Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

No to AV campaigners don’t seem to like different viewpoints.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 15, 2011 in British Politics |

Reading the No to AV website reveals an interesting insight into how many of them seem to think about politics in general. Let’s be honest: There are some good reasons for voting for FPTP. It is simple, and gives a result. Not an accurate one representative of most voters, I feel, but there are many people who want an election above everything else to give a clear result, and FPTP does that most of the time. If AV is like a game of Risk, and needs thought, FPTP is Snakes and Ladders. It does eventually end with a clear winner no matter what you do (or indeed, how you actually vote).

But what is telling about the No to AV campaign is their disdain for the idea that other people may think differently about politics from them. Just consider the logic of their argument. If you are a Tory voter living in a constituency where, say, it’s Labour versus the BNP for the top slot, what they are saying is that you should not care who actually wins if your (Tory) candidate does not.

But that is not the way many ordinary people think. There are millions of Tory voters who would be appalled if they ended up with a local BNP MP, and if asked to give a second choice to Labour or the BNP will vote Labour no.2 to stop the BNP.  Yet the No campaign dismiss people like that. Why do they dismiss them? Because the No side is made up mostly of professional politicians who think only in narrow party political terms, My party or no one. That is not the way ordinary people think, or indeed vote. AV increases voter choice, and makes more politicians vulnerable in their seats. That is a good thing.


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Daniel Sullivan
Jan 15, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Those sort of arguments highlight the differences between those who have opinions and those who have attitudes. An opinion is typically grounded in reality and based on reasoning on up of some sort of evidence, and those is somewhat open if naturally a bit resistant to being changed if you can show that the evidence or the reasoning process are flawed or incorrect.

An attitude requires neither, and indeed has great disdain for, reason and evidence. It’s what you tend to get from a lot of teenagers and 3rd level students who can’t actually understand why they hate the poor/rich so much. Too often those who become involved in party politics at a young age tend to be of this sort.

So, no matter evidence you present that opposing AV is not in the best interests of the country or their party or themselves, they will simply extend their tongues between their closed lips and blow in your direction. It’s about as genuinely articulate as many of them can get.

John McGuirk
Jan 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm

I’ve been following your arguments on AV for a while, and wanted to put the (I hope) reasonable counter-argument:

The first one is on stability, obviously. I would argue that 2, or 2.5 party systems provide, over the long term, much more stable government. And I would further argue (you’ll concede this point, I think) that FPTP is by far the best electoral system to maintain a stable two or three party system. The issue that arises from that, obviously, is that voters are denied the choice of a fourth, fifth, or sixth major party, but in actuality one of the major advantages of FPTP is that is broadens coalitions within parties, and tends to actually broaden, rather than narrow, the opinions and ideas within a government party. Thus you see much weaker whip systems in parliaments elected under FPTP than you do under PR, which encourages more ideologically rigid, tightly defined parties (many campaigning on one or two single issues). As such, in PR parliaments you find it much harder to get stable govt, and you’re much more likely to see political immaturity and the carving up of the people’s money to represent small sectional interests. To sum the argument up – would you sooner see a Tory majority, or a Tory/UKIP coalition? FPTP forces the Tories to satisfy UKIP voters, but also allows them to stay to UKIP’s left. So they can be Euro-critical, rather than withdrawalist. A Tory-UKIP coalition would be much less stable, and much more extreme because of one party’s single-issue mandate. The Greens and their cabbagey climate change bill here is another example.

On voter choice (and to cite the example you yourself give above) I think it’s misleading to say that a voter who thinks as deeply as you say he does about the choice between a BNP and Labour MP has no tool open to him. Tactical voting is now a staple of British politics. It’s very much like the US primaries – often times you vote for the most electable person closest to your views rather than the person who is ideologically pure but would come last in a donkey derby. AV, again, affords you the chance to be ideologically rigid, but I actually think that voters being forced to think through their choices is better for democracy in the long run.

There are other arguments too, but those are the two main reasons I’d tend to back Tory high command on this one.

