Articles Comments

Scarlett Nation » Political Systems » I’d say yes2AV…if only it weren’t so undemocratic

I’d say yes2AV…if only it weren’t so undemocratic

I have decided on careful consideration of the issue that I’ll be voting no to AV on May 5th. It’s not that I love Nick Griffin or that I’m opposed to change per se – and it’s not because I believe that the money should be going to needy babies either. It’s all come down to one point for me, the final, all important bone of contention – I think AV is undemocratic.

Pretend for a moment that you voted for the LibDems in the last election (and it’s no good everyone pulling that face, someone must’ve). Do you think that you would feel like your voice was being represented in the current coalition?

I’m aware that, clearly, a coalition can form under First Past The Post, and that AV doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a coalition, but AV does make them more likely. And to me, any electoral system that returns a coalition government has returned a government with a mandate of zero.

Let’s say you voted Lib Dem purely because they were opposed to tuition fees. You’ve read the material they put out, evaluated the approach and decided to use your vote to support the party that has promised your preferred outcome on what you think is the important issue. Or say it was trident. When the coalition say they have a 60% mandate, included in that is you, because your vote against tuition fees is a vote in favour of the government that introduced higher fees.

How can it be a democratic system if the manifesto isn’t written until after you’ve voted? It’s all well and good to say AV represents your preferences, but it does allow you to say ‘First choice nick unless the Tories get in, in which case my first choice is Ed, but if Labour get in…’ but that’s what’s going to affect what policies get implemented. And unless I’m doing it wrong, you’re supposed to vote for the policies you want implemented. I worry that under AV, you’ll just be voting for the person you like, because you can’t vote on what they’re saying or what they think because in a coalition those things may not come into it. So what, you vote for the guy with charisma, the one who promises to take no nonsense, the one who’s brother did quite well, however you pick the fighter you want to bet on in the coalition boxing match. I’m not sure that’s democratic and I don’t think it leads to good politics either.

Under AV, couldn’t I get together with two other parties, agree that we were all going to promise free money and kittens for everyone in order to get elected, then agree that the unworkable stuff would just ‘get cut from the coalition manifesto’? I say could I do that…isn’t that what Nick Clegg actually did? And is it a fair electoral system that allows that to happen as a matter of course.

I’m not saying I’d be happy as a Lib Dem if I were part of 40% of the country getting 10% of the seats. But I think I’d still rather have the 10% free to debate the laws in parliament and actually say what they thought, than have 30% of the cabinet saying what they’re told. Surely that in fact gives me a bigger voice?

As I say, it’s just that one bone of contention, and if anyone would like to correct me on anything I’m more than open to hear what you have to say – I could yet vote yes to AV. But someone will have to convince me that it’s democratic first.

Written by

Co-founder and contributor to Scarlett Nation.

Filed under: Political Systems · Tags: ,

  • Rob Hicks

    The overwhelming majority of your points address problems with general accountability and the conduct of governments and elected members, not the democratic merits on how voters choose said governments and elected members.

    To say AV leads to more coalitions is a contentious point and one that I have yet to see conclusively proven. If we followed your argument to it’s logical conclusion it would be that FPTP prevents coalitions – I have certainly seen no evidence for this. Look at Canada for a start.

    Your distrust of coalitions is understandable in the current climate but is a much bigger issue than merely the voting system that caused the coalition. If elected members are systematically breaking manifesto promises they should be held to account, whether in coalition or not. If they’re not that is the fault of the electorate, it is not acceptable to merely say ‘oh well, they’re in coalition of course they’re not going to do what they said they would’.

    Put simply, AV is a better way of giving a fairer say to the electorate of a constituency on who they have as an MP. It ensures that the person elected receives 50% of the transferable votes instead of the sub 30% threshold we see some current members enjoy. What happens next is an issue which politicians must face and the electorate must rigourously scrutinise, however MPs are chosen they have a duty to enact manifesto pledges to the best of their ability, whether in coalition, opposition or otherwise – if they don’t do so then the electorate must hold them to account and enact their (admittedly limited) sanctions for misrepresentation and unacceptable conduct.

