The ‘No’ Campaign’s exhibition in gutter politics

Politics is a dirty business. It is littered with sleaze, grease and indefatigable egos and that all comes before breakfast. But the current dogfight over the May 5th referendum is proving to be particularly filthy. Claim after claim is tossed into the whirlpool of ‘debate’, which spins ever faster as it feeds on the flagrant dishonesty and subtle untruths falling out of the mouths of the “No” campaign. Let us take a moment then, to briefly try and set the record straight, or else we’re all in danger of drowning in a sea of metaphor and unnecessary idiom.

Baroness Warsi, chairman of the Conservative Party, offered a perfect example recently. She claimed AV will aid extremist parties. This is outrageous. Under AV candidates need a majority of the vote – or close to it – to get elected. Under First Past the Post it’s possible to get elected with as little as 25% of the vote. It’s little wonder therefore, that the BNP – whose members are not completely devoid of the ability to do electoral math – are campaigning for a ‘No’ vote. Warsi’s claims are little more than shameless scaremongering, not to mention stupid.

On top of this, the “No” campaign has being pushing the argument that we should have a “One Person, One Vote” system, playing on the notion that under AV supporters of minority parties will get more than one vote. This is one of the “No” campaign’s strongest arguments, because at a glance it seems to make perfect sense.

It is however, completely and utterly false.

If I go to the shop to buy a Dr Pepper (my first preference) but find they’ve run out, I will buy a Sprite instead (my second preference). I still only end up with one bottle of drink. In exactly the same way, under AV, everyone’s vote counts only once. Now, there is of course a system under which governments are usually chosen by a minority of voters in a few select constituencies around the country. It goes by the name of First Past the Post.

But if these dubious assertions weren’t enough, there are more. The “No” campaign also claimed it will cost £250 million to implement AV. Now, as you will well know if you take even the most fleeting interest in politics, this can, at best, be described as a lie. The “No” campaign’s estimation is taking into account £130 million for voting machines. Voting machines we won’t need. The Australians have had AV for over eighty years and they’ve got by just fine with a pen and paper. I imagine we probably can too.

But wait, says the “No” campaign, AV is far too complicated for the British electorate. Hardly. Indeed, the “No” campaign makes a fantastically arrogant and condescending assumption in thinking so. Yes, AV is more complicated than FPTP (almost anything is) but is it really that complicated?

The counting system is, admittedly, a little harder. Under AV (as I’m sure you know by now) the first candidate to achieve 50 per cent of the vote wins. If nobody achieves this at the first count, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and those who voted for him have their second-choice votes reallocated. The process of elimination and reallocation carries on until a candidate is tipped over the 50 per cent requirement.

So, is it more complicated? Yes. But is it too complicated? Absolutely not.

For many people this referendum is excruciatingly dull, and seems really rather trivial in light of spending cuts, Libya, and, well, just life in general. But whilst it may not seem so now, it is actually tremendously important, and an opportunity like this we may not ever get again in our lifetimes.

13 comments

  1. Well written argument. Just wish more could see it. The “no” campaign is an insidious campaign to maintain a discredited and out of date voting system which serves to protect, in particular, the interests of the Conservative party. A large part of the problems the UK is facing in the world, (from foreign policy blunders to inept financial management in the UK) is due to the unrepresentative collection of MPs in Parliament under the present antiquated system.

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  2. 20 Apr ’11 at 1:08 pm

    Sean Anderson

    I’ll be voting no in the referendum. Yes, there are plenty of faults with the campaign (there are faults with the ‘yes’ campaign, too), but I find first past the post the most sensible option. It’s perfectly fair. It can be tactical sometimes, but any form of voting can be and at the end of the day people are voting for whom they want as a ruling party. The AV system would not actually change results that much, but a system whereby someone can theoretically win based the number of second- or third-choice votes they have seems absurd. Long live first past the post. It hasn’t failed us all these years. Just because of one coalition government, it is not broken: we do not have ‘a new politics’. As for the number of students opposing the coalition, is a perfectly democratic and legitimate government. The Conservatives won fair and square, just not an absolute majority, so negotiating with the Lib Dems was wise. Some of the Labour fanboys need to get a grip – they’ll be back in power when the country wants them back. The two-party system is cyclic and balances itself out.

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  3. it’s a bit like going to the bookies and backing a hundred-to-one long shot to be told “look, this horse is totally shit, put down a second choice and if comes last we’ll transfer your stake over”

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  4. 20 Apr ’11 at 7:51 pm

    Champagne Conservative

    @Sean

    Try as I might, I can’t find a single argument against the Alternative Vote on principle in your post.

    “a system whereby someone can theoretically win based the number of second- or third-choice votes they have seems absurd” isn’t a sound argument. It isn’t even a meaningful statement!

