AV referendum stokes row with devolution

 Trouble is brewing over the decision to hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote for the Commons on May 5 2011 , the same day as elections for the Scottish parliament and the NI and Welsh Assemblies, and council elections in England and NI. Despite the agreed coalition split over AV, the referendum may well become a public opinion poll on the coalition as a whole as the spending cuts bite. The  devolved administrations fear getting dragged down with it.  Alternatively if support for the  coalition holds up under difficult circumstances,  this may boost the Lib Dems in S and W and even give the Cons a foothold in S . Beyond the  political calculations, the fear that anything beyond marking  X  on one ballot paper is all too much for the tiny minds of voters is patronising and silly – as anyone who has experience of PR knows.   

Some English MPs opposed to voting change object because the turnout in S, W and NI where new governments are being elected is likely to be higher than in E, because no one anywhere apart from nerds gives a damn about AV as such. If Nick Clegg had wanted to boost English turnout he should have folded into the referendum the popular proposal to cut the number of MPs. While  guaranteeing Labour opposition,  that may happen anyway for nakedly partisan reasons. By the way the NI parties should be relieved that the total number of MPs is to be cut by only 50, with NI standing to lose just one seat.

The rows over AV referendum is the latest evidence that the coalition is redefining British politics in ways that are as yet far from clear. The egregious Prezza calls the AV package with 50 fewer seats the biggest gerrymander ( against Labour) in 40 years. Max Hastings voices Tory fears that AV would keep them out of power for a generation. Both these opinions are preposterous. The parties are internally divided. AV was choice of Labour only and they made it  at the last minute before the election. The Conservatives are opposed to any change and the Lib Dems really want full PR.

But the argument that some change is better than none is gaining ground. Steve Richards in the Indy comes nearest to reality by arguing that it’s the coalition programme as a whole, not the political reforms that is redefining British politics. The coalition leadership will take care not to stake their whole future on the referendum result. Cameron will speak against AV but softly. And listen out for Tory whispers to get louder, that AV could give them their best chance of a second coalition term.

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  • iluvni

    Northern Ireland to lose a seat?
    Oh no, what a disaster…our representatives are working their little socks off…how can we manage with 1 less MP?

    (according to publicwhip, out of 13 potential votes, up to 29 June)

    Lady Hermon has cast her vote 0 times
    Sammy Wilson 2
    Naomi Long 4
    Mark Durkan 8
    Magaret Ritchie 7
    Alasdair McDonnell 5
    Jeffrey Donaldson 9
    Nigel Dodds 11
    Ian Paisley 5
    Gregory Campbell 4
    David Simpson 10
    Willima McCrea 9
    Jim Shannon 8
    Sinn Fein 0

  • Valenciano

    Why would Northern Ireland lose only one seat? Isn’t one of the aims of the reduction to equalise electorates? The UK electorate at the last election divided by 600 equals 76015 voters per seat.

    Northern Irelands electorate in May 2010 divided by that figure gives an entitlement to 15.39 seats meaning that it’ll lose 3 seats, not 1.

  • the old Manxman

    Anthony Wells at UK Polling Reseach reserch reckons on three seats lost in NI

    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/2740

    Given a total electorate of 1196138 (EONI July 2010) and his quota of 76262, NI’s ratio comes as 15.68, so maybe two losses if you push it (or they could put some bits of Scotland on!)

  • Brian Walker

    thanks Manxman. Anthony is top hole. This is one that will run and run…

  • Anonymous

    The voters can’t understand argument is spurious, but it is gravely dfisrespectful. Would this have been scheduled with a Westminster election? No, because pols would have complained it would detract from that contest.

    The answer to SNP complaints about the larger parties hogging the Scottish airwaves during the Westminster election was that they’d get their chance at the Scottish elections. And now… we’ll have the big three parties hogging the airwaves during that contest because of the referendum.

    There are also logistical problems – highlighted by the issues Scotland had last time that required a report, and it’s staggering they weren’t consulted. Good to see Call Me Dave sticking the respect agenda in action.

