Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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The people have spoken.

Posted by Jason O on May 6, 2011 in AV Referendum May 5 2011, British Politics

And they’ve said No to AV, as is their right. It’s a dark day for electoral reform, because although many on the Yes side will say that they voted against AV and not in favour of FPTP, a result is a result. In a national referendum, they voted to keep the status quo.

What now for the Lib Dems, for whom electoral reform is the golden calf? It’s a tough one, with the anti-reform Tories now surely emboldened to try to block reform where they can, by, say, dragging their feet on House of Lords reform.

I do hope that some academics do a study as to why people voted No. I’d love to know, for example, what proportion of both Yes and No voters actually understood AV. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not playing the old “the voters are stupid” card, because I’m not. But I do find it hard, coming from a PR background, to understand how people can vote for a voting system that can have such huge discrepancies between how people vote and the result. Does the average Brit know that, or maybe it just does not matter to them? Today’s result shows that the blunt instrument of FPTP is a system that a very substantial number of Brits are happy enough with, or at least, not bothered enough to change.

Yet, consider this future news broadcast: 

“…and if you’re just joining us here on Election 2015, the news is that despite winning over half the votes of the British people between them, the first government to do that since 1931, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition has been ousted by Ed Miliband’s Labour party, despite Labour having received less votes than the coalition.”

I’d be outraged at such an outcome, but seemingly the average Brit wouldn’t be.

The one sliver of hope is that FPTP has within it the seeds of it’s own destruction, that with the growth of the SNP and UKIP and the Greens that eventually it will throw up a result so divorced from how the public voted that  it’ll force electoral reform back on the agenda.

And to my friends in the Yes campaigns, be strong. I remember the night of the Nice Treaty, when I realised that the majority of the people in the country I live in voted against the values I hold most dear. For the first time in my life, I was in a marked minority. I know what you’re feeling now, that aching vacuum of all that work and passion and hope. It hurts. But it will pass, I assure you. The morning does come. We have seen dark days of terrible despair. We’ve seen people told not to sit on lunch counters or sit at the front of the bus. Then we saw the son of a Kenyan immigrant elected President of the United States. Things change.    

When we lost Nice, we cried and despaired too. We licked our wounds, and learnt our lessons, and organised, and came back.

And we won the next time. 

 
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Shock Yes win in AV referendum as No voters struggle with “complex” doorhandles, push/pull signs in polling stations.

Posted by Jason O on May 4, 2011 in AV Referendum May 5 2011, Not quite serious.

Despite numerous polls to the contrary, the proposal to adopt the Alternative Vote was narrowly carried in Britain today after it emerged that No voters, convinced that the preferential voting system that involves being able to count was too complex, failed to successfully negotiate their entry into the polling stations to cast their ballots. The No campaign was quick to condemn the result, and demanded a second referendum.

“It’s a disgrace” a spokesperson for No2AV said, “Ordinary voters have been deliberately bamboozled by having fiendishly complex so-called “handles” to operate to gain access into the polling stations. How can ordinary working people be expected to understand that if a sign on a door says “Pull” that they shouldn’t push the door? In fact, what is the government doing spending taxpayers hard earned money on fancy luxuries like polling station doors when it could be spending the money on flak jackets for our brave boys in Afghanistan? I blame Nick Clegg”.

 

 
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AV: A No vote would be Britain’s George W. Bush moment.

Posted by Jason O on May 4, 2011 in AV Referendum May 5 2011, British Politics

Remember that moment in 2004 when it became apparent that George W. Bush was going to defeat John Kerry and be re-elected President? Remember that “What The **** Are They Thinking?” moment? That’ll be how I feel if Britain votes to keep First Past The Post. Not anger, because it is not, after all, my country, and referendums have a tendency to throw up answers you don’t like. But just jaw-dropping mouth open disbelief.

See, AV isn’t perfect. I get that. But it is better than First Past The Post. But that’s not even the bit that would annoy me, because FPTP has its strengths and I accept that some people put more importance on some aspects of a voting system than others. Fair enough.

