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!


Les said...

why do want the AV voting system used in three countries; namely Austalia, Fiji,and Papua New Guinea?
The first two countries are trying to ditch AV,does that mean we,in britain,and the mother of parliaments, will aspire to use the voting system that that great World influencer Papua New Guinea uses?

Anonymous said...

As you know....I was once elected to office after about the sixth level of transference.....and only a small % of voters (less than 10%)actually supported the appointment as a first or second choice.Its a method which suits grosser wheeling and dealing, and does not deliver a convincing mandate.
Roger Eves

Anonymous said...

Nice one Louise - on completely misunderstanding the arguments for AV.

Louise Baldock said...

Says who? I don't know you, Anonymous person. I have been knocking on doors for nearly 20 years, what about you? I have been speaking to voters across England for most of those years through professional campaigning positions. Why are my long held views any less valid than yours? I heard a pro AV voter on the radio the other day who appeared to support AV, the first one in those 20 years. Otherwise my experience tells me that most people feel like I do.
I bet you are a youthful LibDem who has barely knocked on 100 doors in their lives. Why do you think it is ME that misunderstands, rather than you?

RP Blog said...

Louise Baldock. The whole point of proposing this change, is that FPTP is a suitable system if you are proposing a vote between two candidates. In most constituencies, that simply is not the case. It isn't acceptable for a minority of the population being able to determine who represents the majority, as this doesn't reflect the overall will of the people.

AV seeks to remedy that, by giving people the option expressing their preferences. It remains an option, and yes, people are free to pick just one candidate. But this says less about the voting system itself and more about the people voting. It is about encouraging people to think beyond partisan lines: not everyone believes in every single policy that Labour proposes. and may prefer proposals from another party. It is about trying to remedy latent disinterest in the voting system by the lay person, because they feel they have little say in the final outcome.

The fact that AV is "at the very worst" the same as the present system, seems to be lost upon you, in so far that if you have an agenda for maintaining the present system, at the very least, if people choose to ignore the multiple preference options under AV, then you have nothing to lose.

Finally, AV proponents aren't forcing people to express alternative preferences, but merely asking people to think more critically, should they see it fit.

Might I ask if you are holding out for a more radical proposal for voting reform? Would you have been more positive if the AV+ system was up for recommendation as per the Jenkins' Report?

It does seem a real shame that a Labour councillor is adamant on maintaining the stagnate status quo...

Fabian Vanham said...

1. The fact you can still vote in a first past the post manner under AV is an argument for AV, rather than against it, surely?
2. FPTP inflates the apparent support for a candidate, because of the spoiler effect, which you mentioned- so it's not really that accurate a reflection of political opinion.
3. Most "majorities" under FPTP are actually pluralities, because the candidate still didn't get over 50% support, no way around that. Looking at the votes over the past few general elections, the vote splitting effect of FPTP makes it unacceptable for a three party system.
4. Related to the first point- ranking candidates is optional, so the MP does indeed have to get consent from >50% of those who voted. Nobody's forcing them to give consent.

Fabian Vanham said...

way to make an argument from authority there, Len- by the same token, i could say that we're pretty isolated in europe in using FPTP and that many of us want to change it- says nothing of the merits and demerits of the system.