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.