How Ed Miliband could win the AV vote for Labour


1:31 pm - March 7th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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Having tied himself firmly to the mast, Ed Miliband has a vested interest in ensuring the referendum on Alternative Vote is won.

There are, of course, snags. There’s little that can be done about the dishonest advertising campaign claiming that it will cost £250m. But another problem looms for him: how the referendum is being framed. And this is where the Yes camp has failed.

The No2AV campaign did well to make Nick Clegg the poster-boy, constantly emphasising how ‘toxic Clegg’ could be fatal to the Yes vote. The media duly jumped on ‘reports’ that Ed Miliband did not want Nick Clegg anywhere near the campaign (he wasn’t planning to anyway).

Since Labour voters are key to deciding the outcome (both Conservative and Libdem voters are firmly in the no and yes camp respectively), Miliband’s role is key. He can’t hug the Libdem leader, but neither can he viciously attack Clegg. That would easily alienate Libdem voters he wants to encourage into the Labour camp.

So how does he square the circle? Simple: make David Cameron the face of the No campaign. Tell Labour voters to treat the referendum as a vote on Cameron’s policies and give him a black eye.

It sounds obvious as a strategy, but neither Miliband nor the Yes campaign have really pushed this heavily. Both have focused either on whether its beneficial to Labour or whether it’s a fairer system.

But technical arguments rarely work with mass audiences. They are more likely to be swayed by the costs – which is what makes the £250m figure so ingenious – or by the face of the person attached to the campaign.

If I was running the Yes campaign, I’d take plaster ads with Cameron’s face and ask Labour voters to do give him a bloody nose by over-throwing FPTP.

There is a small snag to this too: the kind of lefty who would prefer to give Clegg a bloody nose for his betrayal, rather than Cameron for being a Tory. They hate the betrayal more, you see.

The same lefty camp would also believe, rather naively, that the cause of electoral reform would be advanced if the AV vote was lost. This is equally ludicrous: do they really believe the Tories would not fight similar attempts to change FPTP later? Of course they would.

It is pretty crucial for Ed Miliband to win the referendum in May, or else it will look embarassing that a vote most of the Labour shadow cabinet supports failed. He has to become more aggressive, and he has to tie the vote around David Cameron’s neck.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Sunny, you make an obvious but important point here. The referendums won by Labour in 1998 had a political consensus and a popular government pushing them. In Wales, it was still close. The only way a referendum like this is won is on the basis of public trust in those pushing for a yes vote. People will default to “no” if they don’t understand what it means or don’t trust those saying it.

The only problem with this is that it could alienate pro-AV conservatives. Don’t forget, polls show up to 25% of conservatives backing AV so we don’t want to alienate them too much. I’d suggest that such a tactic should be used by the Labour Yes campaign, not the national one.

3. Captain Haddock

“…both Conservative and Libdem voters are firmly in the no and yes camp respectively…”

Don’t bet money on the former being the case, there are plenty of Tories who want to put UKIP as a first choice on the ballot paper, and Conservative second. There are plenty more Tories who have been pissed of for a long time that their votes have been wated in safe Labour seats – just like Labour voters in safe Tory seats have been too.

Living as I do in a safe Tory seat, I suspect that there is more Tory support at the ground level – regardless of what MPs and party bigwigs think – for the Yes campaign than we might imagine.

This is a very odd headline – Labour contains a diverse range of views on AV, so “winning the referendum for Labour” is a strange way to see it. “How Ed Miliband could win the referendum for Yes”, might be a better phrasing.

It’s becoming increasingly clear, with a right-wing vote fragmenting between three parties, and the opposition consolidating around Labour, that AV would be bad news for Labour’s chances at the next election. Labour AV advocates may think that the procedural merits of the change trump the substantive outcomes, but that’s nonetheless where we’re at.

Of course, we all know there are reasons Ed has to campaign for “Yes” – it elected him – that’s not comparable, but to say so is to be on the complicated side of the argument – and it associates him more closely with ‘change’ and ‘new politics’, even if the referendum goes the other way: but I’d be amazed if there isn’t a part of him that hopes Labour voters don’t listen to him too closely.

5. Mr S. Pill

@4

“we all know there are reasons Ed has to campaign for “Yes” – it elected him” < as indeed it elected Mr Cameron.

Agree with OP btw, nothing would damage the No campaign like pinning Cameron's smug visage to it.

“as indeed it elected Mr Cameron”.

Well, not really. Multiple ballots where the nature of the electorate changes between the early rounds and the final round is, I suppose, a distant cousin of AV in some way, but it’s not AV.

Anyway, on the substantive; electing a single individual within a movement is a different proposition from holding several hundred simultaneous elections which aim to produce an assembly and, indirectly, a government. It’s logical for the former to be centripetal, but the latter pluralist.

Isn’t the problem whether Ed and the pro-AV voices within Labour can convincingly present themselves as “champions” of new politics, progress, and something radical when compared to what has gone before? We’re not just talking about decades of Labour refusal to seriously consider PR, but also the fact that large sections of Labour are deeply hostile to it in any form.

