An Attempt To Say Something Sensible About AV

The AV Referendum is almost upon us and I am feeling a bit despondent. As a supporter of electoral reform I am not mad keen on AV but it is clearly slightly better than FPTP in all respects. The reason I am despondent is that the campaigning has degenerated into a mess of misrepresentation and personal abuse. Neither side has done a good job of pitching their preferred system. In the case of FPTP, which is nigh on indefensible, that is not surprising but why has the “Yes” campaign been so bad at reaching beyond the Guardian readers who are already in the “Yes” camp?[0]

Anyway, the letters in Metro were getting more and more confused as time went on and eventually I couldn’t stand it any more and decided it was time to put things straight. I sent them a letter that is probably a bit too long for publication. I have no idea if they will be able to use any of it so here it is, with added footnotes.

If recent Metro Mail is anything to go by, campaigning in the AV referendum seems only to be making people more confused. There has been a lot of mudslinging and focus on trivia which is not helping anybody, least of all the people still trying to make up their minds.

Without telling readers how I think they should vote, I would like to encourage everybody to do a few things to help themselves decide:

1. Don’t let the bluster from the campaigns make you think the choice is more complicated or more important than it really is. Both voting systems are pretty simple and fairly similar. AV is really only a minor change to the way we vote and count votes. It is far less radical a change than the systems already used in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London[1]. Both AV and First Past The Post (FPTP) are equally based on the principle of “one person one vote” and neither one is going to help the BNP get itself elected (which is why it is sulking)[2]. Neither system will either shower us in milk and honey, or bring about the apocalypse. AV would not change the outcome in most seats[3]. You just have to decide whether AV is a small change for the better or for the worse.

2. Use impartial sources of information to make sure you really understand both systems. The leaflet from the Electoral Commission and the information box on p29 of Thursday’s Metro both do an excellent job of explaining the choice simply and fairly. Once you understand the systems you will easily spot when they are being misrepresented.

3. Focus on the arguments that are clear and specific enough for you to make sense of. Ignore all the vague arguments that just try to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt without having any substance.

4. Ask yourself whether each side has presented convincing, positive arguments for its preferred system? If all they have done is slag off the other system then maybe theirs is even worse.

5. Try to ignore all the focus on personalities. This isn’t easy. We don’t have a lot of referendums in the UK and we are used to electing individual politicians where personality is a big issue. This is different. The last time the UK came close to changing its voting system was in 1930[4]. If past experience is anything to go by, Cameron, Clegg, Lucas and even the boy Milliband could all be dead by the time we get another chance to vote on this. Try really hard to forget about them[5]. Ask yourself which system is right for your great-grandchildren?

6. Remember that the referendum is just a choice between First Past The Post and AV. You might not like either, or you might think that another system is even better, but try to forget about that. There is no way you can vote in support of any other system. You just need to choose between FPTP and AV. There will be plenty of time, probably several decades, to argue about other systems once the referendum is over.[6]

7. Finally, while I am not aware of any specific rules prohibiting the use of ouija boards in ballot booths, I strongly recommend everybody to make up their own minds without consulting the spirits of ancient Greek philosophers.[7][8]

Daniel Rigal, Surrey


[0] and why is their website so bad?

[1] Northern Ireland uses STV (which is a really great system!). Scotland and Wales use a Mixed Member Proportional system (which really does mean “one person two votes”). London uses the hated Closed Lists for the assembly and a half-arsed version of AV to elect the Mayor.

[2] The BNP stands no realistic chance of getting even one MP under either system. AV makes it slightly harder. The BNP are sulking in the No camp, although the No camp are not too keen on this, understandably.

[3] A completely different change is coming at the next election anyway, one that will go ahead whatever the outcome of the referendum; Changes to the constituency boundaries will remove the current bias towards Labour. This will almost certainly make more difference than the outcome of the referendum to the result of the next few elections.

[4] See for the sordid details.

[5] I wish I could.

[6] And won’t that be fun?

[7] See for details (and a lovely picture of Chipmunk trying to teach a befuddled Boris how to play Rock, Paper Scissors).

[8] OK. If you really must know: Democritus is supporting “Yes”, Plato is supporting “No” and Diogenes of Sinope refuses to come out of his barrel and answer questions.


April 23, 2011. Politics, Sensible.

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