AV: “But it certainly gives voters at least the illusion of power…”

The Guardian’s Michael White is, rightly, sceptical of the arguments in favour of the proposed proportional representation on offer in the UK’s AV referendum.  From the Guardian Political blog

I have to say right away (I suspect it’s obvious anyway) that my heart remains with the FPTP crowd for several reasons I still think compelling, not least my distaste for political quick fixes. If you want to believe that PR voting will make politicians work harder, be more honest and responsible, fine. But don’t go to Ireland.

On the other hand my head recognises that a significant chunk of the electorate is no longer content simply to vote Labour or Tory as more than 90% happily did in the early 1950s. It was the high point of a voting duopoly that had ebbed and flowed for 100 years with a third party – Labour before it overtook the Liberals – there to grease the cogs.

That’s a powerful argument for change that would allow those who want to back the Greens, socialists, nationalists, including the BNP variety, Euro-bashers like Ukip and assorted independents to cast more than one vote and have it “transferred” to their second choice when their candidate falls – as they usually do.

It’s a way of addressing the “wasted vote” argument, which I happen to think is morally offensive – surely no hard-won vote is “wasted”? But the Liberal Democrats have earnestly promoted it as a means of justifying “fair” votes. By that, of course, they mean fairer to them.

They may not be right in assuming that AV or even STV will work to their advantage. That’s the joy of electoral reform. The politicians think they’ve done something clever which will help them and hurt the other side, but no, the voters think they’ll use the new rules for their own agenda. Ha, ha, ha. What agenda? We’ll find out.

For example, the notion that AV or STV would end “tactical voting” (what’s wrong with tactical voting, by the way?) as used under FPTP is a joke. When the new taoiseach, Enda Kenny, managed to get three more Fine Gael TDs (MPs) elected on his coattails in his five-seat constituency of Mayo in the far west (next stop New York!) it was both a record – 4 TDs out of 5 – and a triumph for what activists called “disciplined vote management”.

Read the whole thing.

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  • Henry94

    The Dail system encourages smaller parties and in the case of the PDs and the Greens gave them a disproportionate influence. In both cases the electorate destroyed them for it.

    So the voter is left to undo the last novelty while picking the next one. FG still haven’t totally ruled out rewarding our indulgence of Independents by giving them the balance of power. We’d end up hating them like we did the Greens.

    What I like about the British and US systems is that they force people to bring their agendas in to big parties where they are tested by political opposition before they are foisted on the people.

    I’d keep FPTP too.

  • “If you want to believe that PR voting will make politicians work harder, be more honest and responsible, fine.”

    Good grief. If Michael White still hasn’t spotted that AV isn’t a PR system, I don’t know how anyone can take the rest of his piece seriously. Like FPTP, it’s a majoritarian system with all the ‘advantages’ that the commenter above me wants. But it also produces a more accurate reflection of the popular will in each individual consituency than FPTP does, and in that sense is slightly superior.

    As for tactical voting, it’s true that there are still thoretical scenarios under AV where tactical voting might come into play (ie. the sequence in which candidates are eliminated can sometimes affect the final outcome), but the calculations would be so convoluted that it’s hard to believe many people would bother. And to answer White’s implied question – is it possible for electoral reform to completely eliminate the need for tactical voting in a way that STV has failed to do in Ireland? Yes, of course it is – a pure list system would do just that.

  • Drumlins Rock

    People seem to be making the mistake of thinking there is either FPTP or PR, but all systems are a sort of compromise. In fact the voting system isn’t as significant an issue as the number of seats in a constituency, you could run FPTP in our assembly elections by simply choosing the top 6 first preference votes, or use the STV system for one seat as proposed (but called AV, they are exactly the same).

    I am still old fashioned enough to believe that an MPs first role is to represent his constituency and after that his party, therefore am totally opposed to Lists, but the FPTP is too blunt with too many instances of a minority view prevailing, therefore I will probably be supporting AV on 5th May.

  • Greenflag

    FPTP as it exists in the UK would not suit Irish ‘democracy’

    In this election for example of 166 TD’s we’d have elected

    156 FG TD’s with the opposition being 7 Labour , 2 Independents and 1 SF . FF would have been wiped out .

    FG would have 94% of the seats with less than 40% of the vote
    As we have no recent experience of single seat constituencies one can conjecture that the result would be less extreme if constituencies were single seaters-but I would still think it would probably be more extreme than in the UK under their present system .

    Some proportionality it seems to me needs to be built into the system . Ireland may have taken it to an extreme but the UK can certainly improve on their present system whichin most elections has crowded out all but the two main parties.

  • The Word

    “the UK can certainly improve on their present system whichin most elections has crowded out all but the two main parties.”

    Yes, this is surely an example of the phoney war between the boarding school boys in Britain. Its clearly a bare-faced attempt to con the public into believing that change is taking place when it is a half-baked attempt intended to change nothing.

    Even the LibDems can’t believe that this watering down of a policy will be other than rejected on the basis that even where it to be approved, it would change nothing.

  • SethS

    With respect greenflag that’s nonsense. Yes FG would have a majority but it is not possible to speculate on the outcome based on an entirely different electoral system. UNder FPTP:

    the consituencies would different and smaller
    voters would vote differently

  • SethS

    It is worrying how little these people seem to understand electoral systems. AV can never be a proportional system and can be even more unproportional than FPTP at a national level.

    That said STV isn’t really proportional either (at least not in a political party sense). With small consuencies there are chances for skewed results due to deliberate vote management (both successful and unsuccessful), the actual choices by voters, and of course the randomness of the surplus transfer process (in Irish Daíl elections at least).
    You can only get close close to proportionality (if that’s what you want) by having very large consituencies and or top-up lists.

    I like STV becasue it mostly provides a sufficient amount of proportionailty to be credible, but also allows for a few independents to have a chance. It also provides the most entertainment – though that perhaps is not a good reason for choosing it.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I’m supporting AV as a step forward, on the basis that waiting for the perfect system may be like waiting for Godot.

    If it only delivers this one thing, it will be worthwhile: an end to the idea that your vote is wasted unless you’re in a marginal. Sure, the results may end up little different from FPTP, but if more constituencies are potentially up for grabs due to AV, that is very positive in itself. It means politicians of all colours will have to widen the demographic they seek to appeal to.

    Anything that encourages people to realise their vote counts has got to be good. And I don’t see a strong down side.