There is a huge appetite for something different out there, and a real possibility as you say to use this as a referendum on the popularity of the Coalition as well as the introduction of AV, but it would be a lot more convincing if we actually thought Ed was leading the charge; it all seems a bit low key thus far!

How about a picture of Cameron with this headline?

‘Tory MPs use preferential voting to elect him leader but want to deny us the same choice for electing our MPs. Vote YES to AV and give them a bloody nose on May 5th’

@8

Couldnt the same be said of Labour dinosaurs in the commons and the lords who are against AV?

“… make David Cameron the face of the No campaign… It sounds obvious as a strategy, but neither Miliband nor the Yes campaign have really pushed this heavily. Both have focused either on whether its beneficial to Labour or whether it’s a fairer system.”

Heaven forfend that a campaign to change the voting system might actually reference “whether it’s a fairer system”. Obviously this is just another political football to be kicked between the parties (and gabbled at by the vacuous commentariat), as the voting public are too stupid to understand any technical details…

Ever wonder why people are disenchanted with mainstream politics?

11. Chaise Guevara

@ 10

“Obviously this is just another political football to be kicked between the parties (and gabbled at by the vacuous commentariat), as the voting public are too stupid to understand any technical details…”

I don’t know what percentage of people don’t understand AV, but that group of people will inevitably exist. Pointing out that a few people are too stupid (or, more likely, not well enough informed) to understand AV does not mean that you have to hold the entire electorate in contempt. It would be a bit weird to assume that everyone in Britain is brainy and reads the FT every day.

However, the “No” campaign is actively going around telling people that AV is too complicated for them to understand (which is a lot different from accepting that a certain percentage of people won’t understand it and adjusting your campaign accordingly). Perhaps a quote from the “No” leaflet followed by something along the lines of “Cameron thinks you’re an idiot” wouldn’t go amiss.

Ideally, of course, anyone who can’t or won’t understand AV will abstain in the referendum. As that won’t happen, however, it’s understandable that both sides want to court their vote too.

“I don’t know what percentage of people don’t understand AV, but that group of people will inevitably exist.”

A lot, I imagine. I ran an event a couple of months ago for local Councillors, and they had to rank their workshop preferences for the day. I’d say 15-20% of them were in some way incapable of filling out what was, essentially, an AV ballot. Giving marks out of 10 instead of numbering them 1 to 10, putting joint first preferences, voting with multiple crosses, that kind of thing. And these are active elected politicians.

Then, the other day, I was arguing with a Yes2AV campaigner who appeared to me to be talking nonsense (I mean, worse nonsense than they usually do). We eventually got to the bottom of the issue which was his belief that if there was no first round winner, then everybody’s second preference was counted – more like a Borda count than AV, really. So, yeah, between those two I’m persuaded that understanding of AV is not that high.

13. Planeshift

“Simple: make David Cameron the face of the No campaign. Tell Labour voters to treat the referendum as a vote on Cameron’s policies and give him a black eye.”

The ‘no’ campaign in Wales here tried that – making the issue about a vote of confidence in the assembly (because not even UKIP were stupid enough to stick to the technicalities of it). They lost extenssively

@12

A lot of the same things were said in Scotland before they introduced their (more complicated) system for the Holyrood elections; the predicted disaster didn’t happen there, and it wouldn’t happen here – people just need to be given information.

I don’t think AV is the best option, but I’ll be voting yes; if nothing else I’d vote yes just to stick it to the dinosaurs in the anti-reform people in the Tory party and Labour…. they are equally as bad.

“I don’t think AV is the best option, but I’ll be voting yes; if nothing else I’d vote yes just to stick it to the dinosaurs in the anti-reform people in the Tory party and Labour…. ”

Margaret Beckett against Ben Bradshaw? I’ll take Margaret.

@15

I wouldn’t touch either of them with a 10 foot pole….. God knows the LibDems’s aren’t good for much, but if we do manage to get AV hopefully it will lead to a truly proportional system, at least they will have served some useful purpose; as an added bonus we could see them getting their come uppance too!

`That would easily alienate Libdem voters he wants to encourage into the Labour camp.’

I think Barnsley showed they don’t need encouraging especially by supporting a voting system that is far worse than the one they want to replace. Happen this referendum is a chance to give the Coalition a fright and Ed Milliband a wake up call.

I think embracing AV vote so closely would be a big mistake and also trying to put Cameron posters on the AV vote would be a big mistake as well.

1) If you make the vote David Cameron vs Ed Miliband – the polls show Ed Miliband loses. Yes the labour party is leading the polls but David Cameron is about 12 points ahead of Ed Miliband when it comes to who would be a better prime minister.

The AV vote should not be about that.

2) If Ed Miliband embraces it and wraps the campaign around him – he would alienate a lot of people within his party. The AV No campaign would bring back all the memories of a bizzare Manchester conference where the party members and the MPs voted for a different leader. Right or wrong it would come back and it would not help him to get the party behind him.

