Tuesday, 4 January 2011

No 2 Av's new leaflet: Lies, Damn Lies and statistics

The new No2Av leaflet is out, and you can check it out here. Time for a bit of fisking...

Learn about the proposals

An education does await, but perhaps not the kind we'd expect...

Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats want Britain to change the way we vote to a method of voting called the ‘Alternative Vote’, sometimes called AV for short.

Good first spin, It's all about Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems, not all of us independent thinkers and reformers who want to move away from a system the IPPR has today described as "broken"

A referendum is planned for May, when we all get to vote whether we agree with him or not.

And the rest of the independent thinking reformers, Labour supporters, even Tory ones!

And we think it is right to be suspicious why the party that is pushing in the change is the Liberal Democrats.

Because it's the first time Lib Dems have had any power for a long while and the Tories and Labour are notorious in their inability to reform parliament and politics without a Telegraph sting attached to it?

We’re all angry about the way some politicians abused our trust with their expenses – but that doesn’t mean that the system for electing them is at fault.

Except the evidence points one way...MPs that have the safest, most incontestable, seats abused expenses the most. Marginality and fear of losing their seat seemed to keep the other MPs a little more honest!

After all, the current system, called ‘First Past the Post’ where the winner is the one that comes first, has stood our country, and many others around the world, in good stead for hundreds of years.

Same could have been said about women not having the vote, homosexuals not having equal rights, or smallpox...can't say I'm unhappy for those long standing afflictions to have disappeared.

At election after election, it has given the country the kind of government it was seeking – the occasional coalition mixed in with plenty of strong governments that reflected the type of leadership the country wanted at the time.

Except we don't know this for sure except during the deepest of our two party politics days. FPTP wasn't a problem when it was only ever "either/or" not, "either/or and perhaps". New political landscapes have brought with it a need for some better and more enlightened thinking. None of which you'll see in this leaflet.


1. It creates strong governments

It can do! As can AV! You see, as I've explained previously it is not the electoral system that creates a government's structure, but how our opinion is dispersed throughout this fine land. That's why FPTP has this time not created a strong government (though in all honesty, as far as weak coalition governments go, this one has been pretty strong on the legislation side, hasn't it?) and why it may well not do again for some time

2. It's simple to understand

So's picking a name out of a hat. Since when has simplicity been a reason to hold back democracy?

3. It excludes extremist parties

No it doesn't. The Greens are pretty extreme (though not in the "bad BNP" sense) and they got a seat under FPTP. Why? Splintering of opinion. Under AV the greens could win that seat again, or the wider view of the constituency could be they really don't want a Green MP and they could lose it. One thing is for certain, parties like the BNP can get in to power with just 30%ish support under FPTP, but would need 50% under AV.

4. It's cheap

See number 2, since when should what can only ever be described as a marginal increase in cost hold back democracy?

5. It's fair

I need to quote the lie here...

One person, one vote – unlike AV, where supporters of minority parties end up getting multiple votes.

In AV you get one vote. It transfers if your candidate is knocked out. Is it counted more than those that don't transfer? NO. It is counted in every round that it exists once, same as every other vote. EVERYONE gets multiple votes, most of them just end up being for the same person in each round which gives the illusion of being counted less.

6. It's the most widely used system in the world

So what? Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world, perhaps we should all be converting? Each country has it's own needs and quirks, and this country is one that is once again starting it's move towards a more representative and fairer political system.

7. It's quick and easy to count

See 2 and 4, since when does how quick you get the result have to hold back democracy?

So there we are, the big 7! Tada! Even if 3 of them are redundant arguments that put logistics and penny counting ahead of the voice of the voter, 1 is an outright lie and 2 apply equally to AV. So.. uh.. the big 1 reason then! "Its popular elsewhere". What an endorsement for FPTP!

But this is but a taste of the leaflet, let's carry on...

AV is not wanted

Even those who want to change the way we vote don’t want AV. Before the general election, Nick Clegg described AV as “a miserable little compromise” and the Electoral Reform Society said they did “not regard it as suitable for the election of a
parliament”. Both Nick Clegg and the ERS now support the AV system and are campaigning for us to support it as well. But we
know they’ll want to change it again in a few years’ time!

So? Clearly the idea of continued reform is too "costly", "complicated" and "time consuming" for the No2Av camp to comprehend being a good thing. The key to all of the above is that the above organisations want a different system, yet they will still take AV over FPTP. Isn't the message here that it's time to move away from FPTP and get some power back to the voters?

AV would have no effect on safe seats

The No2Av camp going completely arse about face on this one. Is it a terrible thing that people elected with majorities straight away get their seat, I'm confused! This is clearly "fight every point against AV, even if it makes no sense from my stance of supporting FPTP!" tactics.