    Our current system leaves open the possibility of a minority of voters choosing the government, AV would go a long way to rectifying this. Politicians breaking promises is nothing new and won’t be solved by a new voting system but it will at least give the majority of people in this country the chance to say ‘I did/didn’t vote for this’ with more validity than simply because the party they oppose got into power.

    • Janvier

      Why is it fairer for someone to be elected on transferable votes? My contention is that it is very much unfair for a second preference to have equal weighting as a first. Simply put, if you can’t convince somebody that you are the best candidate, you do not deserve to gain a vote of equal value to someone who did.

      • Rob Hicks

        So if 10 candidates receive 9% of the vote each and an 11th candidate receives 10% does the 11th candidate then have a mandate to represent the constituency even though 90% of people expressed no preference for them?

        • Janvier

          Well given that the 11th candidate has convinced more people than the other candidates, yes.

          • Jason Maude

            This reveals an interesting difference between the AV and FPTP camp. The AV camp wants somewhat to gain a consensus opinion even if that means that he/she gets elected using 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc preference votes. The FPTP camp wants a clear winner even if he/she gets 2 votes to the other 300 candidates 1 vote.

      • Myles Nester

        I think as well as this, transferable votes encourage candidates to make themselves similar to others. In FPTP you have to make yourself different to win votes in your own right, in AV you have to make yourself similar to win 2nd prefs from other candidates. That has 2 negative effects, 1: the old issue of all politicians sounding the same is exacerbated, and 2: candidates spend so much time telling us why they’re alike voters don’t find out their differences until after the election.

  • Andy

    Rob you sound like you want PR. Your 9% theory from above also has the tantalising little fact that more people voted against all the candidates that received 9% then the person who received 10%. If you want as many voters as possible to feel their voice is heard in Parliament then support PR. AV will be less proportional then FPTP. So you will end up exacerbating the problem not increasing it.
    Why is it fair that the 3rd and 4th votes of some people are equally in weighting to the
    first votes of others.
    Your other point about coaltions where do you think your 2nd vote will go LibDem or Tory. Where do you think Tories will park their 2nd vote Labour or LibDem. Libdems will be the ‘other’ party and will increase their MPs. So with a larger third party the chances of another party winning outright will be much tougher. So you will need to have parties in coalition to govern.
    AV is also less democratic in the sense that it actively cuts out the votes of smaller parties and they can not win as AV directs votes to the bigger parties increasing their chances of winning.
    Tight marginal electorates where a winner like Carolyn Lucas comes through on 31% are more politically vibrant then seats won on over 50% of the vote.
    AV wont make make MPs work harder it will make activists like you and I work harder and where we dont we will loose. Our MP did not get 50% of the vote so who is the lazy one ? You? Me? Kate?
    AV is not the best system to change to and the means by which we are moving towards it are pathetic. NZ got it right when they made a two step process.

  • Scott Speight

    My biggest issue with AV is that it doesn’t even act in the way that they say it does. Say there is a Lab/Con contested seat. Then say that Con get 45% and Labour 40% (leaving lib dems on 15%) Now if all the Con 2nd preference is Lib Dem, and all Labour are lib dem, then it should be the lib dem that wins, but since they are 3rd, they lose and so they’re 2nd preference decides the winner (not necassarily 50% either).

    The only way to make it “fair” is to weight all of the preferences, but then it requires counting machines which in turn increases the chances of corruption. No thankyou

    FPTP may not be the great, but it definately keeps the “KISS” analogy better than AV

  • Steve Doran

    Just to clarify, I’m not saying that AV WILL lead to coalitions, just that in my humble opinion it’s likely to. We already have a fairly major third party, and their share is likely to grow as people think it’s more worthwhile to vote for them. This in itself is great, but not if ALL of those voters are silenced because they’re sucked into a coalition.

    And Rob, I agree that I don’t address any of the other issues, but that’s because I just can’t get past this one – if the party I vote for are going to change their minds on everything once they’re in a coalition, then how fairly my vote for their original policies is represented becomes meaningless.

  • Jackobailey

    the problem with this article is that its not AV’s fault that a coalition government has no mandate, its a constitutional problem that will arise regardless of the voting system , as we have seen under this coalition which was formed under FPTP.

    The issue you’re trying to push onto AV is one that won’t be sorted without further legislation regarding the formation of coalition governments and has absolutely nothing to do with AV

  • Rob Hicks

    Andy – I’m not convinced with PR yet, I’m open to being convinced though. How do you maintain the constituency link?