    Turned on its head, why should the voices of those who don’t have the opportunity to express their second preferences be ignored under our current system? I’d say it’s tantamount to a form of disenfranchisement.

    Contrary to the No campaign’s ridiculous broadcasts, Electoral Democracy isn’t a “race to the finish”- it’s a means of ascertaining the preferences of the people as to who they’d rather have represent them. By any stretch of the imagination, a mandate of 35% on first preference votes has little to recommend it over a mandate of 50% made up of 30% first preferences and 15% second preferences.

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  5. Under the current system, the following situation could theoretically come up:

    In a constituency, the vote might be split as follows:
    Candidate ‘A’ might get 35% / Candidate ‘B’ might get 34% / Candidate ‘C’ might get 31%

    Therefore, under the current system, Candidate ‘A’ will be elected despite 65% of the constituency not voting for them!
    Then they are expected to represent the interests of their own supporters plus the majority that did not vote for them.

    In Alternative Voting, a Candidate must achieve 50% or more of the vote in order to be elected. This means that any candidate that does not hold a majority is not elected straight away. This is more democratic.

    Instead, a majority is created using subsequent rounds of voting.

    So in our hypothetical situation:
    Candidate ‘C’ (obviously with the minority of support) will be eliminated in the first round. But this doesn’t mean that their supporters have to accept the choice of others because their 2nd Choice will instead be taken into account. This means that, although its not the person that they originally wanted, they still have an MP that they want to represent them in parliament.

    Voting YES to AV on May 5th is a step in right direction for a fairer representative democracy.

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  6. Received my ‘No to AV’ leaflet through the post yesterday: what a negative piece of literature, deliberately trying to scare people into voting no with no real basis for the claims they make. Must remember to shred it!

    Vote YES to AV!

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  7. Despite the enthusiastic support for the AV Yes campaign, implementing AV still won’t solve this country’s electoral problems. No matter how I vote in my constituency, I can guarantee that a Labour candidate will be my MP for four years after that. The whole constituency philosophy needs overhauling. AV will not solve this, though it is a first step to recognising the country’s problems.

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  8. “If I go to the shop to buy a Dr Pepper (my first preference) but find they’ve run out, I will buy a Sprite instead (my second preference). I still only end up with one bottle of drink”

    But if I vote for Labour and don’t want anyone else to win I won’t make any further rankings. I don’t care about “second preferences”, I just want my favoured candidate to win.

    And let’s not pretend that the Yes campaign haven’t been telling porkies either. The claim that it will eliminate safe seats is wrong, the claim that it will make MPs work harder is dubious, and the claim that AV would have averted the MPs expenses scandal is rubbish.

    The only point I agree on here is that Warsi is talking rubbish when saying AV would help the BNP. But don’t forget that the BNP have never won under a Westminster seat under FPTP either. I think the chances of BNP winning a seat under either system are roughly the same – negligible to nil. But it should also be pointed out that the BNP opposes AV because they support that other system favoured by electoral campaigners – PR. And PR definitely would help the BNP.

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  9. 27 Apr ’11 at 11:06 am

    Luke Malkin & Charlotte Hogarth-Jones

    M – Thats called Democracy dude.

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  10. NOUSE

    Today I saw something terrible.

    A Conservative (presumably a candidate?) (as denoted by those badges), running round vanburgh paradise, in his NO2AV green shirt, ripping down another parties posters.
    So I gave him the WTF are you doing look. As you’d expect from such a mature person, he stuck his tongue out, and continued doing as he was.

    OH dear, what a silly boy.

    please tell me this isn’t what politics has come to?

    A very concerned (and actually neutral) n.

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  11. 3 May ’11 at 11:16 pm

    Champagne Conservative

    @n:

    Oh, for fuck’s sake. The rest of the parties don’t do that to the filth the Tories spray over the walls- why should they do that to us?

    I’d have thrown a drink at his face, at the very least.

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  12. @Champagne Conservative
    I’ll keep that in mind

    Anyone know some names of Campus’ most prominent politicians? – I might put some names n’ faces together….To see what happens if this idiot is a candidate, and their superior dealing with them…

    Dear presumably tory candidate: I’m sorry if this is harsh. But to sink British politics to this? Grow up, and please get rid of that haircut / suit / green shirt combo. It just doesn’t work.

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  13. 4 May ’11 at 9:57 am

    Pint of Guinness, Please Sir

    You can’t say that its only the “NO” campaign has been dirty. The “Yes” lot have been equally as bad, with Chris Huhne apparently aliking their strategy to that of Goebbels.

    To be honest, whilst the “No” campaign have done a bad job at promoting FPTP, I will still be voting no because I can’t see the point of AV. It won’t bring radical overhaul and my main gripe is that if votes are being re-allocated to make a winner, then surely the winner does not actually get 50% of the vote, he gets whatever he started out with, plus other people’s. Which I don’t think is fairer than FPTP.

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