  • Drumlin Rock

    willima? tut tut

  • Drumlin Rock

    the current 18 are an average of 64,500, to get near the 76k would cut 2 probably, bearing in mind we have a growing population.in order of size we are
    N Ant 74k
    U Bann 74k
    Newry 73k
    S Down 71k
    F&ST 68k
    Foyle 66k
    M Ulster 65k
    Lagan V 65k
    N Belfast 65k
    S Ant 63k
    E L’Derry 63k
    W Tyrone 61k
    S’ford 60k
    E Ant 60k
    W Belfast 59k
    E Belfast 59k
    S Belfast 59k
    N Down 57k

    So the biggest changes should be in the East, BUT will the whole thing be redrawn to the “on hold” council areas?

  • Let’s be clear: the AV thing may pass the Commons: after that, it all (let us hope) gets rather fraught.

    The seat reduction business is “popular” only because the Great UK Electorate has been told that MPs should be hunted to extinction. And, yes: this proposal is a blatant piece of gerrymandering.

    Let’s retrace.

    One day, faced with nothing better to say, then Leader-of-the-Opposition Cameron suggested culling 10% of MPs as a cost-saver. Just £4-5 million off that “structural deficit”. That bit of democracy-on-the-cheap didn’t, and doesn’t make much sense. So, a veil of decency had to be invented to hide Cameron’s embarrassment.

    Suddenly, the argument changed: equalise constituencies. After all, what the difference between London and Londonderry, Caithness and Croydon, West Wales and West Ham beyond a longer commute?

    Nobody said, and still nobody is coming clean on what that means. Equalise populations? Equalise registered electorates? Even, heaven help us, equalise turn-outs? Whichever way that is sliced, one can guarantee that deprived inner-cities and the dsissident Celtic fringes will be curtailed more than leafy suburbs and counties in SE England. Can anyone suggest a dishonest reason why?

    A day or two back I was confronted on Iain Dale’s Tory-fest with a claim that it take[s] 70,000 votes to elect a Tory and only 50,000 for a Labour. Yes: there are opinionated souls are there believing such tosh. So I went back to the realities; and was even pleasantly surprised by what I confirmed I remembered

    On 6 May 2010 306 Tory MPs were elected on a gross popular vote of 10,703,954. It therefore took 34,980 votes to elect a Tory.

    Similarly, 258 Labour MPs were elected on a popular vote of 8,609,527. That’s 33,630 apiece.

    Doubtless the difference of 1,350 is, to some, a big deal. I reckon it’s a fair indicator that deprived inner-city seats (which tend to return Labour) have lower turn-outs than natural Tory territory.

    I also think it demonstrates the Electoral Commissions are making a decent fist of it.

    Yet Cameron says it is an affront. And, sure, he is an honourable man. So are they all, all honourable men.

  • oneill

    Has Lady H joined the Shinners on the quiet?

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: And, yes: this proposal is a blatant piece of gerrymandering.
    Equalising electorates is inherently better than the drift that labour allowed in their 13 years in power. A very cynical policy on their part. Giving the Electoral Commission an instruction to equalise electorates is anti-gerrymandering.
    Your observations about low turnout in some areas can be read either way. Why does it matter? Are you complaining that the people who bother to vote there are over-privileged? Or that the ones who don’t vote have no voice? That’s true in any constituency.
    Malcolm Redfellow: Doubtless the difference of 1,350 is, to some, a big deal.
    Using your numbers it’s a 12 seat shift, and if it went the other way you would be very upset.

  • non-Reader @ 10:43 PM:

    According to the mantra, You couldn’t make it up, but a great many insist on doing just that.

    Where is there an iota of evidence of the drift that Labour allowed in their 13 years in power? I have just shewn that the 2010 result balanced the two main parties far more equitably that 1997 — and to the gross disadvantage of the Labour Party. If you have factual basis for your assumption that the Electoral Commissions (who seem to have done an admirable and even-handdeed job) were corrupted, speak up.