Jan 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm

The No to AV crowd doesn’t dismiss people who would be appalled at the idea of an extremist party being elected to parliament. If you were faced with such a problem the solution under FPTP is simple: vote tactically to keep out the party you least like. Supporters from all the three main parties do this all the time especially the Lib Dems. It’s not perfect but no electoral system pretends otherwise.

Under FPTP you get an easy to understand, cheap and fair system of electing representatives. It’s worked for over a century in the UK and has produced a fair result in nearly every single election.

Also, there is no Labour 1st BNP 2nd Constituency. Not even in places like Barking.

Jason O
Jan 15, 2011 at 10:56 pm

James: I was using the BNP as an example of how voters of one party do have opinions as to who wins if their own candidate doesn’t. Tactical voting to me, as someone who uses a PR system in his national elections, is just plain odd. You can’t vote for the candidate you want because you might let some other guy win? What?.
Ireland uses STV, which is more complicated than AV, yet does not have voters complaining about it not being simple enough. Is it more expensive: Probably. But so are elections. As for FPTP being fair: What do you mean by fair?

Jason O
Jan 16, 2011 at 9:44 am

John: Fair points. But I see things differently. Take what we mean by stability. If you mean avoiding a general election every six months, then PR can claim just as much success in that regard. Belgium and Israel are anomalies, in the same way that FPTP has failed to elect a majority in Canada in the last three elections. As to the big tent parties, I disagree as to their effectiveness. The Tories don’t satisfy UKIP, who want, above everything else, a referendum on EU membership. A Tory-UKIP coalition would concede that, and I don’t think it would be a bad thing. Big Tents don’t lance boils, they try to cover them up.
You are right: PR leads to the political system divvying up money amongst, well, the people. Imagine my shock! Neither PR nor FPTP are much better at winning the argument behind that, which is who created the money in the first place. After all, the FPTP governments of the 1970s were no strangers to taking money from people through penal taxation.
As for tactical voting: Look at our own situation. Under FPTP you would be asking me to vote in Blackrock to vote FF to keep out Labour when I really want to vote Green. Seriously, as a voter I’d be pissed. I’m reminded of Kodos and Kang in The Simpsons when they took over the bodies of Clinton and Dole, and announced their plan. A citizen shouts “We’ll stop you! We’ll vote for a third party candidate!” to which the aliens reply “Sure! Throw your vote away!”
One of the unwritten issues behind this debate is the difference between electing a representative assembly and electing an executive. The truth is, they should be separate actions, and elected differently.

Jan 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm

@John McGuirk
On the Tories vs. Tories/UKIP, big tent vs. coalition idea, I think that AV would give the individual voter more control over the policy of the government. Voters will know that if they were to chose a candidate outside the mainstream their vote will probably be wasted so they are incentivised to vote for the big party that most closely follows their world view i.e. vote for Tories or throw your vote away on UKIP, possibly letting Labour in.
Alternatively under PR or AV the voter is empowered to vote more specifically i.e. Someone on the left could vote for the ULA (Trotskyites), Sinn Féin (Marxists[?]) or Labour (Social Democrats) in the confidence that their vote will (usually) end up with a left leaning politician.
In this way they can specifically approve of sections within an ideology rather than a broad vote of confidence in a world view and can have influence over policy decisions without being a member of a party.

Jan 19, 2011 at 3:31 pm

First past the post gets you the most popular candidate. AV and STV gets you the least unpopular candidate. It’s not essentially fairer. Also, in parliamentary democracies such as Ireland and UK, it’s still winner takes all in forming a government, and the government then controls the parliament rather than the other way round. I’d like a straight vote for the executive along the US lines and then maybe PR for parliament where the executive then has to build coalitions for each vote. The worst aspect of the current system is the whip, with automatic expulsion if you vote against party instructions. That’s profoundly anti-democratic.

Jason O
Jan 20, 2011 at 8:05 am

I agree that seperating the executive from the legislature, and electing them seperately, is a good idea. What annoys me about the anti-AV people are that they assume everyone votes the way they do. Having voted with STV/AV my whole life, my vote would be less valuable under FPTP.

Daniel Sullivan
Jan 21, 2011 at 11:51 am

FPTP also gives coalitions of different political interests and sometimes ones that are implicit but still quite unstable.




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