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

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.

Likewise with Iain Martin in The Daily Mail here, who seems to believe and object to the fact that a majority of voters could have voted to keep Jim Callaghan as prime minister under AV, and that AV would allow the British people to effectively hold the wrong opinions, that is, not electing Mrs. Thatcher in 1979. How dare they! He then surreally goes on to complain that whilst AV would have denied Mrs. Thatcher a strong majority, it would have given Tony Blair a huge majority. In other words, he seems to be objecting to his own belief that a majority of the British people, given a choice, would bend over backwards to keep the Conservatives out. I think he’s wrong, but the argument that FPTP should be retained because it is the only way the Conservatives can thwart the will of the British people is, to me, weak.

Melissa Kite  in the Daily Telegraph here has been doing that other thing the No side have been engaged in for weeks now, deliberately shutting down their brain functions and going on about how complicated it all is. Interestingly, Melissa accidentally makes the argument for proportional representation in her piece. Everyone should be allowed choose the desert of their choice, but that’s not what FPTP gives you. I quote her piece below. I suspect most Irish people reading it will be scratching their heads asking what the problem is.

 ” Time for my pièce de résistance. I handed out Post-it notes and invited the eight diners to say what they wanted for pudding by ranking five options in order of preference: ice cream, cake, cheese, fruit and chocolates. Everyone went quiet and dutifully filled out their ballot card. I confess I then spent the next hour trying to work out the result. It nearly fried my brains but I got there in the end. After eliminating fruit in the first round and redistributing its votes, then the same with ice cream, then cake, then chocolates, the winner emerged as cheese, which had been the first choice of just three people. Interestingly, those who put cheese second were the most aggrieved. “That’s not fair,” said one, “I didn’t really want cheese.” I guess that’s AV for you.”

By her own words, it took Melissa an hour to count eight votes. I’ll say no more on the subject.

There’s a common theme running through the anti-AV campaign, and it’s this: You are only allowed think about politics the way professional politicians thinkabout it. You should love one party unconditionally, and hate every other party vociferously.

Of course, that’s not how most people think. Most people have a tendency towards one party over others, but also don’t mind some other parties, have no opinion on others and really dislike one or two. UKIP voters feel differently about the Conservatives than they do about the Lib Dems. Even Conservative and Labour voters, the two traditional enemies, probably are more well-disposed, generally, towards each other than the BNP. It’s like going into a restuarant. If they don’t have your favourite dish, you make a second choice. You don’t storm out and go hungry. Yet that is how anti-AV people seem to think.

In Ireland we use AV in presidential and by-elections. We don’t need special voting machines, we don’t have mass panic trying to understand the ballot paper or voting or counting. Our parliament is elected under a different system that uses the exact same ballot paper, and people vote in the same way. Is there chaos and confusion? No.

There is, however, one difference between British and Irish politics, or at least it appears that way to me.

In Ireland, our politicians, elected under a preferential voting system, seem to be much more afraid of us, the voters, than British politicians are afraid of British voters. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. But I can understand why the professional politicians opposed to AV would think otherwise.

10 thoughts on “For my British readers: AV is the voting system for non-fanatics.

  1. I am going to say something that will sound heretical. Absolute democracy is not such a good thing at all. In fact, the public interest and the will of the people are not the same thing.

    The nearer that the UK voting system moves towards PR, the more likely that political parties are forced to become populist. This is not the same thing as being centrist. It means that political parties are more likely to be “all things to all men.” They are more likely to make promises that they can not keep. They will be more likely to be corrupt. They will be more likely to procrasinate on difficult decisions. They will not be strong enough to take really tough, unpopular decisions which are needed for the country in the longer term.

    In an ideal world, we would have a democratic system which is more like PR but that assumes a level of voter sophistication which is not present at the moment. Before we are ready for more democracy, we need voters to be less selfish and to take a broader view of the national interest.

  2. AV isn’t perfect (I’m a PR man myself) but when I hear nonsense about the BNP getting “extra” votes…And don’t get me started on the attempt to make out how “complicated” the whole thing is. Best of luck on May 5. Will be rooted in front orf my TV with the popcorn.

  3. Thanks for a nice reasonable post about AV. I’m involved in the Yes campaign in the UK, and have come across many Irish and Australian folk who are utterly disbelieving of what nonsense and outright lies the No crowd have been coming out with. Mind you I come across a lot of people from all round the world who find it hard to believe what a shambolic bear pit Westminster is and how some people can call it the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ without shame. The analogy I like is that it is a big, old and underpruned tree, it needs a damn good shake to get the bloody monkeys to fall out and AV is going to be that shake.

    You have had a taste of the No broadcast, this here is the Yes PPB – I think you can see where we’re coming from…

  4. Cris: If a party wins over 50% of the votes, it can carry out its manifesto to the letter. But if a majority of voters approve of no party manifesto, then no party has a mandate, and so a coalition has to build a majority through compromise. This is the same way people decide what pub or restaurant to go to on a night out. What’s the problem?

    Admittedly, a tyrant elected under AV could probably deliver the certainty you want. One clear result with 50% plus support?

  5. Compromise is fine when you’re in the room doing the compromising – but what does it mean for democracy when parties run with a manifesto, people for vote for those parties and then the party hacks get in a closed room and “compromise”. The voter has no idea what they’re voting for. And because of the rigid whip system we can’t even examine the voting record of individual candidates since they all vote with the party. It’s not even as if the compromise is a centist version of two extremes – what you get is whole issues being dumped as a deal – you can have a ban on stag hunting, we’ll get a tax on bookies, you can have quotas for quangos, we’ll get a motorway in Waterford.

  6. Since when did ‘compromise’ become a dirty word?

    Compromise is what rational human beings do when confronted by intractable differences of opinion. Governments are meant to represent a wide range of views – of course they will be making some compromises! The more compromises, the more people are adequately represented…

  7. Melissa’s obviously making it up anyway.
    She had eight voters and five choices.
    She says cheese, the eventual winner, got three first preferences.
    She also says that fruit was the first desert eliminated, but that it evidently got more than one first preference, as the fruit VOTES needed to be reallocated. As such then, it obviously received at least two first preferences.
    She says Ice Cream was eliminated second, Cake was eliminated third, and Chocolate was eliminated fourth. If all these were eliminated after fruit, each of them must have had more first preferences than fruit had done. Let’s say they’d three each, the same as cheese.
    It seems that her eight voters managed to express no fewer than fourteen first preferences. I’m not surprised she had trouble counting.

  8. Parties shouldn’t follow the whims of voters, they should lead, have identifiable positions and run on those. What does PR do – it compromises the voter at the voting stage, and then it compromised the parties after the election when they ditch their platform to form a coalition government. At least with FPTP you get winners and losers (usually).

  9. Watched that link. Wow. Who would have thought that AV would introduce lying and overpromising into politics! He does make one particularly factual error, suggesting that if he gets less votes he’ll win anyway. That’s just not true.

  10. yeah but no but yeah but no……………

    Wail & Torygraph rags do print the most god-awful tosh these days, as is evidenced by your brief trawl above.

    The current crop of Irish Pols inhabiting the local guvmint offices in Dub are not at all “frightened” by the electorate. The only way that’s going to happen is for the ones responsible & implicate in destroying the economy to be seen to be swinging from lampposts (a la mode Mussolini).

    In the meantime, take a gander at

    which seems to sum up the benefits of AV quite nicely

    Kind regards

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *