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Considering AV
Frogmarch 2002 - Whitby
When the campaigns started a few weeks ago for the AV referendum, I didn’t have a strong view. I vaguely felt that FPTP worked ok, that AV probably wouldn’t make much difference, and that I was glad PR wasn’t an option.

Over the course of the campaign my opinion has hardened, not so much from what the “No to AV” campaign has been saying, or from any love for FPTP, but rather from how I’ve disagreed with much of what the “Yes to AV” campaign has had to say.

My thinking is that parliamentary elections serve two distinct purposes: firstly, for a constituency to select an honest member, true to their beliefs, who will best represent the views of their constituents in parliament, and secondly, for a government to be formed that best represents the will of the country, with a clear mandate to implement a manifesto. This definite statement of policy matters in Westminster elections, where the government has tax-raising and borrowing powers that other elected bodies in the UK don’t have. (When a parliament, assembly, or council merely has spending powers, then I see less need for the clarity of single-party rule.)

I don’t think AV would help achieve these goals. It is claimed that AV would encourage politicians to “work harder” to appeal to all their constituents; I think this means that politics will become even more of a game of presentation, as candidates hide their true nature behind a centrist veneer, and modify their policies to suit their audience. AV will present a more slightly more complex voting process, and significantly more complex counting process; both of which will serve to disengage the electoral from politics. AV will encourage tactical voting, based on party choices rather than individual candidates. I think that there is something deeply unsound about the distribution of second preference votes starting with the least-popular candidates. And AV is viewed by many of its proponents as merely a stepping-stone towards PR, which I believe would do terrible things to the public’s engagement with politics.

(My solution to fixing our electoral system would be to keep FPTP, but to take the party names and slogans off the ballot papers. Let the electorate choose their MP from a list of names and photos. Let voters choose who they want to represent them, rather than which party they prefer. Can’t help thinking that politics would be cleaner and more positive if we diminished the role of parties at the local level.)
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Agree 100% with your last paragraph, the partisanshipanisation (what's the right word anyway?) of choosing representatives of the people shouldn't be based on what club someone paid their membership to but what their propositions and ideas can do to increase the welfare of their voters. I would also like to see more "we've identified problems x, y and z, and this is what we propose to solve it" rather than "the other guy has messed up and here's how we're better and we'll fix it all" (the second part being sometimes optional). This "we're better than the other camp because they've made a mess" is really doing my head in.

Anyway, the main reason I like AV is because right now in FPTP you don't get to say who you _don't_ want elected, and I think that should be an essential part of the democratic process too. I'm not sure how it's counted here, but in French elections when you give a blank vote (ie, an empty envelope) it's not counted towards the final count. So you could have potentially over 50% of the people who bothered turning up to the booth to say I don't like either/any choice and their vote would count for nothing, which I don't find fair and democratic at all.

Also, right now I'm having issues picking a candidate for my constituency. Despite what I said above, I do have a preferred party but it's not represented in the 4 candidates you have to pick for your local MSP so being able to say X would be my first choice but I guess Y would be ok too, though I really don't want Z, in this instance would be helpful for me.

I like the word "partisanshipanisation" - well coined!

Bear in mind that in most constituencies AV wouldn't work down to the final preferences, so which candidates you don't vote for won't make much difference.

We've always had a mechanism in the UK for registering a vote for no candidate. If you 'spoil' your ballot paper (i.e. don't make a valid vote), these are counted and listed separately in the results.

Back in the old days the party names and slogans were not on the ballot papers.

It meant you had to pay attention at voting time and a political ostrich like me had to work harder. Which, now I'm older and wiser (no laughing at the back there), I know is a good thing.

Pay attention? Yes, you should pay attention! And work hard for your vote!

People fought and died to gain the vote. It shouldn't be too easy...!

Why are you shouting at me? Did I say something you disagree with?

No I didn't think so...

If I were shouting, it would be IN CAPITAL LETTERS!

I think I was agreeing, but with exclamation marks...

Oh you auto-puntuationalist you.

I'm slightly amused when you say AV will encourage tactical voting. At present I'm in labour heartland, so my vote is pretty irrelevant anyway, but say it wasn't- I'd have to choose between Liberal, Tory, Green (Not that they stood here last time), BNP or UKIP (Both of whom did). Now, only the liberals stood the slightest remote chance of beating labour (and it was pretty absurdly remote, even last election). Does that compell me to vote liberal, if I want rid of Kevin Jones? At present, yes it does.

AV would give me the option of saying, "Well, I _really_ don't want the BNP to win, so they can go last, and the UKIP just in front of them. My views are such that I'd like to vote Green, but after that Liberal Labour and Tory in that order". That neatly describes my view, and lets my vote be accurately taken into account. I dislike Kevin Jones, but I disliked the UKIP, Tory and BNP candidates even more.

Exactly. Apparently something like 30% of people voted tactically at the last election. AV would allow them to vote for the party they actually want, and then fall back to the party that's better than the party they want to keep out of power.

Or the electorate could just vote for the candidate their want. They could skip their attempt to game the system by voting tactically.

I hate the idea of voting negatively, to keep a party out, as opposed to voting positively, to put a candidate in. And I dislike the idea of voting purely on party lines (although I am often filled with a considerable anti-Labour feeling!).

They could, but they won't. And given a voting system of UKIP 40%, BNP 40%, Lib Dem 20%, you'd have me voting UKIP, much though I dislike them, because the thought of a BNP government would terrify me.

People vote for a variety of reasons - and a large part of that for many people is to influence the government which gets elected. Many people view a vote for a party that has no chance as a waste, and it puts a lot of people off of politics and voting in general.

