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Taking a broader perspective…

#No2AV meltdown…

Councillor Dr. Rupert Read. Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

The #No2AV campaign appear to be having a bit of a crisis… 

Last week they published a list of 114 Labour MPs.  Within a matter of hours it emerged that at least one MP on the list had not given them his consent. By yesterday, the count was up to 5.

it turns out that Barry Sheerman MP, far from being a No supporter, is an outspoken Yes campaigner. 

This of course comes after they wrongly declared that Michael Gove was a supporter.

They do seem to be in a mess about this. While yestofairervotes.org are, it seems to me, going from strength to strength!

Maybe the problem is in part that the No campaign are in fact run by a bunch of right-wing nasties from the Tax-Payers Alliance and the Tories. Maybe that is why they have no accurate idea about what is going on inside Parties such as Labour and the Greens in terms of AV, and why they therefore not-infrequently, deliberately or as a result of cock-ups (as seems to be the case in this case), spread misinformation about the matter…

Filed under: Electoral Reform, Green Party, Labour, , , ,

AV Myth-Busting….

By

Darrell Goodliffe who is calling for a ‘No’ vote in the upcoming AV referendum.

and

Jane Watkinson who takes a position of apathy when it comes to the AV referendum – instead, Jane favours a PR campaign in rejection of absolutist politics – for more, see here.

AV eliminates tactical voting…

A variation on this myth is that it creates a new ‘positive’ kind of tactical voting – something which we will deal with in a moment. However, this is one of the most irritating myths because it can only conceivably be argued by people who have never taken part in an election under AV. If tactical voting is ‘eliminated’ why, in the recent general election campaign, did Australian Greens dedicate a whole section of their website to how to vote tactically to achieve different outcomes?

Let’s look at an actual AV election and see if this is true.

The current battle for the Labour leadership is one such election and the first point is that the tactical battle may change territory but it does not vanish. If you’re a candidate or party in an AV election and you know you cannot win on first preferences then the immediate battle shifts to the second preferences, not of the front-runner (as they are unlikely to be eliminated), but of those likely to be eliminated. Thus, both the leading campaigns in the leadership election have focused, especially in the latter stages, on those who are voting for Diane Abbott, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham as their first choice.

While it is right to say that ‘crushing extremist parties’ must never be the focus of how we design our electoral system we can see quite clearly what happens if we have an AV system in a marginal seat. None of the contenders in a marginal is likely to win the required 50% in the first round so the voters who have put a smaller party first become the new ‘swing vote’ in that seat. Supporters of AV say that it would demand a focus on a broader spectrum of the electorate but as we can see this is simply not true given that the total number of voters for smaller parties is hardly likely to be greater than the ‘swing vote’ . Rather than focus on a broader spectrum of the voting population it simply shifts the focus to the voters for UKIP, the Greens, the BNP etc, etc as the likely kingmakers in marginal seats.

While progressives may have little problem with Green voters having more influence, while not wanting to deny UKIP and BNP voters their voice, they may have problems with racism and anti-immigration becoming even more necessary political currency for the mainstream parties. So, we see the notion that tactical voting under AV is more ‘positive’ is complete and utter rubbish. If anything, it is actually more negative than under First Past the Post because some voices become magnified beyond their actual social weight – what is fair and democratic about that and how is giving BNP voters through their second preferences more power a more ‘positive’ development than chasing after ‘swing voters’ who normally oscillate between the major parties?

The AV Referendum is a separate issue to boundary reform…

This argument stands-up….until you stumble over the tricky fact they are part of the same Bill in Parliament. If the Liberal Democrats had been a decent and principled party, they may well have separated the two concerns, but since they are not we are left with this stark fact; they are not a separate issue. If the AV referendum falls then it would be quite legitimate and proper for the opposition to then insist that the government’s mandate to carry out the boundary review simply doesn’t exist and insist the whole Bill be reconsidered by Parliament.

Of course, this might not be what happens but the fact that the failure of the AV part of the Bill at least opens the door to challenge the legitimacy of the boundary review is not something that can be ignored.

Wasted Votes

Let’s just start with the basic premise that there is no such thing as a wasted vote, in principle. Everyone has the right to vote and for it to reflect their values. But for this to matter, there is clearly the need for a PR system. However, the pro AV campaign has indoctrinated the argument that somehow AV will eliminate the wasted vote problem. For example, in the Green Party motion passed at conference, it stated:

Furthermore AV has the additional benefits of removing the ‘wasted vote’ argument

With a system that is little better than the existing system, it is rather irritating to see pro-electoral reformers using these factually incorrect arguments.

It would do us well to remind ourselves of what Roy Jenkins said about AV:

AV on its own suffers from a stark objection. It offers little prospect of a move towards greater proportionality, and in some circumstances, and those the ones which certainly prevailed at the last election and may well do so for at least the next one, it is even less proportional that FPTP…In particular, there would still be large tracts of the country which would be electoral deserts for major parties. Conservative voters in Scotland, for example, might only hope to influence the result through their second choice…

And that isn’t evidence for the continuance of wasted votes then?

