Thursday 21 April 2011

Quiet calme deliberation (3) on AV

I have just received a leaflet from the "No to AV" campaign. It is a four-fold A5 size, hence containing four times as much information (or misinformation) as the flimsy single sheet A5 leaflets I've been distributing for the "Yes" campaign, in full colour on very good quality paper. It puts some superficially convincing argument, which do not, of course, bear serious scrutiny, but then, most recipients won't give it serious scrutiny. That, I presume, is the trick of propaganda.

It came through through the post rather than being distributed by volunteers. This, and the quality of the leaflet, means that the "No" campaign has a lot of money to spend. I had supposed that there are rules limiting expenditure on both sides. Maybe the "Yes" campaign is spending our money on those phone banks instead, or maybe the expenditure rules can be circumvented, as in general elections.

The leaflet is basically in white, purple and green, the colours of the Suffragettes, which is a bit of a cheek, since the Suffragettes campaigned to improve a faulty system, not retain one.

The front page displays the slogan; "Keep one person one vote" which of course, AV will also do - simply that if your favoured candidate can't use it you can pass it on to someone else. As Jo Swinson so graphically put it, if you go to a shop for a Mars Bar but they don't have one so you buy a Twix instead, you've still only had one bar of chocolate, not two.

Page 2 repeats the discredited claim that the cost of AV is £250million, including £130 million for electronic voting machines, which will not, of course be required. Votes will be counted by hand and the counts are unlikely to take much longer than the present ones.

Pages 3 and 4 show how the candidate who was second or third when the votes were first counted can emerge the winner under AV whereas under FPTP "the one who comes first is always the winner." At last an element of truth. It is true that AV can produce the least unpopular rather than the most popular candidate, which is presumably why both Labour and the Conservatives use a version of AV when electing their leaders, realising that they need the support of the majority, not just a section of their parties.

Page 5 claims that AV is "not a fair system" but gives no reason to support this. It does not mention that three times since the introduction of universal suffrage, under FPTP the party which came second in the total vote gained the most seats.

Page 6 is split into two columns. The left hand side has a four line explanation of FPTP, the right hand side a 30 line explanation of AV, in small print with, presumably, the expectation that most people won't read it but decide that AV is much too complicated. Presumably they are content to receive their radio by cat's whisker and all have black and white television sets.

Page 7 shows a man in a blue shirt winning a running race but a man in a black one being "the winner under AV" with no suggestion that winning a running race might not be analogous to selecting an individual to represent the views of the majority in parliament. There is also the claim that "The AV system will mean an end to equal votes" without any explanation as to why this should be so. AV will make more votes count, so in that sense will be a move to greater equality.

The final page shows a picture of Nick Clegg displaying his personal pledge to vote against any increase in (student tuition) fees, and claims that "AV leads to broken promises." Well, serves us and him right, I suppose, and it is going to take us years to live that one down. But it is not AV which leads to broken promises. Labour under FPTP and with a whopping majority broke their promise not to introduce tuition fees, and then another promise not to top them up. The Tories under FPTP are currently trying to break their promise of "no top down re-organisation of the NHS."

Clearly the "No" campaign is winning the propaganda war. I hope in the next couple of weeks, even with apparently inferior resources, we can persuade people of the truth. I am encouraged by the fact that the young are more likely to vote "Yes" than the old. It is nice to be on the side of "yoof."


  1. On the leaflet we received (now recycled, so I can't check if it is the same one, but as we live pretty close to you I assume it is) there was a world map showing three countries which used AV. The argument being that only 3 countries used it and therefore it must be flawed. (In fact, I think there are flaws with it - though I will be voting 'Yes' to AV - but I digress.) However, that argument is disingenuous. The reader is obviously meant to think that the rest of the world uses First Past the Post. But the world map does not show dictatorships, or Proportional Representation, or the host of other political systems. In fact, there are fewer FPTP countries out there than you might think, and this is something the 'Vote No' leaflet glosses over. However, I can't see the 'Yes' campaign succeeding, which is a real shame.

  2. I have contacted a friend in Australia to find out whether or not there is any basis for the claim that 60% of Australians want to get rid of AV. Will report if and when I get a reply.

    Maybe only three countries use AV because it is not nearly so good as a properly proportional system, but, alas, it is the only choice we are given and it certainly has many advantages over FPTP