3) if I was running AV NO – I would put up posters with Ed Miliband like he shafted Tony Blair – the elected PM – he shafted his own brother – this is the way of shafting the British electorate because this is the only way he gets to become PM.

4) And more importantly, he failed to persuade his MPs and party members and used Union hacks such as Charlie Whelan to win the Leadership – and he is using the AV to try to win No. 10. And that would be the campaign

5) You make David Cameron the campaign issue these things would come up and the media would lap it up – and throw in PMQs and David Miliband posters to go with it.

6) He lied about the Iraq war – no one of any substance has come on record and said that he was against it at the time in fact his own brother, the Shadow Chancellor, the Shadow Secretary of Education all believe he lied during the leadership election – that is on record.

I don’t think that would make Labour any stronger only weaker. – I think Ed miliband’s strategy on AV is fine so far. If AV wins good – if AV loses no harm done.

Why take something and put it around your neck when it can cause you so much damage.

I am not a fan of Ed Miliband but I think he is doing a decent job as leader of the opposition and the party is slowly uniting behind him – why wreck it now with this AV shit

btw, I would vote against AV – because it does not eliminate safe seats and neither does it make the system any fairer.

All it helps political parties to cut deals and reward those who fail to persuade which is not a very compelling argument.

@17 Phil

You can’t use Barnsley as an indication of where disillusioned LD supporters will go. Significant numbers of centre left voters aren’t going to vote Labour under any circumstances, others will only do so if they feel the party has changed. Caving in to the dinosaurs who want to entrench FPTP, and maintain a cosy Tory/Labour duopoly on power, isn’t the right way to convince people that you have a progressive or radical agenda.

People still don’t trust Labour, or believe that New Labour is really dead. Ed Miliband still has a hell of a lot of work to do to make himself look like a potential PM….

The only problem with this is that it could alienate pro-AV conservatives.

What, all 5 of them? I don’t think Ed Miliband will or should care for them. A waste of time, that section, as they’ve done nothing useful so far.

Captain Haddock – that may be true, but its not really reflected in the polls… of Conservative voters.

Shamit and Planeshift – I think you’re missing the argument.

The trick here is to convince Labour voters, not the general public. In broader polls Ed Mili might be trailing Cameron, but that’s because people who identify as Libdems prefer Cameron (surprise surprise!).

The Wales situation doesn’t apply here.

It’s a simple issue of how to you convince Labour voters to move in the direction of AV – just point out that Cameron loves FPTP.

@ 20 Sunny Hundal

“It’s a simple issue of how to you convince Labour voters to move in the direction of AV – just point out that Cameron loves FPTP.”

To which the easy response will be, “so do large sections of your own party; so if you can’t get them to support it, why should we?”.

Labour missed a chance to introduce people to some form of reformed voting when it spectacularly failed to reform the House of Lords during the time it was in power. A directly elected Lords, using a reformed voting system would have made it easier to convince the “bitter enders” in the Labour party that it was time to support PR.

If Ed only addresses himself to “core” Labour voters, he’s on a hiding to nothing; he needs to take left leaning voters who aren’t necessarily Labour voters with him. He isn’t going to do that by trying to convince the (probably) relatively small number of undecided Labour voters.

Point taken Sunny. But I still think it would be a big risk.

@Sunny @20

“What, all 5 of them? I don’t think Ed Miliband will or should care for them. A waste of time, that section, as they’ve done nothing useful so far.”

You’re coming across as a twat. The Guildford phonebank couldn’t operate if it weren’t for our two young tory interns. The Conservative Yes campaign also launched in the last few days and they’ve long been performing the thankless task of trying to convince conservatives to back AV whilst people within the party revile them and people outside the party, such as you, are dismissive of them. As I said in my original comment:

“polls show up to 25% of conservatives backing AV”

That is a large chunk of the electorate so if you want to be ridiculously tribal and insult them then I hope you won’t mind losing the referendum as that’s exactly where your kind of close-minded, prejudiced view will take us.

To which the easy response will be, “so do large sections of your own party; so if you can’t get them to support it, why should we?”.

What large sections? If individual Labour MPs want to campaign against their own party leader – they are welcome to.

that doesn’t mean Ed Miliband and the shadow cabinet (which are united on this) have to be held hostage by the likes of John Prescott and Margaret Beckett.

You’re coming across as a twat. The Guildford phonebank couldn’t operate if it weren’t for our two young tory interns.

Great! but those people are unlikely to be swayed by what Ed Miliband says. We’re grown up here and we know there’s politics here.

Ed Miliband has to think about what’s best for his position and for the Labour party. If he wants to win he has to convince Labour voters to shift. If your argument is that more tories will shift to FPTP than Lab voters will shift to AV if Cameron’s face is used, then you’re being naive.

@ 24

You honestly believe that there aren’t large numbers of Labour MP’s, members and activists who aren’t totally opposed to ANY form of voting system other than FPTP?

