Friday, 22 April 2011

A Vote On How To Vote

Today a 'No to AV' leaflet arrived for me in the post. Now i've been going to and fro on how i'm going to vote come May the 5th. To use one of the hot political phrases of this time last year, "I agree with Nick" when he said that AV is a "miserable little compromise" in many ways. There are plenty of flaws with it and it isn't a huge step towards proportional representation of voters desires so previously i would have probably been opposed to a move to AV.

However i am strongly against First Past The Post as a voting system. Due to the political make up of our society it pretty much guarantees that the person/party that gets into power will not have received a majority of votes, or to put it another way, the majority of the people have expressed no interest in having that person lead the country. It seems to lead to a higher level of voter apathy as people don't consider their vote to count unless they vote for whichever of the two main parties is dominant in their constituency, making anyone who lives outside of a swing seat feel fairly powerless.

What's made my mind up to write this blog and also to some extent influenced the way i think i'm going to vote on May 5th is the sheer degree of, excuse my language but it's the most appropriate word for it, bullshit, that the 'No to AV' campaign is publishing as fact in their efforts to make sure our voting system stays as it is. The leaflet i received today is a prime example of this.

On the front it is titled 'One Person, One Vote' pandering to the suggestion that some people's votes get counted more than once under AV. NOT TRUE. Under AV if people have voted for the least popular candidate their vote is eliminated and redistributed according to the choice they marked as their second preference. Contrary to what the 'No' campaign is saying, it going down to third preferences will be quite rare, and the whole purpose of this system is to make sure that the majority of people actually are allowed some say in the running of their country. For example, I might want to vote Green, but they're unlikely to get into office under either system. Under FPTP i would probably not vote Green simply because my vote would be wasted, under AV it is less likely to be so as i could state that an acceptable alternative would be Labour perhaps. This cartoon that i found is a crude over-simplification, but it does capture part of the argument for AV.

The front page also includes a note in one corner saying "None of your taxes have been used to print this leaflet". Now none of your tax payer money has been spent on leaflets by the "Yes to AV" campaign and the 'no' campaign knows this, but they're happy to suggest the opposite.

The 2nd page focuses on the cost of the vote, £250m they claim. There's a few problems with this. Firstly, the vote's happening, so voting no won't make any difference to the cost of the referendum itself. Secondly there's the claim that £130m of that will have to be spent on electronic vote counting machines; those machines aren't actually going to be used and a number of organisations that use AV get by just fine without them. Then there's the claim that £26m will have to be spent on explaining the new system to voters; seems a little patronising to me and they could save a whole load of money by broadcasting this little video on all channels on May 4th -

Below these claims is a list of occupations such as nursing and teaching with figures of how many jobs the money being spent could create. Now at a time when after only a year in power the coalition government has savagely cut funding for exactly these kind of positions, a potential 500,000 public sector jobs, it's amazing they have the gall to use those jobs as somehow being the referendum's fault.

The third and fourth pages cover the idea that the second or third 'best' candidate can win under AV. Now this really hinges on what they mean by 'best'? In the 2010 general election, under the FPTP system, the Tories won 36.1% of the vote, does this mean that they consider themselves the 'best' despite the fact that 63.9% of the electorate didn't vote for them? The winner under AV is the candidate who get's the widest approval, rather than merely appealing to a comparatively small reliable section of voters. Now it can be argued that this will lead to an increase in centrist politics with the majority of parties moving towards the centre in an effort to appeal to a broad selection of the electorate, but if that means that the big parties have to listen to the interests of the majority of society then is that really such a bad thing?

On the fifth page there's a map of the world and a list of the three other countries that use AV; Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. This is true so far as general elections are concerned but there are two counter points that should be mentioned. Firstly, why is popular the same as good? History is full of examples of where the popular choice turned out to be wrong, either practically, morally or both. Secondly they decline to mention that AV is used for all these other things; Leadership elections for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, most Student Union elections, elections for the Best Picture award at the Oscars, a large number of elections within trade unions, membership organisations and businesses, the Irish Presidential election and a large number of American mayoral, City and District elections. So it's actually not even that unpopular.

The sixth page is an understandably biased explanation of the two systems designed to emphasis the comparative simplicity of FPTP. Again, similar to the popularity argument, why is simplicity necessarily beneficial; this system elects the person/party who will lead our country, maybe a slightly complex system is worthwhile if it's fairer?

A picture of a running race is the dominant feature of page seven, with an arrow indicating that under AV the person who finishes third can win, claiming it is unfair. For a start comparisons between sport and politics are irrelevant, they're two completely separate elements of life and so should not be used in this debate. Elections aren't purely about finding a "winner", or at least they shouldn't be, surely they should be about finding the candidate who best represents the wishes of the electorate?

Below that is a paragraph suggesting that one of the major flaws with AV is that the votes of someone who might support an extreme party like the BNP will count for more. Firstly since when was democracy about ignoring/silencing the voices of the minority, however abhorrent their views may be? Secondly if it's going to benefit the BNP so much, why has Nick Griffin joined the "No to AV" campaign? He's joined it because an extremist party like his is unlikely to be many people's second or third preference, meaning that the likelihood of them achieving a majority of votes in any constituency is VERY slim. This is a point worth making very clear, when voting under AV you rank the candidates you want to then leave the others blank, it doesn't mean that you have to in any way vote for a party you can't stand. If you're really keen on the FPTP system but AV is introduced, just put a 1 by the party you like then leave the rest blank, you're vote is not really any different.

The final page is a direct attack on Nick Clegg claiming that AV will lead to more coalition governments which would lead to more broken promises from politicians. Seeing as FPTP has hardly led to politicians promises being held in high regard it seems a little odd to emphasise this point. The problems it mentions such as:
  • Job Cuts
  • VAT increase
  • Tuition Fees rise
  • Public Spending Cuts
would all have happened under a Conservative majority government; the coalition nature of the current government has had no impact on those actions, it may even prove in the long run to have tempered them. A campaign predominantly and proudly backed by the Conservative party using 4 central elements of it's policy as negative effects of coalition government is beyond duplicitous.

Also by attacking Nick Clegg this page seeks to suggest that a vote for AV is a vote for Nick Clegg. Now i really do dislike Clegg right now, he's proven himself to be spectacularly deceitful and lacking in morals/backbone, but this vote is much bigger than one two faced politician. Anyone who lets their feelings for a particular politician who will probably be almost forgotten in 10 years times influence how they vote on a electoral system that we will have for potentially several decades is being incredibly naive. Clegg will have his time as Cameron's lap dog and then drift into the background of the Liberal Democrats while the results of this referendum will impact on every election for at least a generation.

I feel a lot of the coverage from both sides of the campaign has been patronising as to the intelligence of the electorate. If a series called "Wonders of the Universe" can be hugely popular, where the science being explained is staggeringly complex, why is it assumed that the British public isn't capable of understanding a change to the voting system? Both sides have gone negative far too quickly and just attacked each other rather than actually emphasising the strengths of either system. Maybe the "yes" campaign just needs to get Brian Cox to explain it all?

Now as i said earlier AV is far from perfect and for fairness' sake i'll post a link here to a friend's blog arguing the 'no' side of the argument much more eloquently than the actual campaign -

I'm not 100% yet, but the more i read and the more i see of the 'no' campaign, the more i feel i'm going to vote 'Yes' on May 5th.

Today's song is simply one of the most peaceful songs i can think of, the perfect way to end a slightly angry rant. It's Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's version of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World' -

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