Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A V Referendum III

For criticisms of the "Yes" campaign's arguments for AV please see the previous post. Here are eight arguments which in my view put a more positive and rational case for voting "Yes."

1. AV will put an end to the need for negative voting. This is sometimes called tactical voting but "negative" is a more accurate term. It means voting not to put someone in but to keep someone out: for example in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election urging Conservatives to vote Liberal Democrat in order to "keep Labour out." Negative voting is a regular feature of FPTP. Even in the bad old days of two party politics thousands of of Conservative votes were cast, not so much in support of Conservative policies as to "keep Labour out" and vice versa.

AV will enable everyone to cast their first preference vote positively for what they really believe in, and their second either for a genuine second preference or to keep someone out. The French do this expensively by holding two elections a week apart. In the first they vote "with the heart", in the second, after minor parties have withdrawn, "with the head" for the realistic choice. With AV we get the two for the price of one.

2. AV will produce a more civilised and rational debate. Parties will be seeking second preference as well as first preference votes, and therefore will not be so rude and scornful about each other or deliberately misrepresent each other. As Ed Milliband put it in last Thursday's Guardian:

"AV will ...force parties to admit where there is agreement between them , prising open our confrontational system so that similarities sometimes become as important as differences...Exaggerating disagreement in order to create black and white choices under first-past-the-post has only added to a particular style of politics that turns off the electorate."

In other words, AV will encourage the politics of co-operation rather than confrontation.

3. Under AV there more seats will become marginal, so the parties will have to campaign to gain the support of a winder section of the electorate rather than a tiny handful of "floating" voters in a small number of marginals.

4. AV will increase the choices open to the elector and therefore the sovereignty of each electorate. We are not forced to give a second, third or fourth preference, but we can if we wish.

5. AV will allow the views of minorities to come to the fore more quickly. For most of the second half of the last century Liberal/liberal Democrat representation was so small that our views could be ignored, so it took fifty years or so for valuable ideas for which we argued way back in the fifties and sixties (devolution to the nations and regions, a stakeholder society,and, yes, electoral reform, to name but three) to be considered in the mainstream. Britain has lost out because of this delay. Today there are other vital minorities struggling for a voice. The Greens are an obvious example. AV will bring their important views to the fore more quickly

6. By encouraging positive voting for a first choice, AV will give a truer reflection of the real opinions of the nation.

7. The House of Commons will be more representative of those opinions.

8. The Commons will become more authoritative, since each MP will have the support of at least half of his or her electors.

Alas I am not a publicist so I have no idea how to sloganise the above or condense it into the 100 word limit required by the Yes campaign website.


  1. "3. Under AV there will be fewer marginal seats..." I don't think this is what you meant to say.
    As an aside, it seems to be conventional wisdom that Scotland and Wales will deliver the yes vote. Turnouts there are expected to be higher than in England because they have, what is for them, general elections that day. However, this view may prove complacent, AV is a huge step backwards in lands where proportional representation is the norm for all other elections.
    Proportional representation in Scotland was delivered by a majority Labour government and STV for local government there by a Lab-LD coalition. Even now, the tories don't support these reforms. We will never get PR in England while the LD party is in the grip of a leadership that wants to associate so closely with the tories. This AV referendum, whatever the outcome, will set the cause back many years.

  2. Thanks for the correction: I'll put that right.

    Your comments re Scotland and Wales are interesting. I hadn't thought of that. AV is certainly a step backwards when compared with the STV for local elections which they have at present.

    For Westminster elections we can see AV, if adopted, as another step on the way to a more effective democracy, following on from 1832, 1867, 1884, 1918, 1928 and so on (I'm better at remembering historical dates than more resent ones. When did we lower the voting age to 18?)

  3. I think voting at 18 came in during 1970 as a result of the 1969 RPA. I am too young to remember. If you are prepared to think of AV as part of a process of incremental change that will take centuries and don't mind how far England falls behind the rest of the world, including soon perhaps even north africa, then you have more patience than I.
    The probem as I see it, is that AV is such a small incremental change, that it becomes more tempting to use the referendum as a referendum on the performance of the coalition including the pace of deficit reduction and Clegg's broken promises, than it would be if the change were a more significant one.
    Not only that, but a referendum on a form of real proportional representation (even the Jenkins commission's AV+) would be easier to win because people more readily recognise what the outomes from it would be than AV.

  4. Like the man in the pantomime seeking directions, it would be best not to start from here. Naturally we would have liked Nick Clegg to succeed in getting STV on the ballot paper. When he didn't I argued at the AGM of the Electoral Reform Society that we should try to amend the bill to include STV as an option , and I believe that was attempted in the House of Lords, but without success. The "two questions" approach used in New Zealand (outlined by Vernon Bogdanor in the Guardian on 23rd February) would have been much preferable.

    However, the choice we have is AV or the status quo.

    It has to be acknowledge that there is always the danger, in discussing any electoral reform, that PR anoraks such as myself will muddy the waters with arcane arguments about which system is the best, and even which quota to use.

    So we have to concentrate on the choice we have. I believe the eight points enumerated in the post show that AV has pronounced advantages over FPTP. I'm not worried that the reform is incremental: that's the way constitutional reform in Britain has been achieved in the past and this is just another step towards a better quality of democracy.