Just because the front bench have meekly fallen into line doesn’t mean the party as a whole is convinced. Much of the Scottish Labour party hated the fact they couldn’t get FPTP for the Scottish parliament; if you think the national party is significantly different you are deluded.

@24

“A waste of time, that section, as they’ve done nothing useful so far.”

That’s what you said. I’m all for using Cameron to galvanise more Labourites into supporting AV but it should be done in such a way that it doesn’t turn off people of the type who are already supporting and working for the campaign. You dismissing them as a waste of time is hardly helping.

Or maybe, maybe, we could encourage people to actually think about which voting system they’d prefer and ask them to chose. You know, like the referendum question will ask them to do.

“that doesn’t mean Ed Miliband and the shadow cabinet (which are united on this) ”

Have John Healey, Caroline Flint, and Mary Creagh been sacked from the shadow cabinet while I wasn’t looking, or changed their minds on AV?

29. Matthew Bond

Hi

I oppose electoral reform full stop. Deliberative democracy in Britain does not sound too attractive to me because I think it will lead to a more elitist style of politics that is less competitive and more likely to favour right wing outcomes. I agree with Tony Blair that Labour advocacy of electoral reform is fuelled by weakness. In sum, I think you are wrong about AV.

I also think you are wrong to urge Ed Miliband to take a more prominent role in the AV debate. He is doing the right thing. He has been consistent on policy, low profile and letting doubters wreak havoc.

Ed Is doing the right thing faced with this silly referendum.

Take care
tugsandtost

ps I implore you to stop using lefty tag. It sounds too establishment.

30. Chaise Guevara

@ 20 Sunny

“What, all 5 of them? I don’t think Ed Miliband will or should care for them. A waste of time, that section, as they’ve done nothing useful so far.”

You are aware that we all get one vote in this referedum, right? That they’re not allocated based on your personal worthiness?

A Tory who supports AV is, temporarily at least, a friend, and it would be a good idea to remember that. Furthermore, any Tory taking the non-reactionary stance, on an issue that many think would hurt their party, is probably a thoughtful soul worth talking to.

@ 28

“I think it will lead to a more elitist style of politics that is less competitive and more likely to favour right wing outcomes.”

The opposite is likely to be the case; it will increase competitiveness, give people in safe seats some say, and will be as likely to favour the broad left…if fact probably more likely than the braod right.

” I agree with Tony Blair ….”

WOW..there’s a statement you don’t hear that often; probably an indication of how much weight we should attach to your opinion too! It isn’t a sign of weakness… it would be a sign that they are progressive. Keeping FPTP is just a way to ensure that we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten; how’s that been working for us over the past several decades exactly?

32. Chris Whitrow

The whole tone of this debate just depresses me. If people can’t understand that this is about the struggle for greater democracy; that it has nothing to do with personalities, or giving so-and-so a ‘bloody nose’, then they would really be better off living under a dictatorship. I’m off to slit my wrists …

I have something of a dilemma over the whole AV issue. My head says support Ed and campaign for a “yes” vote. Not a difficult move for me because many years ago I started my political life in the old Liberal Party and became very ‘high-up’ in the Liberal Action Group for Electoral Reform. Before any gets too impressed it consisted of about 16 of us nationally … and George the dog!

However, the Labour Representation Committee have called for a “No” vote and as a member, I feel duty bound to go along with my comrades. Yet me head says this is not logical. How can I stand alongside Cameron when he has already done so much damage to this country? How can I support Tories – when the only reason they want FPTP is to save their own seats?

If it was between STV and FPTP, it would be easy, but its not – its a choice between tweedle dum and tweedle dee. Meanwhile our illustrious leader is supporting a campaign endorsed by one of the greatest political deceivers of the century.

It is a sad situation … and one I, and many members on the left will have to resolve in the very near future

“The opposite is likely to be the case; it will increase competitiveness, give people in safe seats some say, and will be as likely to favour the broad left…if fact probably more likely than the braod right.”

Obviously not the case – there are three right-wing parties getting a significant number of votes now, and one left-wing party. FPTP punishes divided wings, AV rewards them. The right could be smashed under FPTP at the next election, they could sneak back in under AV.

“. If people can’t understand that this is about the struggle for greater democracy”

One group’s view of what represents “greater democracy”. It’s an opinion. Like when Osborned and Clegg say that the cuts are about “helping the economy”. It’s nonsense – it’s not a lack of understanding to point that out, it’s a difference of opinion.

Miliband does not dare try to make the AV referendum a vote on Cameron, because the risk is huge – in the event of a “No” win, Labour would take a serious black eye.

Those of us hoping for “Yes” should hope there’s a better strategy than this.

From comment 1. “People will default to ‘no’ if they don’t understand what [a referendum issue] means.”

I think this is a key point and that the best possible way to campaign is simply through a repeated clear statement of the basic mechanics of AV (which people wrongly fear to be complex) and of one or two of its intuitive advantages.

The referendum proposal is after all about finding ways to increase effective mass enfranchisement by securing a ‘fairer’ system that can erode the vast levels of cynicism that have developed around parliamentary and electoral democracy, and that had such ringing statement during the expenses scandal and during the general election campaign.