I'll say it again, who the hell wants overwhelmingly popular MPs to not get their seat in parliament?

AV is complex

The Government will have to spend millions of pounds explaining to voters how AV works to prevent a fall in turnout at elections. In Australia, the only reason they have high turnout is because they made voting compulsory

a) Cost shouldn't be a barrier to better democracy, b) You're already sent a letter explaining the process through the post with your polling card, the "cost" is already there every election c) There is no evidence that turnout would fall in the UK, turnout is mostly linked to marginality (or likelihood of a seat to change hands) and that is increased with AV in more constituencies than under FPTP.

The winner should be the winner

There’s a very simple principle in politics and governments – whoever gets the most votes wins.

Same as under AV, yes...it's not thrown away with the bath water you know!

It’s wrong that the person who came second or third can overtake the person with the most votes and be allowed to win because the second and third choices of the little parties are counted again.

They're not, but it's a popular lie I can see will be used throughout the campaign.

Imagine applying the same principle at the Olympic Games and giving the gold medal to the person who came in third!

And the winner of "analogy that doesn't even attempt to be nearly analogous to the situation it's describing" award goes to... No2AV! I mean, what the hell? Seriously? Comparing a system of compromise and collective decision making to a race? Stellar work there Einstein.

Only three other countries use AV

Out of all the countries in the world, only Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Australia use it.

Again... so? Every country to itself on why it uses the system it does.

And Fiji have had enough of AV and are about to ditch it.

They're also currently being lead by a military leader who has previously performed a coup to take down a government that the ethnic Fijians didn't like. I don't want to misrepresent their situation but essentially their voting system changed and a bunch of nationalists kicked off about having people that aren't "real Fijians" rulling over them. Sounds pretty comparable to the UK political system to me!

More coalition governments with the Alternative Vote system

I won't copy out the rest...needless to say that this is a lie today debunked by the IPPR and, indeed, is common sense to see as a lie if you care to think about how coalitions are really formed.

But then the final bit I'm going to take (there's only a little bit more in the leaflet, most of it is pointless repitition mind you...):

The Lib Dems would always be part of a coalition government

They probably would be, but not because of AV. Why? Because this country likes three parties, and the Tories and Labour will NEVER form a coalition as one of them insulted the other's mum or something. Lib Dems are the only party either of the others are willing to sit on to get their policy book in to effect.

Now, I've already said this isn't a problem with the electoral system (FPTP is just as likely to throw up coalitions), but is it even the problem of the Lib Dems that Tories and Labour can't agree to get on for coalition's sake?

Indeed...IS IT A PROBLEM? A government that, under coalition terms, is much more likely to be representative of people's views with the best and biggest of each of their policies enacted in the same time period. What a terror that must be for the majority of the UK; A terror that'll land regardless of whether you vote Yes or No to AV in May all the same.


  1. I love this part of the leaflet particularly: "First Past the Post...has stood our country, and many others around the world, in good stead for hundreds of years."

    From 1688 to 1832, less than 10% of the adult male population of the UK had the right to vote, there were rotten boroughs where you could buy your seat, in 1867 only 32% of the adult male population got the vote, there was no secret ballot till 1872, bribing voters only became illegal in 1883, and it was 1918 till women over the age of 30 and men over the age of 21 got the vote. Women over the age of 28 got the vote ten years later. And it was only in 1949 that university students and business owners stopped having multiple votes!!

    Anyway, enjoyed reading your blog!

  2. Fantastic addition to this, Jonathan, thanks!

  3. Just took out a reference from the response to the 5th "good thing" about FPTP, with apologies as in the context I've written it's clear that it's easy to be duped or confused over how many times votes count until you give it some proper thought.

  4. Great article. A few parts of the NO2AV's new leaflet stands out;
    'The current system creates strong accountable governments and means coalitions are less common, with no horse trading behind the scenes'
    Not like May then, when 5 days of horse trading between the scenes went on under the current system? Compare the number of coalitions in Canada under FPTP compared to the one hung parliament in Australia in 60 years under AV. Hung parliaments happen when enough people vote for a third party; a trend that has increased in this country for a long time and will not change; whatever the outcome of May's Referendum.
    'AV treats fifth or sixth choices as having the same importance as someone else's first preference.' Somewhere else it says 'In the 2010 UK General Election over a third of MP's were elected with more than half of all votes cast.'
    So therefore under AV, only the first preferences of voter's would have been counted in these constituencies, so hardly treating the fifth or sixth preferences as the same as someone else's first preferences.
    Keep up the good work.
    Eamon, Fairer Votes Birmingham


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