    Far more significant was the largesse , unprecedented even by global comparisons, available to the Tories this time round. Consider Sam Coates’s essay for the new Times Guide to the House of Commons:

    In [David Cameron’s] four years as Leader of the Opposition, from January 2006 to May 6, 2010, a record £122 million went through Tory coffers, by any international political yardstick an extraordinary amount. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign committee in 2008 raised £450 million. That was to fund a campaign that won decisively in a country where campaigns hinge on TV advertising and with an electorate five times the size. In domestic terms this figure is also striking; Labour’s income was £71 million over the same period, although £22 million of this came while Tony Blair was still in office. It also beats sums raised in previous Parliaments; the Tories’ income was £49 million and Labour’s £61 million between 2001 and 2005.

    Perhaps more intriguing is the limited impact that this vast spending appeared to have. By Mr Cameron’s own yardstick, set in a Spectator interview shortly before polling day, his own campaign was a failure. The Conservative vote increased by 3.8 percentage points on its 2005 vote; an increase of 2 million votes net, or, taking in account the higher number of votes received by rival parties, 1.1 million more than last time. In other words, every additional vote cost the Tories £111.

    Now, of course, the ConDem conspiracy is setting about ensuring that Labour’s funding is further constrained. So, no gerrymandering there, either.

    Anyway, what evidence do you have that a dozen seats were shifted under my numbers? Or that it gives you any insight into my propensity to be upset? Especially since I am on the serial record as an advocate of full-blooded STV?

  • bigchiefally

    I am not sure how the reduction in seats is blatant gerrymandering. The current system is unfair. An english vote should be worth as much as an Irish, Scots or Welsh one.

  • bigchiefally @ 8:30 AM:

    Which is fair enough.

    Your argument is considered in a short paper for Electoral Reform Society just ten days ago. The analysis and application of real numbers (as opposed to invented or assumed ones) come with the conclusion:

    If our House of Commons isn’t oversized and boundaries aren’t unfair perhaps it’s time for the coalition to change the record. This government seems determined to pursue this ‘Reduce and Equalise’ policy, but it needs to pick its arguments carefully and be fully aware of the unintended consequences of such a move.

    See: http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/blog/?p=56

    Now, do you think you can find your way there safely on your own? Or shall Nanny help?

  • slug

    Personally I am a little disappointed that the number of seats isn’t being trimmed by more. But I suppose its a move in the right direction. I will be voting for AV – unless something changes my mind. A redraw of the constituencies in NI and an AV system should bring in some changes.

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: If you have factual basis for your assumption that the Electoral Commissions (who seem to have done an admirable and even-handdeed job) were corrupted, speak up.
    On the contrary, I regard the Electoral Commissions as being composed of able and honourable people. And therefore Governments shouldn’t drag their heels when dealing with their recommendations.
    Malcolm Redfellow: and to the gross disadvantage of the Labour Party.
    “disadvantage” being a relative term, by which you actually mean “diminished advantage”.
    Malcolm Redfellow: Anyway, what evidence do you have that a dozen seats were shifted under my numbers?
    Your figures showed that 19313481 votes for Lab+Con produced 564 Lab+Con MPs, but acknowledged that a Labour vote was worth more than a Conservative vote. If the votes were of equal worth over the same 564 seats, then the net difference between Conservative and Labour MPs would shift by 12 MPs. That’s even setting aside the additional advantage that the larger party would normally have obtained in FPTP, which you haven’t got around to mentioning – or dismissing – yet.
    Your claims about party funding are interesting, but nothing to do with gerrymandering. So far as I am concerned people can spend their own money as they choose. Also, you seem to have no complaints at all about the era when Labour fundraising was more effective than Conservative. Perhaps Labour should have conserved their surplus instead of allowing a massive deficit to accumulate?
    Malcolm Redfellow: Especially since I am on the serial record as an advocate of full-blooded STV?
    Hey! Me too! Though of course it’s only really proportional in equally or proportionally sized constituencies, as I am sure you will acknowledge.

