To AV or AV-not

On 5th May the UK shall be voting on the topic of whether we should change our electoral process from the mis-named First Past the Post (FPTP) system, to the Alternative Vote (AV) system. There’s been quite a bit of discussion on the subject already, but I thought I’d add my 2p.

There have been many myths spread by the FPTP camp. Rather than debunk these all here, I refer you instead to the “Yes To Fairer Votes” AV Myths site. I have however discussed a few of them below.

In shall be voting in favour of AV in the election, and I hope that you the reader shall do so also. If you’re undecided, maybe the below points will help you make your mind up.

Is AV less fair than FPTP?
In 1951 the Conservatives won a 26 seat majority with 230,000 fewer votes than Labour. In the 1983 general election, Labour got 269 seats with 8.46 million votes, whereas the Liberals & SDP only got 23 seats with 7.78 million. Bizarre results such as these are rather common for the FPTP system. I don’t see any way that AV could be less fair than FPTP…

How confusing is AV?
Rank the candidates in order of preference. Don’t include anyone you don’t want to vote for.
There, how complicated is that? Yes, the actual way the votes are counted is a little complicated, but actually how relevant is that to the average voter. And the decision on how to vote is actually simpler – no need to consider tactical voting or the like.

How much extra will AV cost?
Elections are an expensive business. According to the MoJ, running the 2005 election cost around £80m. Will AV be more expensive? Yes. Much more? No. The counting process will be slightly more complex, and hence take longer, and cost more. However, the primary costs for an election aren’t the count itself, but all the advertising, ballot paper printing, and so on. So the cost won’t be much more, even if the voting takes 2 or 3 times as long. There’s also no need for electronic voting machines and the like, that’s a complete fiction.

Will AV produce results more accurately reflect the views of voters
Say you’re generally left leaning, and are especially concerned with green issues. You may prefer the policies of the Greens, but won’t vote for them because it’s unlikely they’ll get in. But you definitely don’t like the Conservatives. Under FPTP you’d probably end up voting for Labour, as the least bad option who actually has a chance. Under AV you’d probably vote for 1) Green, 2) Lib Dem, 3) Labour. The result – under AV you’re more likely to get a candidate who more closely resembles your views, which is surely a good thing…

Will AV lead to <extremist party> getting elected?
It depends. If a lot of people vote for them, then yes. As it should be. But only if they gain 50% of votes, which I would argue is much less likely than their getting than, for example, the ~35% needed to get elected in Aberconwy in 2010… So overall I would suggest that AV makes real extremist parties getting a vote much less likely than FPTP.

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2 thoughts on “To AV or AV-not

  1. After a quick skim through recent election results I’ve found that, under AV, there wouldn’t have been a majority government since the 1930’s. Do you think that AV will push the share of the vote toward or away from majority governments? and do you think coalition government is good for the country?

    • Unfortunately there’s no way to come to the conclusion you made above. We don’t know what people’s 2nd choice votes would have been, and so cannot determine who would have come in. How did you come to your conclusion?

      That said, I do think that there will be a slight trending away from majority governments, especially when there’s no one party who stands out as good. Think of the 1997 election, when Labour won with a landslide – it’s actually possible that it would have been even more of a landslide under AV. However, look at the 1992 election – no one wanted the Conservatives especially, but Labour and Lib Dems were even less appetising. I think AV would have made a coalition more likely there.

      As for whether coalitions are good or not, that’s a hard call. I think coalition governments are less likely to tend to the extremes we sometimes see in majority governments – for example if Labour had been in a coalition rather than a majority for the previous decade, then I don’t think we would have seen as much out-of-control spending at the end, or legislation adversely affecting civil rights and privacy. I firmly believe that if the Lib Dems were not in the current coalition, the scope and scale of cuts would be much greater. So in those areas, a coalition makes sense. That said, there are bad examples of coalitions, such as Belgium at the moment. I don’t think the UK would have the same scale of problems as Belgium though, as our parties aren’t actually that far apart from each other on a lot of fronts, as compared to the Belgian example where many are diametrically opposed and unwilling to negotiate.

      So in summary, I think that:-
      1) It’s impossible to tell what would have happened at previous elections, but it is likely that some majorities would have been even larger, and in some cases there would have been a few extra coalitions,
      2) Coalitions are more likely to be a force for good, than for bad, in the UK

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