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Scarlett Nation » A Broken Mind » A Broken Mind 1×01 – The AV Debate

A Broken Mind 1×01 – The AV Debate

An addendum, for those who are interested in why I’m voting no.

1) First Past the Post matches my idea of what I think politics should be about. Politics is about making a choice, about choosing a path. There can be no indecision or sitting on the fence when it comes to governance. With FPTP, you throw your weight behind a model for the future. The argument against FPTP appears to be that sometimes many people will not have voted for the winner. I think that is the wrong motivation. Politics should not be about voting against something, it should be about voting for something. The aim should be selecting who you think is best, not settling for who you can tolerate. When people feel as though they can’t vote for something, it’s often not because they can’t vote but because there isn’t anyone for whom to vote. The solution therefore is not to change the voting system and accommodate the flaw of poor political choice but instead to give people something to vote for – a new way, a better vision.

2) A change to AV solves no problems with our electoral system whilst creating a few new ones. All the problems which have been highlighted with First Past The Post (FPTP) still exist under AV. For example there will always be safe seats unless we move to a non-geographical electoral system, which means the final decision will still be left to a select few in swing seats. A lot of people will still be in areas where their vote “won’t count”. (I also have issues with this “won’t count” idea. In an election, some people will have to win and some will lose. It’s not that your vote “doesn’t count”, it’s that your vote counted, but you lost.) AV also brings with it new problems. It was shown by the Jenkins Commission to be less proportionate than FPTP, exacerbating landslides and being generally unpredictable. AV would also stop politicians from seeking to differentiate themselves in the clamour for second preference votes. The most frequent complaint from apathetic voters is “They’re all the same!” and this could only get worse with AV and the scrabble for the centre ground.

3) AV is an unfair system. I don’t think it is fair for parties to gain votes that they haven’t earned. AV implies that one person’s second or third preference is equal to another’s first. If a candidate wins on the back of a smaller party’s second preference votes, then that candidate did not win the argument on the best vision for government. That candidate would then have a false mandate as her or his supporters did not think he was the best person to represent them. Under FPTP, we can say for certain that the elected MP had more people supporting their vision than any other person. As the example from A Broken Mind shows, it is true that only 30% of people thought that Albert had the best vision for government. But then how is it fairer that Beatrice should win, given only 28% of people thought that she did? (On the point of the simulation – the winner had 42 out of a 100 votes in the fourth round. That’s not over 50%…)

4) If smaller parties want representation in Parliament, they should present themselves as a credible alternative for Government. If people wanted UKIP, they’d vote for UKIP. If people wanted the Lib Dems, they’d vote for the Lib Dems. The truth is that a) people don’t want them because they’re not a credible alternative for government or b) groupthink has led to the assumption that you have to choose between Labour and the Conservatives. There’s nothing inherent in FPTP that stops smaller parties from winning seats. Labour is a living example of this. Labour began as a small party at the end of the 19th century but brought its case to the people, won the argument on the way forward for Britain, and subsequently became a party of government by the early 1920s. All within thirty years and under FPTP. This possibility remains open for any party, but would be hampered by a move to AV. Gaining say 40% of the vote to dislodge the sitting MP is easier than gaining 51% under AV.

5) We don’t need electoral reform. I don’t think there is anything wrong with our electoral system, indeed I think FPTP is the most appropriate system to match our politics. Ultimately this referendum is just a distraction. AV won’t make politics any better, and in fact may make things worse. What has happened is a confusion between electoral and political reform. Electoral reform isn’t what’s needed, it’s political reform. To truly improve the state of our politics we need to do things like improving civics lessons in our schools, providing support for young people of wider backgrounds to become parliamentary interns and researchers, and making sure constituency parties elect strong and principled prospective candidates over those sent from head office. These are the types of changes we need to make, but they’re not on the ballot paper.

6) On Proportional Representation (because I know a few eyebrows will have shot up on that comment): I don’t support a move towards PR because I don’t like PR. In order for a electoral system to be truly proportional, you have to remove the geographical aspect – for as long as we have constituencies, the national vote share will not match the share of seats. (Those suggesting top up members? Yeah, like that’d be preferable. Yet more party yes-men getting in of which we’ll have difficulty getting rid. It’s bad enough as it is, thanks.) Trends have shown us over the last fifty years that political party membership is falling. People are less and less interested in what parties have to say – why then support a political system that is geared towards the political party structure? Proportional Representation gives power to the parties and their donors, parties who have been haemorrhaging support every decade. Proportional Representation makes it nigh on impossible for independent candidates without significant financial backing – so long Health Concern, farewell People’s Voice, auf wiedersehen and goodbye to the nationalist parties who will be effectively wiped out. FPTP is the only way for independent voices to be heard, and that includes those rebel MPs who have the support of their constituents if not their party. I think the political climate is moving away from a party-based system, and if that’s the case it makes little sense to move towards the party-based electoral system of PR.