You see, if the left and progressives such as the Green party, support notions such as wasted votes will be removed – well this will only damage the case for future reform. AV does not eradicate safe seats, and so if safe seats still exist there are still wasted votes. It might reduce wasted votes, by creating a 50% threshold – but, it doesn’t eradicate. There is an issue with the factually incorrect basis this motion passed through conference on, and the way in which the PR electoral reform bodies are lapping it up as though it is the best thing since sliced bread.

And now comes the contradiction….

Extremism and voting behaviour…

… we are told that on the one hand there will be no more wasted votes, but on the other – the BNP and other extremist parties will be eradicated. Well excuse me, for one, as Jane has written about before, you don’t design an electoral system to wipe out views you don’t like – even if they are vile. Secondly, do people who vote for the BNP not matter? Do their votes mean so little that the fact they vote for the BNP and the electoral system makes it harder for them to be selected, that it isn’t constituted as being a wasted vote? Because for us, there is a contradiction. You can’t say that there will be no wasted votes, and then argue that it will stop parties like the BNP from being elected.

We attended a fringe event at the Green conference, where an Electoral Reform representative talked up AV and emphasised how important it is to take into account the way in which AV will change the mentality of the voters. This is slightly true, but not as significant as some people are making out. I mean, Darrell has been taking part in the Labour leadership phone canvassing, and the amount of times people have been voting for David and Ed Miliband as either one of their top two preferences beggars belief. It’s a two hours race, and the AV electoral system doesn’t do anything to change that view – again, further evidence that the wasted vote problem does not disappear.

Then comes another contradiction…

In another bid to attract those who rightfully detest the BNP, apparently everyone else’s views except the BNP will change under the new electoral system. Apparently, the BNP voters will not have any second or third preferences etc – so there is no need to worry about them influencing the election results, and so no need to worry about these voters having the most influence, the voters who are most likely to be part of more extremist movements.

Again, a key argument for PR reform – that the system is fair and represents what people vote for is undermined, as people get stuck in short termist politics talking up the benefits of the AV as though it is a saviour of our kind that parties such as the BNP will be undermined. Another interesting point is that in the last election, the Greens actually got fewer votes than the BNP. That’s not something we highlight kindly, but the Greens have no right to talk about destroying and eradicating a party that actually got more votes.

Let’s also remember that the BNP may equally influence the main three parties, well particular Labour, to change their stance towards immigration or other controversial issues, so as not to lose certain voters. We witnessed this last election, where Labour played up to the BNP and got the debate wrong when it came to immigration. Therefore, the pro AV can say that AV removes the BNP all they want, but again, the facts don’t support this self-interested claim.

Future for reform…

In a rather insulting manner, Jane received a recent blog comment remarking on how her apathy towards AV is like voting against advancements towards women’s suffrage:

In 1918, when the franchise was partially extended to women, do you think pro-equal rights MPs should have (instead of voting for the measure) voted it down because it wasn’t a full extension of voting rights? If they hadn’t had voted for an interim measure in 1918, we might not then have had another extension in 1928. The history of voting rights, and increased democracy, is one of incremental steps. That’s why it’s called reform. But no. You want to fuck all the reforms and call for a revolution. It figures for someone who aligns with the Green Left socialist nutters and Derek Wall. Carry on smoking whatever shit it is you’re smoking, because you will do no good to anyone

Now this is probably one of the most factually incorrect arguments that we have seen. I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognise the difference. This was a historically moment, for the first time some women were able to vote – even if not all, it was an amazing step in the right direction. In many ways, AV is the step in the wrong direction. It is unhelpful and does little to further the case for reform. It will act as a stalemate, and it will be very unlikely that there is another vote on electoral systems for some time. Furthermore, there was a movement fully engrained within civil society forcefully carrying through change re women’s suffrage; now we have seen the AV vote split electoral reformers – it is a totally different ball game and insulting to think otherwise.

In conclusion, we have demonstrated the problems with the ‘AV Myths’ that are increaseingly being peddled by the pro-AV camp in its efforts to convince itself as much as other people of the worthiness of a system that was even described by Nick Clegg as a ‘miserable little compromise’. Given the flawed nature of this referendum and the choices it presents the electorate with it is likely that it will fail and will drag down with it the cause of electoral reform for generations to come….

Filed under: Electoral Reform, , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t be a dinosaur: Get on board in the battle for AV

By Rupert Read

Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

As the person who broke the news nationally that the AV referendum will be on the first Thursday in May, next year, it is obvious that this is something that I have been taking a close personal interest in. But ALL of us on the Left in British politics should take a great interest in AV – for it will be the defining political issue of the next year. And for good reason.