Negative campaigning, based on a hated pin-up face, or on constant trashing of the No campaign, is likely to continue the electorate’s cynical withdrawal from electoral/referendum participation — or at the very best it just fails to give them the information they need.

@ 33

It is by no means obvious. There are plenty of people on the centre left who are not about to vote Labour who will be catered for better by AV than FPTP. I live in a safe Tory seat whose sitting MP won 55% of the vote at the last election.

All the other votes were wasted – no non-Tory has a hope in this place under FPTP, and they never will. Of course it is as bad in reverse in many other parts of the country, where Labour votes might as well be weighed, and they’d elect a door post if it had a Labour party rosette (indeed looking at some the MP’s…..).

The right might be smashed under FPTP, and then the left at the next election: same old see saw we’ve seen for decades; where has that led? It’s hardly as if we have a great system now, or a track record of success is it? That mad old trout Thatcher and the nauseating control freaks in New Labour had huge majorities thanks to FPTP…. even AV has to be better than that!

I suspect that AV vs FPTP is considered so marginal by Miliband that he’s not going to bust a gut in the campaign. Labour attacked the more important aspects of electoral reform in the Lords with their filibuster, though it was a desparate attempt at a rearguard action.

For those of us who want a more representaive system and fewer safe seats the outcome will make little difference either way. I think we have become so desperate we have convinced ourselves AV is a big shiny lovely thing when it really isn’t.

For many people anything that offers the Lib Dems a lifeline is worth voting against.

It’s going to be close run, but I hope we do have a change.

40. Chaise Guevara

@ 38 Cherub

“For many people anything that offers the Lib Dems a lifeline is worth voting against.”

I find that so bloody depressing. We get an opportunity to effect real democratic change, something that may well not come again in anyone’s lifetime, and what happens? People – including many of the people who voted for this policy in the first place – decide to vote against it out of fucking contrariness, often as a way to annoy one man they’re pissed off with. One. Single. Man.

We’re on the brink of stitching up umpteen future generations, as well as ourselves, out of sheer childishness. People suck sometimes.

This vote will be lost. The tory media have not got going yet, and when they do the tory faithful will be told that if this passes a tory govt will never ever be elected again. That alone will scare them shitless.

This is the Lie Dems big idea. They have bet the farm on this and they are going to loose. Remember there will be no referendum for reducing parliament by 50 seats or the tory gerrymandering. The tories have already got that in the bag.

This is the Lie Dems Waterloo. What are they going to do then? Vote for the death penalty? Vote to leave the EU? The voters have sussed them out. “Vote Lie Dem…… get Tories.”

42. Labour's Brainwashed Sheeple

The PLP did not vote for Ed Miliband. The Labour Party have a leader that no one wanted in the first place except the Unions. The AV voting system is farcical. I wonder what David Miliband thinks about AV?

I’m quite amused that the No2AV campaign now think I’m heaping ‘plaudits’ on their campaign.

the kind of lefty who would prefer to give Clegg a bloody nose for his betrayal, rather than Cameron for being a Tory.

This, in spades. The Tories are worse than the Lib Dems. The most objectionable policies coming out of the Coalition are Tory policies. Anyone who says they’re on the left but would rather punish the Lib Dems than the Tories is fundamentally a twat.

“Anyone who says they’re on the left but would rather punish the Lib Dems than the Tories is fundamentally a twat.”

Even if your contention about the politics of the Coalition is true, it’s not as simple as that. The question that faces us for 2015 is whether we would prefer to have 250 Tory MPs, who are in Government, or 270, who are in opposition.

Lib Dems, Tories: Two sides, Same coin.

46. Dick the Prick

@45, well if the NHS gets privatised, public sector pensions changed to contribution based, schools able to sack rubbish teachers, boundaries for constits made fairer, BBC licence fee reduced, local government merged and if Alec Salmond gets his referendum then i’d advise being friends with the Libbers.

47. Gene Porter

`We’re on the brink of stitching up umpteen future generations, as well as ourselves, out of sheer childishness. People suck sometimes.’

Anybody pushing AV as some kind of democratic improvement on FPTP sucks especially when it comes with a huge reduction in MPs, gerrymandered constituencies and the prospect of the Lib Dems and Tories working together to manipulate it.

This is absolutely terrible strategic advice, Sunny. If Ed Miliband followed it, he would be giving Cameron the chance to obtain, in effect, a mandate for the cuts. Whereas it is currently one of the strongest weapons in Labour’s arsenal that there is no such mandate. Do you really think Labour want to give Cameron the chance to be able to say, every day until 2015, ‘You yourself told the electorate to treat the AV referendum as a referendum on the government’s economic strategy. And we won!’