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  • Yonmei

    Thanks: this makes a lot more sense (though I don’t agree with it) as a rejection of AV and acceptance of FPTP than anything I’ve heard from the No To AV campaigners.

    I think a government should be an instrument of the people’s will – obviously no government will or could fully perfect that, but that, put crudely, is what a democratic government is for. First Past The Post has a strong tendency to put into power parties which have only minority support but which have a large majority vote in Parliament, which is the exact reverse of how governments should be. FPTP has remained the default voting system for Westminster Parliamentary elections though past due for reform: because it is advantageous to both Labour and the Tories, and because of the difficulty of setting out to change a status quo system.

    I think the referendum should have been for a choice between status quo FPTP / electoral reform for PR, with the final decision about which method to be put in place (if the referendum had voted Yes for change) decided on by consultation.

  • Myles Nester

    I genuinely believe the standard of debate in this referendum is a sound case for not having referendums (referenda?). Not because the British can’t debate but because the No campaign have proved that all you need to do to win a referendum on the anti change side is confuse people, if they don’t know what they’ve voting for they’ll oppose change instinctively.

    Not only that but because the campaigns are run by zealots who are desperate to win at all costs and don’t care about winning the wider debate.

  • Andrew Kay

    “Politics should not be about voting against something, it should be about voting for something.” I agree. That’s why I think a Liberal Democrat supporter shouldn’t have to vote for Labour in order to avoid a Conservative victory.

    Transferred votes already happen in FPTP, but they happen based on guesswork before the election. The result is that the number of first-preference votes under FPTP does not actually reflect the number of people who like that candidate the most.

    I also don’t buy the argument that my second-preference vote should not count as much as your first-preference vote, given that my first-preference candidate has been eliminated. You might like Labour more than I like the Liberal Democrats, but your vote should not be weighted according to how vociferous you are in your support, in either FPTP or AV. THAT would be a violation of “One Person, One Vote”.

    • Janvier

      A Liberal Democrat supporter that votes Labour in order to avoid a Conservative victory mustn’t think that the Liberal Democrats are a viable party if they don’t vote for them. If the candidate were strong enough, and people stopped accepting the groupthink of “only Labour/Conservative/Liberal Democrats can win here”, that problem would go away. The truth is that the Lib Dem supporter who votes Labour is saying “I don’t think my candidate is good enough to have convinced the people in my constituency to support her or him” – the solution therefore should be to get better candidates, not allow for bad candidates to continue to be selected and then change the electoral system to accommodate that problem.

      Transferred votes may happen in practice under FPTP, but they are not wired directly into the system. I think transferred votes are bad, therefore to have a system that openly uses transferred votes is bad.

      It’s patently unfair that one candidate can put in the work to convince a voter that they are the best individual to be their MP, and then for another candidate to have only put in enough work to convince a voter that they are the second, third or fourth best and to have those votes be of equal weighting. The first candidate has succeeded in the task of an election – convincing the voters they are the best – whereas the second candidate has failed. I don’t see why someone who has failed at the entire point of standing in an election deserves to gain that vote.

  • Danny

    At a general election, I get to cast a vote for someone who will represent my views in the House of Commons. (I don’t get to vote for a government, head of state, or Prime Minister).

    I go into the booth and there is a list of people. None of them hold views close to my own; they’re all affiliated with political parties anyway. Some I wouldn’t want to represent my views in a million years! So the best I can do is to write down the name of someone I would like to represent me and leave it at that.

    On the other hand, there are some names on the list that I wouldn’t object to too violently, but other names I wouldn’t ever want. FPTP doesn’t allow me to vote “I don’t care, so long as it’s not him, him or her”.

    AV lets me say “OK, I least object to that one representing me. If you’re not going to let me have that one, then this one wouldn’t be too bad, and if you’re not going to let me have this one then I’ll pick the other. But I definitely don’t want either of those ones!”

    • Janvier

      Which is exactly my point 1) – there is a flaw in our politics which is that you don’t feel there is anyone for you to support. The solution to that flaw isn’t to have you not support anybody, but improve the quality of candidates. As I said, to me national politics is about voting for something, not not voting for something else – which is why I support FPTP.

      • Danny

        Of course, I didn’t read through your carefully argued points – just watched the cool video.

        Past couple of general elections I have had someone to support. It’s just that their name wasn’t already on the paper so I had to write it in. I suppose that if I were a bit more organised, I could create a party get them registered as a candidate, etc, but that’s an awful lot of hassle to go through.

        If there is a flaw there are two things that can be done: fix it or mitigate its effect. I see no one doing any fixing.