The battle-lines are already being drawn – it is clear that there will be lots of unpleasant money behind the campaign to stop change, and to retain the status quo. Beside the predictable nonsense from these wreckers, some of ‘the forces of conservatism’ are also (rightly) pointing out some problems with the government’s plans – such as the reduction in seat-numbers, which is liable to be anti-democratic, especially in a country whose population is continuing to rise. But it is important to be clear that, when it actually comes to the referendum, those problems will no longer be relevant. Parliament will decide them one way or another; and the issue that goes to the people to decide on May 5 2011 will be simply whether to stick with FPTP or to change to AV. That therefore is the main issue that ought to pre-occupy those concerned with the state of democracy in Britain – and, for us on the Left, that means of course that we would actually like to have some democracy, rather than just the glorified plutocracy that we presently have. AV brings us a little closer to the people ruling.

So that is the question on which each of us has to decide: Which side are you on. AV, or FPTP?

There are those who take themselves to be radicals / lefties who oppose AV on the grounds of purism: on the grounds that it is not PR. One such is Derek Wall, former Male Principal Speaker of the Green Party (see here).

So, in terms of Parties: on the No side are the Conservative Party and Labour tribalists, and maybe some Greens (if the opposition to AV of Derek et al continues). On the Yes side are the Liberal Democrats, Labour pluralists (including Compass, the Millibands and Diane Abbott) and certainly some Greens (see here).

The Green Party will make its decision on where it stands at our Autumn Conference. We are a small Party, but it could be an important decision. For, while the LibDems and Labour lost seats at this General Election, the Green Party entered Westminster for the first time. There is some momentum behind us, and a lot of respect for our Leader, Caroline Lucas MP.

It seems to me that it would be extremely unfortunate if there were to be a group of ‘PR purists’ opposing AV on the grounds that it isn’t radical enough. The grave danger is that, by dissing AV, such people will give respectable ‘cover’ to those implacably opposed to any reform of our electoral system. Those who will benefit from such ‘purism’ will be Labour tribalists represented by the likes of Prescott, Burnham and Balls, and (above all) the Tories. It is the Right that will benefit, if AV is defeated.

That is why several senior elected Greens will be putting the case (in a motion that I have proposed for consideration at our September Party Conference) for supporting AV in the referendum. AV eliminates the wasted vote argument, it largely eliminates tactical voting, it drastically reduces the number of safe seats. It allows the electorate to express their preferences and thus potentially speeds up the process of Parliamentary change at a time when Parliament desperately needs to be ready to respond rapidly to environmental degradation and financial (and social) crisis. And it is a start. It is a significant step in the right direction.

To stand in the way of it when the referendum comes will only benefit those such as Lord Ashcroft who are going to put their considerable resources behind the campaign to preserve the present system that has served them so well…

Let me explain then in a little more detail the crucial point about how AV will help renew Parliament, and take us that bit closer toward our goal: democracy. Here’s how:

  • AV would drastically reduce the number of safe seats in this country, because all those MPs who get a plurality and not a majority of votes (that’s almost all MPs) would now have to worry about everyone’s 2nd preferences.
  • It would be much easier for voters to ‘gang up’ against the incumbent, if they wanted to.
  • In the expenses scandal, the worst offenders were virtually all MPs with safe seats. Because THEY DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT THE VOTERS THINK, so they thought they could afford to break the rules – and, in many cases, they have been proven right.
  • AV would be a genuine political reform. Not as good as PR, but, as I say, a real start. AV would enable we the people to punish politicians who abused their positions.

Moroever, the laughable nonsense in the media recently from YouGov, the BBC and others about how the election just gone by would have been different under AV ignores the most important feature of AV, visible clearly in the Australian system: that AV changes how people vote ON FIRST PREFERENCES too. In Australia, Green 1st preferences have increased markedly under AV. This has over time facilitated Greens getting enough votes to win, in the Senate. AV will enable small Parties, such as the Greens, Respect, etc., to advance. It could facilitate a positive realignment on the Left (See my relevant piece here.)

To conclude. The fundamental fact now is: there is going to be an AV referendum. You need to decide which side you are on, in it. It is crystal clear that defeat for AV will be perceived as defeat for electoral reform and thus as a vote for the status quo; whereas success for AV will eliminate the wasted vote argument and eliminate most tactical voting. This will be great for smaller Parties, and thus for democracy. The Green Party would probably have won Norwich South (where I live) this time, with AV as the system. AV allows people to express their 1st preference for us, or for other left-Parties: the strait-jacket of Labourism can be broken (and forward-looking Labour people such as Neal Lawson, Ed Miliband, Diane Abbot, understand that this can be a good thing for the Left, and even for Labour).

If you are on the Left, then get on board, in the campaign to change Westminster voting forever, by what (if we achieve it, against the odds) will be a historic achievement indeed: winning in the AV referendum.

Filed under: Electoral Reform, , , , , , , , , , ,

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