49. Brian Routh
50. Chris Whitrow

@oldpolitics:

It’s not a matter of opinion – in my opinion 🙂 Democracy is quantifiable, at least in the sense of how powerful each individual vote can be. Under our current system, only 47% of voters actually elected their local MP in 2010, on a 65% turnout. That means only 31% of eligible voters are actually represented in parliament. That leaves 69% of us effectively unrepresented, including me – I have a Tory MP. When people have the gall to call that democracy, it saddens and angers me. Add to that the fact that the last 3 elections have had the 3 lowest turnouts by far since 1945:

http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm

AV would ensure that well over 50% of voters were represented by their MP, in practice; every transfer preference is a positive choice. If I feel that a Green MP would be able to represent me just as well as a Labour MP, why should I be denied that choice? AV would lead to higher turnouts than FPTP, as there would be fewer safe seats as well as more voter choice. On every objective, quantifiable measure of democracy, AV is far superior to FPTP. That much is NOT a matter of opinion, but demonstrable fact.

In 1951, the Tories won a parliamentary majority, with fewer votes than Labour. FPTP also allowed Margaret Thatcher to win successive huge majorities in the 80s on a minority vote, because the left was split (‘split’ is the natural condition of the left). AV is much less susceptible to these problems. Again, not opinion but fact. People on the left who support FPTP over AV either don’t understand AV or they don’t know history, or they need their heads examined.

@ Tacitus: Your dilemma has a simple resolution. You are not duty bound to follow the LRC. You have a duty to do the right thing by your conscience and your fellow citizens: vote ‘Yes’ for more and better democracy.

@47 Gene Porter

At least have the gumption to try and establish some of the facts before going off on one. As chris Whitrow so ably demonstrates @50 above, there is no debate that AV is better than FPTP; it’s simply fact.

The proposal to reduce the number of MP’s is not ipso facto wrong. It has long been generally accepted that the current make up of parliament is in fact biased in favour of Labour; funnily enough I haven’t heard Labour supporters complaining too much about that…? In any case, if people are that execised by the problems of gerrymandering, or ensuring roughly equal constituencies, and the problems of the social/electoral make up when re-drawing boundaries etc., then the answer is quire simple: support a fully proportional system.

Simples!

52. Chaise Guevara

@ 47 Gene Porter

“Anybody pushing AV as some kind of democratic improvement on FPTP sucks”

Very eloquent. And might I humbly point out that your momma so fat?

“especially when it comes with a huge reduction in MPs, gerrymandered constituencies and the prospect of the Lib Dems and Tories working together to manipulate it.”

Except that we won’t be voting on that, we’ll be voting on this: “Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the ‘alternative vote’ system instead of the current ‘first past the post’ system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?” Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-10729454

But by all means go on insulting other people because of their opinions on subjects about which you are ignorant.

For those interested, the following link has a good analysis from the LSE about why much of the criticism of gerrymandering WRT to the reduction in number of MP’s is misguided:

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/2010/11/11/the-current-boundary-review-does-not-go-far-enough-in-improving-the-process-for-defining-westminster-constituencies/

50/Chris Whitrow: AV would ensure that well over 50% of voters were represented by their MP

Only if you define “represented by” as “gave a preference – any preference but last – for” and then “voters” as “voters whose ballot papers were never discarded due to a lack of valid preferences”

Neither seems a particularly sound definition. And it’s entirely possible – arguably desirable, in the UK Parliamentary context – for AV to elect a candidate when well over half of the electorate would have preferred a different candidate if they’d been the only two candidates standing, which is the situation that “50% support” is usually implying against.

AV’s major strength over FPTP (and indeed over many other systems) is that it can not elect the “Condorcet loser” (i.e. the candidate whom every other candidate in the election would beat in a head-to-head contest). That’s valuable, but a long way from “50% support for the winner”.

On every objective, quantifiable measure of democracy, AV is far superior to FPTP.

I agree that in the context of UK Parliamentary elections it’s on balance superior, but there are measures on which FPTP does better. Monotonicity, for instance.

55. Chaise Guevara

@ 54 “Neither seems a particularly sound definition. And it’s entirely possible – arguably desirable, in the UK Parliamentary context – for AV to elect a candidate when well over half of the electorate would have preferred a different candidate if they’d been the only two candidates standing, which is the situation that “50% support” is usually implying against.”

Can you break that one down for me? It’s something I associate more with FPTP (you know, Tory candidate wins on 30% because the Green, Labour and Lib Dem got 23% each, even thought the latter three stood on similar, anti-Tory platforms and together got nearly 70% of the vote).

Chaise/55: Oh, certainly, it’s probably more common in FPTP. But AV’s not immune to it, and indeed, it’s possible to construct elections where FPTP would elect the generally preferred winner and AV wouldn’t. Here’s an example

10 votes: C B D A E
9 votes: B A C D E
9 votes: D E C B A
3 votes: A B C D E
2 votes: E D C B A

FPTP -> C wins
AV: ABCDE = 3,9,10,9,2 (eliminate E)
ABCD = 3,9,10,11 (eliminate A)
BCD = 12,10,11 (eliminate C)
BD = 22,11 (B wins)

But if only B and C were standing, C beats B on 21 of the 33 ballots. (C also beats A on 21/33, D and E on 22/33)

Whether “preferred to any other candidate by 50% of the voters” is a useful property depends on your preferences for voting systems:

10 votes: A C B
9 votes: B C A
2 votes: C A B

C beats A 11-10, and both beat B 12-9. (Under FPTP and AV, A wins). Is it right that C should win then? Depends what you want out of a voting system.

