The alternative vote is an alternative to sanity

On the eve of the referendum that has gripped the imagination of the entire country like a vice – unfortunately one made entirely of jelly – I content myself with merely pointing to the manifold discrepancies between what the AV tin promises on the outside, and what the internal contents are in fact most likely actually to deliver.

  • AV will reduce tactical voting. Leaving aside the issue of what is supposed to be so heinous about tactical voting, supporters of AV assure us that it is very evil indeed, and that the current first-past-the-post system encourages more of us to indulge in this wickedness. In truth, it seems to me that AV opens up entirely new vistas for those who would be tempted to such debauchery. At the moment, the voter who wants to think carefully about what result in their particular constituency might best reflect their local or national interests and commitments has very little room for manoeuvre. They can either vote for the candidate that most nearly aligns with their own views, or for another candidate because they have some longer or more indirect game in mind. Not especially complex tactics, then. But with AV – oh my! I can vote tactically both with my first preference vote, and with all the myriad combinations of secondary preferences. I might need to spend some considerable time weighing up the possibilities, and a cursory familiarity with statistics and probability theory might also come in handy. So if tactical voting is the scourge that the AV supporters evidently believe it to be, voting for AV is a sure-fire way of having one hell of a lot more of it.
  • AV will prevent “jobs for life” in safe seats. And how, pray, will that work, exactly? In safe seats AV works exactly like FPTP, since a safe seat is only safe because a majority for a given party is so overwhelming that it’s a foregone conclusion. Seats with a serious minority of support for any one party are by definition not safe. So there is a very high likelihood that safe seats will immediately produce a winner with more than 50% of the vote, and then AV and FPTP are one and the same. So no, AV will not deal with the perceived evils of seats where a party’s donkey is as certain of success as would be that party’s leader. (Obviously, there are some parties in which a choice between donkey and leader exists only in theory.)
  • AV will make MPs work harder for your vote. Apart from the fact that most MPs work quite hard anyway, I’d love to see the work-rate that a BNP candidate would have to put in in order to tempt me to put a cross, even at the 100th preference, against his or her ballot. If I disagree with you, you can work as hard as you fucking-well like, but it’s not going to make me agree with you out of mere admiration for your Herculean efforts. Which brings us neatly to the next AV myth…
  • MPs will have to “reach out” to all their constituents. If this means anything all, which I very much doubt, it means simply this. That all candidates will need to become masters of spin. They will need to be able to deploy their arguments in ways which set out to deceive those who oppose them into thinking that they don’t oppose them as much as they thought they did. It’s an invitation to rush to insipid and fatuous claims of motherhood and apple pie. Frankly, we have far too much of all that already. Vote for AV and you’ll be getting a lot more of that sort of stuff. We’ll all need to become students of textual analysis, learning to perceive what is really meant amongst all the mood words and misdirections that will be used to put us off the scent. Vote for AV and you might as well ask Alastair Campbell to write all the candidates’ manifestos.
  • AV doesn’t give some people more votes than others. Now we get to the dark and mysterious heart of the AV system. In one sense this claim is true. Each eventually counted vote was possessed by one individual, and of course no-one will have more than one of their various votes actually counted. But that’s not the point. Don’t think of it as more than one vote, think of it as more than one bite of the cherry in deciding where that vote will eventually reside at the point at which it is counted. It’s like betting on the horses. If you bet for the horse to win, then you have less chance of success than if you bet for it to be placed. That’s the whole point of AV. It’s not a voting system, it’s a betting system. That’s why it lends itself to complex tactical voting as I argued previously. And there’s another way in which some voters have more influence over the result than others. Take a typical constituency with, say, 40% support for party A, 35% for party B, 20% for party C, and 1% each for parties D to H. If I vote for parties A or B they are extremely unlikely to be eliminated in the first round of voting. So my minor preferences will never come into play. On the other hand, if I vote for any of parties D to H, I can pretty much guarantee that not only my second, but my 5th and 6th preferences will also come into the game. Party C voters might or might not get to see their minor preferences taken into account. Tactics, see? OK – so if I’m a BNP first preference supporter, it’s very likely indeed that my subsequent preferences will get into the game, although of course (and has anyone in fact denied this?) only one of my “votes” will actually be counted eventually. If you want the second and third thoughts of lunatic supporters of fascist parties still to be swilling around the system long after the fascist candidate has been eliminated, then go ahead and vote for AV. Personally, I won’t be. I’ve no interest whatsoever in those whose first preference is for violent racists.
  • AV is more proportional. No, it isn’t.

So there you have it. AV does nothing to correct the perceived inadequacies of the FPTP system. It doesn’t do any of the things it says on the tin. All it does is serve the hubris of one politician who’s got into power, and who doesn’t want to lose it ever again. No, I don’t agree with Nick. Not on this, and not on anything else I can think of either.

One thought on “The alternative vote is an alternative to sanity

  1. A study reported on Radio 5 revealed that under AV only one seat would have changed hands at the last general election. AV doesn’t make the outcome fairer, but it would allow politicians to put to bed the question of electoral reform for another few generations and that’s not right. The No campaign has been choc full of untruths and misleading soundbites too. It’s no wonder that I found myself sat at the park last night watching the kids play whilst explaining STV, Additional Member PR (both used here in Scotland – is STV used for local elections in England too?) and AV to a gang of Mums, heads are spinning! I’ve swung from Yes to No to Can’t Be Arsed and back to Yes again, if for no other reason than to register my dislike of FPTP.

    Some commentators are going so far as to predict that a higher turn out in Scotland, Wales and NI (since we are also electing our devolved parliaments today) could, for once, see the majority in England vote No but the majority overall vote Yes. When you live in a country that no matter how you vote it’s had almost no say in who’s in government for…. well my lifetime anyway… that’s something to ponder ;)

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