No, what would make me gnash my teeth will be if people vote No because of the ridiculous reasons put forward by some on the No side. The voting machines, the “complexity”, the “extra” votes for small parties, all that nonsense. If the British people vote No to AV because of that stuff, stuff that deep down No people in Labour and the Conservatives, who use forms of AV internally in their respective parties, know to be just plain untrue, well, that would be nothing short of heart-breaking.

A No vote is where the British people are convinced by professional politicians to vote against themselves. AV gives individual voters more power over politicians. FPTP restricts those same voters. 

It really is as simple as that.

 
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For my British readers: AV lets you choose from the whole menu.

Posted by Jason O on May 2, 2011 in AV Referendum May 5 2011, British Politics

In the British referendum on the Alternative Vote coming this Thursday, I believe that Britain should vote Yes, and here’s why:

AV gives you the choice to vote as you wish. If you want to vote for a single candidate, as you do under the current system, you can do that. Just put a “1″ beside your favoured candidate, and that’s it. But the beauty of AV is that it is your choice: If you are afraid that your  “1″ choice won’t be elected, but want to stop some one else from getting in, then put a “2″ beside your second choice, and so on.

This is the thing: It really is between you, the pencil and the ballot paper in the polling booth.

A Yes vote allows you to make that choice, to vote for the candidate you actually agree with without accidentally letting in someone you really don’t want. It puts that choice in your hands in a way First Past the Post doesn’t.

AV allows you to vote without wasting your vote.

If you are a eurosceptic, this allows you to vote for a eurosceptic candidate without splitting the eurosceptic vote.

If you’re a Labour voter in the south, this allows you to vote Labour and block Conservatives.

If you’re a Conservative voter in Scotland, this allows you to vote Conservative and block Labour.

A No vote is a vote to deny yourself that opportunity, and to retain a voting system that professional politicians want to keep because it forces voters to accept only the choices they want you to be able to make.

AV is the voting system that works the way people other than professional politicians think. It recognises that in life, people don’t make all or nothing choices, that people have second favourite beers and dishes, and beers and dishes they hate.

In short, AV lets you choose from the whole menu. Don’t throw away that choice. Vote Yes.

 
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AV: Tories and Eurosceptics are people too.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 28, 2011 in AV Referendum May 5 2011

One of the curious aspects of the No to AV coalition in Britain is the way that conservatives and non-UKIP eurosceptics have taken a Pavlovian opposition to the proposed new voting system. Writing as a centre-right political activist and blogger, I find this to be quite perplexing, because it simply does not make sense.

The argument against AV made by some Tories is that AV will allow the progressive majority of the British people to finally unite, thus denying the Tories power forever. Ignoring the shockingly undemocratic nature of the proposition, what I find really infuriating about it is that it just isn’t true. It’s a loser’s whinge, that Tory values are the values of the minority. Yet why is it that in the US, Australia and France, for example, the right is not only able to win elections, but win a majority of the votes? Are Tories so unsure of their own values, indeed their own country, that the idea of an electoral system that requires candidates to win a majority of the votes available in a constituency sends them into a panic? Really? They believe themselves to be that politically ugly?

But that pales into the distance when one considers eurosceptic opposition to AV. To their credit, UKIP and Nigel Farage have recognised that AV could give them leverage and possibly even seats in the Commons, by allowing Tory voters to lend a first preference safe in the knowledge that it isn’t splitting the anti-Labour vote. Aha! Cry the No camp. Doesn’t the same apply to the BNP? No, it doesn’t. Even I, an ardent pro-European, accept that euroscepticism in Britain is widespread, popular, and held by perfectly decent people, unlike the foul brew offered by the BNP. Could a UKIP candidate in second place behind a Tory gets preferences from Labour and the Lib Dems in a way that BNP candidates never will? The answer is yes. Of course, perhaps the question hinges on as to whether non-UKIP eurosceptics regard their euroscepticism as being of less importance than their party loyalty? Perhaps. Funny type of patriotism, all the same.