    I’m also not swayed by arguments about which political party will gain, our democracy will (hopefully) last a lot longer than any particular party so it is this on which we must base our vote, not party allegiance.

    Also, the way I view AV/STV is that votes are counted in rounds, like runoffs, where candidates are eliminated, votes transferred and then all votes counted again equally. In this everybody’s vote is equal during every round.

    Lots more to say but also lots of work to do – we shall debate further tonight!

    • Andy

      everybodys vote is not equal as Scott Speight pointed out in his post when he said. Then say that Con get 45% and Labour 40% (leaving lib dems on 15%) Now if all the Con 2nd preference is Lib Dem, and all Labour are lib dem, then it should be the lib dem that wins, but since they are 3rd, they lose and so they’re 2nd preference decides the winner (not necassarily 50% either).

      If every round was fair then everybody would be able to change their vote after each round not be asked to try and work out before hand. Also only some people will be offered the chance to have their vote counted again.

  • Jason Maude

    I’m uncomfortable with this as you seem to be saying that coalitions are fundamentally undemocratic. If this is true then that suggests that we’re basically thinking that we don’t want to ban all but two political parties but we’d rather that people only voted for one of the two biggest parties because otherwise we’ll keep ending up with coalitions. I don’t like having two monolithic political parties because I believe that starts to concentrate political power in the hands of fewer people, which equal eliminates peoples ability to have their voices heard.

  • Simon Alvey

    The problem is, as has already been mentioned, FPTP is failing to prevent coalition, or minority governments. Canada, which the country with the most similar constitution to ours hasn’t had a majority government for seven years. This is because FPTP doesn’t work in a pluralist political environment such as modern day Canada or the UK. Like Britain, Canada also has three national political parties, the Liberals and NDP on the centre left and the Conservatives on the centre right, (i know these terms are crude but it a simple form of explanation) as well as a large sepereatist party called the Bloc Quebecois. This mix of parties, which has clear similarities to the British political environment has caused a situation where FPTP’s primary up-side, its ability to provide clear majority rule, does not occur (and all expectations are that that will continue following the federal election on May 2nd). Also what is democratic about the situation that occurred after the 2005 election in the UK, where 36% of voters allowed the Labour party to produce a majority government that they could rule with for five years without having to consult with the parties that the other 64% of the British people voted for?

    On the manifestos point, there is clearly a sense of anger in the country that people feel that they were lied to or taken for a ride by the last Lib Dem campaign, so in this brave new world where I don’t think majoritarian rule is going to be the norm, under any democratic voting system. It is called tiered manifestos, there would be core policies, those policies that would be those policies that parties would promise to fight to the last ditch for if they entered government in any capacity. And a second tier, of these are policies we will deliever to you if we are returned in a majority. The problem is that the Liberal Democrats are being held to promises that they made as if they are the only governing party and they are able to throw any policy they want under the debating bus of, because of the coalition, if election campaigns were fought on this core and periphery system we would be more easily able to hold parties to account dependent on their position in government and this would happen before the polling day.

    • Janvier

      I like your idea of tiered manifestos – not only would it make voting easier in future, but it would also speed up the coalition discussion period. If you know what the core policies are, then it’s much easier to bash out an agreement. My only problem with that situation is where parties have opposing core policies. For a purely hypothetical example – if at the previous election the Liberal Democrats had an amnesty for immigrants as one of their core policies, meanwhile the Conservatives had a crackdown on illegal immigrants as a core policy – would that mean a coalition would not be possible? One of the two would have to step down on a core policy in order to form a government, and we’d be back where we started with incredibly angry voters of whichever party stepped down.

      On the democratic nature of 2005 point – that’s a symptom of a geographical electoral system, only full PR would rid you of that problem. Labour gained 55% of the constituencies, thus 55% of the seats. But the point Steve makes is that at least the voters in all of those constituencies had a fair idea of what they were voting for and any deviation from the manifesto had to be explained (or at least should have been) instead of being swept away under the “well, it’s a coalition, innit?” excuse. I suppose that the problem the Lib Dems have had is that seemingly all their left-wing policies were second tier and the voters that voted based on those policies feel shafted. Your tiered manifesto solution would go some way in improving the democracy of coalitions, because until you know ahead of time what policies are key for each party, then the whole election is meaningless.

