Sunday, 20 February 2011

AV: Rock and a Hard Place

Yesterday's headline of the CamerClegg split on AV was an obvious, but boring, attempt to demonstrate a difference between the two parties, which the Lib Dems desparately need to demonstrate that they are not Tories in the run up to the May elections.

My friend Jim has produced a great take on the Yes and No campaigns so I'm not going to dwell on those, but take a look at the key points made by Cameron and Clegg, with my comments in red:

Mr C. v1:
* The Alternative Vote (AV) system would lead to unfair election results, with the public's second choice capable of gaining power. Just 22% of the electorate put Blair in power in 2005, and 29% put Cameron in power. Second choice eh?
* The current system allows voters to "turf out" unpopular governments - Gordon Brown could still be prime minister under AV. AV may be more likely to turf out unpopular MPs but there is little evidence to support either point.
* AV is complicated and could be costly to explain and run - and some people's votes are counted more than others. Complicated - are you suggesting that voters are thick, Mr C? Expensive, hardly.
* It will lead to a more bland, boring politics, as voters end up choosing the least controversial candidate. Any chance of some evidence to support this doubtful claim?
* AV encourages negative campaigning, with parties standing outside polling stations telling voters how to rank candidates. Standing outside polling stations telling voters how to vote would break electoral law but could equally happen now and how is putting 1, 2, 3 etc negative?
* AV could mean more hung parliaments and "horse trading" between parties and is not even the preferred system of AV supporters. There are very few AV supporter - most electroal reformists want any of the other systems and in theory coalitions avoid dictatorships...

Mr C. v2:
* The current system breeds corruption and means millions of votes are wasted. Votes are wasted under FPTP and less so under AV but AV won't get rid of corruption.
* Changing to the Alternative Vote (AV) will mean an end to "jobs for life in safe seats". No it won't, safe seats will still be safe seats.
* It will make politics "less tribal" and more open-minded - parties will have to reach out beyond their core vote and broaden their appeal. Based on what analysis?
* It would also mean an end to elections being decided by a few thousand swing voters in marginal seats - and give smaller parties a bigger shout. Again, based on what analysis? Also smaller parties may do worse under AV.
* It is also simple ("as easy as 1,2,3") and fairer - and keeps the link between constituencies and voters and will produce strong, stable governments. It is still not proportional and will still leave the majority of people not represented by someone they want.
* It is not a major change - it would not have altered the outcome of any election since 1983 - but it would mean MPs would have have to work harder for your vote. No, it is a pathetically small change that will make very little difference.

The problem is that the arguments being put forward by both sides are not based on anything substantial. Jim Jepps suggests that people are being asked to choose with the hearts rather than minds and he thinks this is because the arguments are so poor. I'm inclined to agree, but the arguments are poor from both camps because we are being asked to choose between a rock and a hard place. 

The best argument so far has to be from DocRichard: "If AV falls, the idiots will say 'That's settled then. The people have voted for FPTP. End of.' and we will be stuck with FPTP for yet more dreary decades. If AV, for all its pusillanonimity, wins, the FPTP log jam will have been broken. This will be s symbolic change. We can then campaign for its upgrading for AV+, which will mean that the will of the people is represented in Parliament."


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