a party is sufficiently popular (with 50%+ of the vote), it will win straight away. End of.

      But with regard to AV delivering “weak” administrations, you can argue the opposite case with FPTP – it can lead to administrations that scrape through with, say, 30% of the popular vote pushing through extreme agendas that the majority didn’t ask for.

  13. Owen Graham

    Your only point seems to be that people will be put off by the slightly increased complexity. If you had argued for the need for strong governments, which FPTP does tend to deliver then I could came round to your point of view, but your first point is based on assumptions which I don’t agree with, as people who support smaller parties (such as the Green party, not just the BNP) are put off by the sense of ‘wasting their vote’ if they don’t vote for one of the main three parties, and some therefore don’t vote at all, feeling they have no impact upon their own country. Under AV this sense of a ‘wasted vote’ will surely diminish, and even people that I politically disagree with will feel much more engaged in the process, and become less disenfranchised with it (and perhaps even change their politics as a result). I consider this as your first big mistake, considering your exceptional voting record in the house of commons, and I urge you to think again.

  14. Pingback: AV completely misses the point… « Blog Newcastle

  15. A Passer By

    Don’t like Boulton, but there’s some interesting stats in this clip:

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/04/21/baroness-warsi-humiliated-in-no2av-debate-on-sky/

    If he’s right, and based on Australian elections, then the person in the lead after the first round tends to win in 95% of cases.

    Also, for any Labour supporters thinking of voting “no”…do you *really* want to be on the same side as Baroness Warsi? I mean, really? None of her arguments stack up…

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