Chaise/55: Tory candidate wins on 30% because the Green, Labour and Lib Dem got 23% each, even thought the latter three stood on similar, anti-Tory platforms and together got nearly 70% of the vote

Oh, I should add: assuming that those 70% are all united in their “anyone but the Tory” feeling, this is the “Condorcet loser” situation I referred to as a strength of AV – the Condorcet loser (the Tory in this case) can’t win.

But what AV doesn’t guarantee is that the Condorcet winner (the candidate, if one exists, who would beat every other candidate in a head-to-head election) is elected, which is the implication of the “50% support” statement.

58. Chaise Guevara

@ CIM

OK, I see what you mean. Still looks to be an improvement, though. Which way are you voting, out of interest? (And if you don’t mind my asking.)

Ah, Sunny showing his political expertise.

You do realise that by linking AV to party politics, Mr Milliband would probably find himself facing a chorus of disapproval and people pointing out that all he can do in a referendum of the nature of British democracy (actually nothing that important, but still) is play petty political tricks.

That would work well – because it would reflect badly on Labour and the Yes campaign, making it look like both put simple political gestures ahead of arguments and principals. It would also leave Mr Milliband open to attacks on the line of being the heir to Mr Brown, a man who in popular imagiantion (and bluntly, probably in fact) loved this sort of political gimmick over real argument.

Above all, it would end up with the possibility of this coming down to a head-to-head between Mr Cameron and Mr Milliband, and whilst they may normally be quite well matched, trying to argue the complexity of the new system against the negative simplicity of the No campaign’s key arguments (try snappily getting round the ‘it gives people multiple votes’ line) would make that an unfair contest.

And bluntly, Mr Cameron is a very good political operator, but he is sitting out this contest. Do you really want to bring a relatively popular Prime Minister, with the ability to make very good speeches and sound bites, into the contest as a political trick. If so, good luck, but I would give you good odds that it will go horribly wrong.

Chaise/58: Oh, I’ll definitely be voting Yes. AV might only be an incremental improvement over FPTP, but it’s still an improvement, and in the context of UK Parliamentary elections, it’s probably the best non-proportional system available.

61. Chaise Guevara

@ 60

We are of one mind, then!

@54/cim:

You’re right that AV is not perfect. As you’re aware, Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem implies that no conventional voting system is perfect on a set of reasonable criteria, which includes ‘monotonicity’. Your example should remind us that ALL voting systems contain paradoxes.

However, I’m perfectly happy with the definition of ‘represented by’ as ‘gave a preference for’. I would never give a transfer preference to any candidate who I didn’t think capable of adequately representing my views in parliament and I very much doubt that anyone else would either. So I hold to the view that AV does provide proper representation to the majority. In practice it will be much more than the 50% minimum threshold, despite some ballots being discarded.

@ 51/Galen10:

I agree that equalising constituency sizes is a fair objective but disagree about reducing the number of MPs. The latter is plainly anti-democratic. We need more, not fewer, MPs.

It’s also true that current boundaries favour Labour unfairly, although not as much as some would say, since non-registration is a greater problem in poorer inner-city constituencies (the ‘electorate’ should include all who are eligible to vote). Gerrymandering is inevitable under FPTP, when one party holds power for a decade. It is much harder (though not impossible) to gerrymander boundaries under AV, which is another reason to favour it.

no conventional voting system is perfect on a set of reasonable criteria

Hmm… I think that the criterion usually expressed as “Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives” may be flawed, given that it isn’t necessarily true of just one voter. And Range Voting does meet all of Arrow’s criteria, and while it’s not a voting system in the sense of Arrow’s Theorem – it’s hardly “unconventional” either.

I would never give a transfer preference to any candidate who I didn’t think capable of adequately representing my views in parliament

I would. Mathematically, if your vote runs out of usable preferences, that’s equivalent to it being split equally between all the remaining candidates (due to the quota reduction). I’d quite happily give a preference to a candidate I didn’t particularly want (after I’d run out of candidates I wanted, of course) to keep bits of my vote out of the hands of the BNP, for instance.

Conversely, if you’re right, and people generally stop giving transfer preferences, the “50% support” goes from “50% of voters” to “50% of voters who expressed a preference for at least one final-round candidate” (in rough simulations, I think this could get down to 40% of voters in marginal seats)

It’s also true that current boundaries favour Labour unfairly, although not as much as some would say, since non-registration is a greater problem in poorer inner-city constituencies (the ‘electorate’ should include all who are eligible to vote).

I’ve never understood this argument, in the sense of “if the people aren’t motivated to vote, perhaps they aren’t sufficiently interested in what’s on offer.”