Plus, of course, there are many candidates I kind of want. There's no one "right" candidate for many people - there are candidates that they prefer in different ways. Giving people the chance to express that, rather than picking one strikes me as sensible.

But we don't have UKIP and BNP as our big parties; instead we have three main parties that have moved closer and closer in recent years. At a distance, the Tories, Lib Dems, and Labour, look quite similar, inhabiting a political centre-ground, with policies on taxation and spending only varying by a few percentage points.

I don't think a change to AV would do anything to change this; indeed, the suggested need for candidates to work harder to appeal across the electorate might accelerate this move towards the centre.

I'd prefer a genuine distinction between our parties, particularly on economic matters. Only the crackpot socialist parties (BNP, Greens) are breaking away from the received wisdom on taxation. We ought to have more choice across the political spectrum.

As you're in a safe seat, AV wouldn't make any difference. At the last three elections, in the North Durham constituency Kevan Jones polled 67.2%, 64.1%, and most recently, 50.5% of the vote (with the Tories second, and the LibDems third, both on about 21%).

In all three elections, AV wouldn't have progressed to second preferences, so anything beyond your first preference would a waste of effort.

Anything at all would be a huge waste of time. I did say :P

But the argument, I think, is still valid. Say Kevan Jones polled 45%. I think my first vote wouldn't be for either of the other two 'main parties' under AV, but _would_ be under FPTP, since it'd be the only way to get rid of him. Similarly, I suspect if the Lib Dems were significantly ahead, and there was a chance of unseating him, the Tories would probably vote tactically. FPTP makes it more likely, not less.

If we take the results from 2010, but assume that Jones only polled 45%, the first couple of rounds of preferences probably wouldn't allow him to reach 50%. I'm imagine that UKIP voters' second preferences are likely to be Tory, and BNP voters will go for Labour (as research suggests that many BNP voters are disaffected former Labour voters).

Then it would be down the the LibDem voters' second preferences. I can't imagine that there is any way they could propel the Tory candidate to winning, so Jones would win again, but after a lot more effort in voting and counting than FPTP.

I think AV would only have an impact on results wherethere are two (or more) leading candidates with similarly levels of vote.

Or when the vote of one side is split. Say....

Labour 30%
Tory 25%
Lib Dem 12%
UKIP 15%
BNP 8%
Independant Unionist 5%
League of British Fascists 5%

So, the Fascists get eliminated in the first round (yay!), and we'll say their 2nd preference go to the BNP, with a 3rd preference to Tory when BNP get eliminated in the 3rd round

The unionists will also drain to the Tories (eventually).

Assume the BNP slip 3:1 to labour, and UKIP all to the Tories and after the lower votes are eliminated, down to the big 3, we end up with

Labour 36%
Tory 52%
Lib Dem 12%

A clear right-wing feeling in the constituency is respected by AV, but not by FPTP, which would elect Labour.

Where's the 'like' button ? ;)

We totally disagree on the relative merits of PR and FPTP, so I won't go there.

However, I think you may have a slightly rosy view of the value of voting for a person rather than a party. Having grown up in Argyll where "independents" are still the major force in local politics, if not at the national level, I know that voters can find the lack of information about what a candidate's likely to support frustrating, and often feel betrayed by those they've voted in. Party labels may be a caricature, but in practice they seem to be a reasonable indication of what you're going to get (especially with the regrettable lack of candidates willing to vote against their party on individual issues - yes, that is me having my cake and eating it ;-).

I broadly agree; I understand all the benefits of political parties, the need for a common message to be presented at national level, and for manifestos to give voters an idea of what kind of government could result from their local choice.

However, apart from perhaps on budgets, I desperately want more MPs to vote against their parties. I want parliament to be divided on the issues, not on party lines. I heartily dislike the idea of whipped votes.

So yes, candidates as members of a political party, but the party should be the sum of the members, as opposed to controlling the members.

I totally agree with this. And given the chance to produce a voting system that supported this more (like STV) I'd be on it like a shot. Sadly, we're not being offered that.

I haven't looked at STV closely enough to have formed an opinion on it. I tried reading the Wikipedia page on it, but I'm not awake enough to take it in, sitting in a warm office in sunny Dundee, waiting for the weekend to start.

STV has multi-member constituencies. You vote preferentially, and you vote for the people you want, in the order you want them.

So in a four-member seat there would be a variety of people standing: four (usually) Conservatives, four Labour, four Lib-Dem, and probably less of the other parties. I would then choose the individuals in the order I wanted them. So I could look at voting records and choose two Lib-Dem people I liked, a Labour member with a strong civil-liberties standing, then another Lib-Dem person, etc, etc,. They're then elected in a very similar manner to the way AV works (if anyone had more than 20% of the vote they'd be elected, if not someone would be eliminated and their votes redistributed, extra votes for an elected member would also be redistributed).

This removes some power from the parties, as you choose which of the members to support, while also allowing a measure of proportionality.

It's how elections are carried out for Northern Ireland's assembly, and for Scottish councils.

Ah, that makes sense.

I don’t think I approve of multi-member constituencies. The electorate becomes disengaged from politics when they don’t have ownership of a single elected representative. From my experience — and my Very Scientific poll — I don’t people feel much connection to any of the councillors, MSPs, or MEPs that they elect through forms of PR.

And I’m not convinced that STV would remove power from the parties. I reckon most people would respond to an STV poll at the party level. With a choice of tens of candidates to choose from, voters wouldn’t be able to make an informed choice (it’s hard enough to remember anything distinguishing about the candidates with the handful standing in a typical Westminster seat).

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