  • Reader @ 6:21 PM:

    1. Please stop making it up.

    2. And please don’t gloze my words: when I say “gross disadvantage” I do not mean “diminished advantage”.

    3. Why the need for mealy-mouthed Governments shouldn’t drag their heels when dealing with their recommendations?

    It was recognised throughout the last parliament that Labour would lose seats at redistribution.
    Rallings and Thresher
    deduced that the redrawn boundaries would cost some 9 Labour seats. The Commission recommended creating four additional seats. It was, therefore, generally accepted that, had the 2005 Election been fought on the 2010 boundaries, the Labour majority would have reduced from 66 to 44. The Commission’s recommendations for 2010 were implemented, without heel-digging. So what’s your grief there?

    4. I certainly did not say or imply that a Labour vote was worth more than a Conservative vote. On the contrary, I asserted that:
    (a) there is a long-standing political truism, now validated by Ipsos-MORI, that higher turn-out works to Labour’s gain and Tories’ detriment
    and
    (b) deprived areas have lower turnout than the lush and the plush: low fourth decile in Liverpool Riverside and high seventh decile in West Dorset.

    Fortunately we can go further. Lewis Baston at the Electoral Reform Society surveyed Crawley, the most marginal (maj: 37 or 0.1%) Labour seat in the 2005 election. He calculated the lower turn-out in Labour wards amounted to reducing the “natural” Labour majority by a further one-and-a-quarter per cent. When he applied the same exercise to Burton, Baston concluded that, were turn-out equal, the Labour majority would have been nearer 7.2% than the actual 3%.

    On that basis, Labour lost at least six seats nationally because of differential turn-out.

    5. For a whole slew of reasons but especially tenure and “churn”, registration is more difficult in inner cities than established suburban and rural communities.

    Lest we forget: vast numbers (in some patches a third of the adult population) went AWOL when Poll Tax was introduced. Even today, to take one example, the population of LB Hackney is somewhere between just over two hundred thousand and a quarter of a million: the registration officer struggles to get 145,000 on the roll. Of those just over half will vote. I guess it’s no difference in any other urban environment, either side of the narrow water.

    That’s why one achievement under the Labour years was the liberalising of the registration process. No more do we have the charade of any October election on an “old” register.

    For all that, and more, “standardising” constituency size on corrupt registers would be a dismal example of the worst kind of gerry-mandering.

    5. STV, despite your attempt at a version of it, does not work in single-seat constituencies, so equally or proportionally sized constituencies are incidental. Unless, of course, you supporting the FF dream to standardise three-member constituencies across the RoI (though, I guess that’s water under the bridge with the polls in their present state)? That would definitively confirm your gerrymandering credentials.

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: On that basis, Labour lost at least six seats nationally because of differential turn-out.
    Ah – because your hypothetical supporters don’t bother to vote.
    Malcolm Redfellow: Lest we forget: vast numbers (in some patches a third of the adult population) went AWOL when Poll Tax was introduced.
    And you assume that your favourite tax-dodgers have been too feckless to register to vote in the 16 years since the Poll Tax was replaced. Reducing the size of the constituency won’t help though. Why should you assume their neighbours will vote in their interests, let alone in accord with their preference?
    Instead of seeking to count electors that don’t register, and supporters who don’t vote, why not mobilise the labour movement to persuade people to register? Who knows, you might stumble across a few illegal immigrants while you are at it. Especially in LB Hackney.
    Malcolm Redfellow: Even today, to take one example, the population of LB Hackney is somewhere between just over two hundred thousand and a quarter of a million: the registration officer struggles to get 145,000 on the roll.
    It’s even worse in my house – only 3 of the 6 of us are on the electoral register.
    Malcolm Redfellow: STV, despite your attempt at a version of it, does not work in single-seat constituencies, so equally or proportionally sized constituencies are incidental.
    I wasn’t being disingenuous. I support STV in multi-member seats. But a 6 member seat should have twice the electorate of a 3 member seat whether it’s full of invisible labour non-voters or not.