 
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For my British Readers: Before you vote on AV, ask someone who has used it.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 23, 2011 in AV Referendum May 5 2011, British Politics

Reading the arguments against the Alternative Vote being put forward by its opponents in the UK, it seems to me that many of them are only familiar with it on a theoretical basis, having never actually used it in real elections. Or in the case of the Tories electing their leader, pretending that they have never used it.

As I’ve posted previously, we use preferential voting in Ireland. Whilst we vote in multi-seat constituencies, and the votes are counted differently, the voting principle is the same. We allocate preferences to candidates based on our first favourite, second favourite, etc.

In the last election,  I went into my polling both knowing who I wanted my first preference to go to, and which candidates I really wanted to keep out, and voted accordingly, as did hundreds of thousands of Irish voters. The surreal “Yes, but what if…” arguments the No side keep throwing out about the psychological meaning of a third preference, etc, never occurred to me, nor, I suspect, to hundreds of thousands of Irish voters. Why not? Because those bizarre arguments tend to be made by professional politicians who really don’t like the increased choice that AV gives to voters. Every argument they make against AV seems to have at its heart the point that “You the voter should not be allowed think or do that”.

Voters, on the other hand, voting under an AV system, think “I really like her, he’s okay, and I can’t stand that other guy with the beard”.  The professional politicians on the No side just hate that voters should be given permission by AV to even think like that. 

But never mind what I say. If you haven’t made your mind up, just do one thing: Ask some one to show you, with a few scraps of paper, how an AV election works. I believe its inherent common sense and simplicity will convince you. But if it doesn’t, fair enough. Vote the way your conscience dictates. But just make sure that you have seen a simple AV election in action before you vote against it.

 
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Some Tories and Labour would honestly prefer each other in government to AV? Really?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 19, 2011 in AV Referendum May 5 2011, British Politics

“…and if you’re just joining us here on Election 2015, the news is that despite winning over half the votes of the British people between them, the first government to do that since 1931, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition has been ousted by Ed Miliband’s Labour party, despite having received less votes than the coalition.”

One of the curious factors in the AV debate, and British politics generally, certainly to an outside observer used to election results having some sort of passing resemblance to how voters actually voted (the novelty!), is how all-or-nothing, indeed how “stroppy/adolescent” so many British politicians are. In the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, and indeed all of the European Union, it is perfectly normal for a majority of elected members of a legislature, of differing parties, to sit down and see what deal they can get for the people who elected them. They accept the result, and get down to business, with large parties not surprisingly looking for more than small parties, but if they’re not in the majority, accepting that a majority has to be constructed through discussion and trade.

Yet British No2AV politicians have a bizarre “I want ALL of the cake or none!” approach to politics which is just plain odd. There seriously seem to be members of both Labour and the Conservatives who would have turned down the possibility of  tempering the other party on, say, the Lisbon Treaty or the Miners Strike rather than concede the principle of  possibly sharing power through a system like AV. Imagine having a dentist who told you that he only will pull out all your teeth, or none. It was that sort of moronic behaviour that let Mrs Thatcher piss off Labour people for 11 years, and Blair piss off Tories for a similar period, without being restrained by anyone.

But then, that’s the strangest thing about British politics, compared to a non-first past the post system. Under our system, the politicians are afraid of the voters, not vice versa.      

 
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For my British readers: AV is the voting system for non-fanatics.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 10, 2011 in AV Referendum May 5 2011, British Politics, Irish Politics

On the 5th May the British people vote to decide on whether they keep the First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system, or switch to the Alternative Vote (AV) system. As both a political junkie and an Irishman, I’ve a interest in this debate, primarily because of how absolutely surreal the debate has become. I thought I’d write today about a few casual observations of the debate.

One thing that has struck me has been that one’s attitude to AV is shaped by one’s attitude to politics, and I don’t mean left wing or right wing. Take this piece in The Daily Telegraph by Robert Colville, where he complains that AV would force the Conservative party to be more centrist, presumably because that’s where the voters are. He seems to be outraged that a party would have to actually follow the voters, and not the other way around. Read more…

 
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AV: The arguments of the No side.

