Thursday, April 21, 2011
Why I voted No to AV today
My postal vote came today and I used it to vote for Jake Morrison, the Labour Party candidate for Wavertree ward where I live, and to vote "No" to AV, Alternative Voting.
I have written before about why I am against AV but my thoughts have crystalised in recent days and so I thought I would express them again. (It is a bit technical and unless you are following the debate, you should probably look away now.)
My first reason for supporting First Past The Post (FPTP) is that it is a straight-forward reflection of local popular opinion. The candidate who secures the most votes in the constituency is elected to Parliament. They appeal to the largest number of those who express their opinion.
There are those who will tell you that in constituencies like Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber which is a true four way marginal and the MP has been elected with a quarter of the vote before, the winner is not representative because they didnt secure half of the vote - more people didnt want them than did want them. But who are we to force a two party choice on to our voters? If a population has four broad preferences and the margins move up and down a little each time, why is that unacceptable? Why are we insisting on homogeny? Why are we forcing voters into having a view on the main challengers?
There are those who will talk about the evils of tactical voting, that some voters feel obliged to vote for someone they don't really like ahead of their preferred candidate, on the basis that this person has a better chance of beating someone they dont want at any price, and that we need to find a way to help them to express both of those points of view. Speaking personally I will always give my vote to the party I want to win, because that is the only way they might ever succeed. This year in Wavertree ward, under FPTP, Labour has its best chance in decades, if Labour supporters dont get behind their candidate then this wont happen. For years many have voted LibDem to keep the Tories out, right across Liverpool, but by voting for their first choice this time, together, they can make a real difference.
And of course the same will be the case in seats where voters choose to vote Tory to keep Labour out where really they wanted a LibDem etc.
AV proponents, however, say that while you may choose to vote for your preferred candidate, where they are not a front runner, you should take and express a view on who you would prefer from the other candidates to actually represent you. (See "plumping" below for why voters who want one of the front runners will probably not choose to use any of their subsequent choices).
This seems to me to be forcing a choice upon voters that they may well not want, just because we want to push up our own chances of success where we are one of the parties in the running. This system of voting does not benefit voters, it benefits political parties, it is self-serving.
And for a majority of voters, particularly in safe seats or two way marginals, the system wont be used anyway by the voters. "Plumping" refers to those voters, like me perhaps, who don't really want anyone other than their first choice and who, even when given a choice of say six candidates, will only vote for one preferred candidate and not offer second or subsequent alternatives. Most people who are voting for one of the front runners (one of the "two horses" indeed) will not use their other votes, this is plumping. We wont be engaging in AV, we will be voting for only one candidate. So for many of us, this system will not affect the way we vote and will not benefit us - AV proponents ask us to choose a system that in the majority of elections for the majority of voters wont interest them - so why on earth is it being proposed?
AV proponents insist that only a candidate who has won 50%+ of the votes can be truly representative. But let's think about that for a minute. Let's say that we have run an AV system, redistributed 2nd, 3rd, maybe even 4th and 5th preferences, and arrived at a candidate who has secured the magic figure - a candidate who is first past the post in fact, but a new artificial post set at 50%+.
Are they truly representative though, if, of that magic half of the voting population, 35% say of the public actively chose them, 9% (2nd choices) preferred them to the other front runners, at least one of whom they loathe, and 6% (third and subsequent choices) were frankly scraping the barrel having exhausted all the other candidates first?
So, in short, it is a self-serving proposition designed to help parties who are likely to be in second or third place and are hoping to shore up their support by looking further down the list to supporters of other parties to boost them - it is not about the voter, whatever the AV proponents would suggest. No voter has EVER said to me "I wish I had a second choice", and I have been knocking on doors for 20 years. It is a message that says "We have been unable to demonstrate sufficient reasons why you should support us so we will manipulate the system and get in by the back door instead".
And it is a system that tells a diverse population with a range of views to get into line and stop trying to be different. It's not acceptable to vote for who you really want, we want to manipulate you into becoming main-stream, you will come to the ball! Or to put it a different way, it is the Henry Ford version of voting, "You can vote for any party you like, from these half a dozen put before you, as long as it is ours".
If that is the new democracy, you can stick it!