  • Richard W. Jacquard


    Very accurate and relevant analyisis of why coalition governemnts are flawed in comparison to single party governments. AV does make coalitions more likely which is one of its many flaws.

    However, it is less that the likelihood of coalitions is increased that makes AV undemocratic, and more that Parties of all colours will have to abandon all of the good practices that most of them have under our actual electoral system; A party does not at general election when forming manifesto and talking to the nation play to a core vote, far from it, instead they actively try and convince the whole nation that certain principles and policies are the best way forward.

    Under AV, parties do write their manifesto after the election in real terms, irrespective of whether they are in a single party government (less likely under AV) or a coalition.

    AV manifestos would look extremely different to what they actually look like today. I include an example of how it would be under the vagaries of AV where parties do not fight on the basis of principle, and attempt to convince the nation of the correctness of said principle, but rather fight on the basis of being the party that least people object to, but that is just slightly different to Joe-bloggs.

    Conservative party manifesto on welfare under AV: “We believe in a strong safety net for all; one which is administered fairly and efficiently.”

    Labour party manifesto on welfare under AV: “We believe in a strong safety net for all; one which is administered with a focus on individual fairness, and done in a way that keeps costs as low as possible.”

    Liberal Democrat party manifesto on welfare under AV: “We believe in a strong safety net for all; one which is administered with overall fairness in mind, and done so to promote cost effectiveness.”

    Green Party manifesto on welfare under AV: “We believe in providing ad strong safety net for all; one which is put together carefully with an emphasis on investment into sustainable energies that will reduce expenditure.

    United Kingdom Independence Party manifesto on welfare under AV: “We believe in a ensuring there is a strong safety net for all UK citizens and residents; one which is implemented with a focus on national fairness and conducted in a fashion that makes the UK’s money go further.

    British National Party manifesto on welfare under AV: “We believe in the right to a strong safety net for all UK citizens (font size 2: ‘that can prove their second cousin wasn’t born in spain’); one which makes sure British people (font size 2 ‘as defined by racial profiling, REF: Nazi party) get a fair shake, and unnecessary expenditure (font size 2 ‘on those evil second class citizens we haven’t managed to deport yet whom we allow graciously to contribute to our economy) is cut out.

    You’re right, under AV; the party principles and standpoints and indeed electoral promises to which they must be held answerable to merge into one ‘gray-space’ of ‘well we all believe in exactly the same thing, we might go about some things slightly differently, but overall, you should vote for us because it will probably be slightly less hassle.

    Then come government:

    ‘Well…I see in spite of the IPSOS MORI poll indicating we were a 4th contender to the electoral outcome and that we weren’t particularly popular, we have gained high political office and a strong majority in parliament! Good news, energy efficient lightbulbs for everyone! Now, how do I stop this bloody journalist from bugging me about someone he keeps referring to as: Man-i-festo?”

    So there we go, the Great undemocratic nature of the hypothetical AV system. Whether you get a coalition or not (and more likely than not), you get exactly what you voted for on the tin: A slightly different brand of baked beans.

    P.S. We both remain entirely objective on AV, and all other issues. However, while it is neccessary for the BNP to have a public platform, I myself shall be fighting with every breath in my body to keep them out of political office. AV does make it slightly more likely they will get it, but that is not one of its bigger weaknesses, whatever the decision on May 5th, we must all fight together side by side to stop those barstuards from getting in.

  • Harley Bishop

    At the risk of sounding like a dangerous loon, I don’t really follow how the “quantifiable democracy” of an approach renders it valid one way or the other. If a system is considered more equitable or more fair by the people utilising it, whether it is “more” or “less” democratic than other approaches is irrelevant.

    Democracy is not synonymous with fairness; it’s just a classification of type. But you seem to consider it synonymous with fairness, and basing your argument on it accordingly.

    That being said, I tend to agree with the other commentators below (but they can offer better arguments than me for why it is suitably democratic, though so far I think you have rejected all of them.)

  • Kim Kotchanski

    I don’t agree with this – but a half decent explanation of why it’s ok to be No2AV. #vote2011