Posted by Jason O on Mar 12, 2011 in AV Referendum May 5 2011, British Politics

I thought I’d post this again as I watch the No campaign run the most disingenuous angle I’ve seen since some of the crazy stuff run by some of the No campaign during the Lisbon referendum. What I find extraordinary is that the No side seem to have completely abandoned defending First Past the Post (which does have some good features) in favour of this crap. Anyway, the following are the main five points being made against the Alternative Vote by the No to AV campaign. My comments are in italics (you know, all slanty, like). 

1. AV is UNFAIR. Supporters of fringe parties can end up casting more votes than those who voted for mainstream parties. THE MOST LUDICROUSLY MISLEADING POINT BEING MADE BY THE NO SIDE. IF YOU APPLIED THIS DEFINITION TO THE X FACTOR, IT WOULD MEAN THAT ANYONE WHO VOTED FOR A CONTESTANT WHO WAS VOTED OFF SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED VOTE AGAIN NEXT WEEK. UNDER AV, EVERY VOTER IS TREATED THE SAME, AND THEIR VOTE IS WORTH THE SAME.

2. AV is OBSCURE. It is only used currently in Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea; Fiji are about to scrap it and 6 out of 10 Australians want to scrap it. AV IS OBSCURE? SO IS MARMITE TO THE PEOPLE OF FINLAND. SO WHAT? AV IS USED IN IRELAND  TO ELECT THE PRESIDENT, MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT IN BYELECTIONS, THE AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT, AND A VERSION OF IT WAS USED TO ELECT DAVID CAMERON LEADER OF THE TORY PARTY, BECAUSE THE TORIES THOUGHT FIRST PAST THE POST WOULD BE TOO UNFAIR! AND IT IS NOT AN ELITE THING EITHER: IN TWO REFERENDA, THE IRISH PEOPLE VOTED TO KEEP THE CURRENT SYSTEM RATHER THAN ADOPT FIRST PAST THE POST.  

3. AV is COMPLICATED, which can lead to extra expense. Counting can take longer and taxpayers will foot the bill for extra costs. IT DOES INVOLVE PEOPLE BEING ABLE TO COUNT TO TEN, AND RETURNING OFFICERS BEING ABLE TO TELL WHETHER SOMEONE HAS OVER HALF THE VOTES OR NOT. IS THAT COMPLICATED? THE NO CAMPAIGN ARE SAYING THAT MILLIONS MUST BE SPENT ON MACHINES TO COUNT THE VOTES. IN THE IRISH ELECTION TWO WEEKS AGO, WHICH USES A FORM OF AV, ALL THE VOTES WERE COUNTED BY HAND. 

4. AV is NOT PROPORTIONAL. In fact, the Jenkins study showed that it was less proportional than the current system. Supporters of PR should not support AV. THIS POINT IS TRUE: THE CONCLUSION DRAWN FROM IT IS A CON. ASK YOURSELF THIS, WILL A NO VOTE IN THE REFERENDUM BE SEEN AS A VOTE FOR PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION, OR A VOTE FOR FIRST PAST THE POST? WILL THOSE SAME NO CAMPAIGNERS VOTE FOR A REFERENDUM ON PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION? OF COURSE NOT.   

5. AV isn’t even supported by the ‘YES’ CAMPAIGNERS. Before the general election, Nick Clegg called it a “miserable little compromise” and Chris Huhne said “it does not give voters real power”. IT’S TRUE, NICK CLEGG AND CHRIS HUHNE WOULD MUCH PREFER A REFERENDUM ON PR. BUT THE SAME PEOPLE MAKING THIS POINT ARE THE SAME PEOPLE WHO BLOCKED ASKING THE BRITISH PEOPLE DO THEY WANT PR IN THE FIRST PLACE! AV GIVES VOTERS MORE POWER THAN FIRST PAST THE POST, SIMPLE AS THAT. THAT’S WHY THE PROFESSIONAL POLITICIANS DON’T WANT IT.

AV is not perfect, but it is better than First Past the Post and professional politicians don’t like it being used by voters (they insist upon using it in their own internal elections) because it gives voters too much power. For that reason alone, vote Yes on May 5.

Copyright © 2014 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.