@63/cim:

This has gone off on a major tangent, but it’s enlightening, so let’s continue :). Range Voting does satisfy Arrow’s criteria, but not the Condorcet criteria. There is no perfect method, since any system which satisfies IIA is not a Condorcet method, although (as you say) IIA may not be a good condition to impose. Then again, there are those who don’t think monotonicity matters much, either.

Ultimately, you just have to decide what matters most to you in a voting system and learn to live with the inevitable imperfections. I would prefer STV with multi-member constituencies, but that’s even less monotonic than AV.

I think on the question of ranking all candidates, it might depend on the specifics of the situation. If the BNP were likely to win, I’d vote tactically against them, but in practice I don’t think that would be necessary. One could modify AV to give voters the option to oppose certain candidates, without having to express all preferences.

65/Chris Whitrow: PR systems like multi-member STV have rather different constraints, though – neither IIA nor Condorcet are desirable properties for them, and I’m not sure monotonicity is necessarily as important either.

When you don’t have to pick the single best candidate, the whole meaning of a voter-satisfying result changes.

(And yes, PR – any sort, except closed List – would be ideal for the UK)

On ranking … where I currently live, the chances of any preference beyond my second actually being used is pretty low. On the other hand, what harm does it do to rank fully? If one of the candidates I actually want makes it to the final round, then the fact that I’ve given (worse) preferences for candidates I don’t want is irrelevant: they’ll never be counted. On the other hand, if all the candidates I want (assuming, indeed, that there are any – in the last general election it was more “candidates I could just about cope with”) get knocked out in earlier rounds, having some influence over later rounds seems useful. Other than the false equation of giving a preference with absolute support (as opposed to relative support), what’s the reason not to do it?

@66/cim:

There are two difficulties with ranking all candidates, as I see it:

1) It leads people to make choices which may be uninformed. Do I rank the Revolutionary Socialists above the Socialist Revolutionaries, or vice versa? Do I prefer either of them to the Judaean Popular Front? Do I care? Aaargh! I don’t know. Get me out of this voting booth!

2) It would increase the practical likelihood of problems such as monotonicity violation, I believe, even without the influence of uninformed voting. This seems hard to prove, and I haven’t examined the question in detail, but it does seem intuitively likely that having more transfer possibilities increases the number of non-monotonic ways of distributing those ballots (especially if some preferences are essentially random).

For these reasons, I would recommend limiting the number of preferences to those candidates to whom one can give ‘affirmative support’ (although one might quibble over what that means and it will depend on context). Since AV never elects the Condorcet loser, I’m not too worried about the BNP (in most cases they are the Condorcet losers!).

Still, it is possible to modify AV so as to give voters the chance to declare opposition (a negative vote) for one or more candidates on the ballot (e.g. by placing a cross against their name). In this case, when your preferences are exhausted, your ballot is not discarded, but instead transferred to the most popular remaining candidate who isn’t among the candidates you expressly opposed. This would give voters a chance to say ‘anyone but them’, in effect and seems to me a good alternative to exhaustive preferences.

68. Matthew Bond

AV’d be the pits. Remember feeling sick when Gordon said I agree with Nick.

AV offers no gain in representativeness, is a gift to opportunistic politicians, shifts influence to politically aware (any social gradients in political awareness?), could produce more coalitions (danger of elite bargains replacing party manifestos), reduce competition (Tories and Labour ingratiating themselves with Lib Dem bigwigs) and grant Clegg exaggerated awards (Lib Dem rent seeking).
In lay wo/man’s terms it could have unpredictable and undesirable side effects. Not worth the risk.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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    RT @libcon How Ed Miliband could win the AV vote for Labour http://bit.ly/i3WU18 <- @sunny_hundal has nailed it.

  2. sunny hundal

    RT @jamesrbuk: RT @libcon How Ed Miliband could win the AV vote for Labour http://bit.ly/i3WU18 <- @sunny_hundal has nailed it.

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    RT @libcon: How Ed Miliband could win the #AV vote for Labour http://bit.ly/i3WU18 #yestoAV #fairvotes #yestofairvotes

  4. George Gabriel

    RT @libcon: How Ed Miliband could win the AV vote for Labour http://bit.ly/i3WU18

  5. Gods & Monsters

    RT @jamesrbuk: RT @libcon How Ed Miliband could win the AV vote for Labour http://bit.ly/i3WU18 <- @sunny_hundal has nailed it.

  6. Chris Boyle

    RT @jamesrbuk: RT @libcon How Ed Miliband could win the AV vote for Labour http://bit.ly/i3WU18 <- @sunny_hundal has nailed it.

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    .@Ed_Miliband could win AV by telling Labour supporters to vote Yes as a referendum on Cameron http://bit.ly/i3WU18 (from earlier)

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    Things you thought you'd never type. Must read from Sunny on AV strategy http://tinyurl.com/62sxuf3

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    RT @DPJHodges: Things you thought you'd never type. Must read from Sunny on AV strategy http://tinyurl.com/62sxuf3

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