19 June 2009

AV Without A Referendum?

Michael Wills at the Justice Department has dropped the biggest hint yet that the government are planning on introducing the Alternative Vote (AV).

He even suggests it could happen before the general election and without a referendum.

AV is such a minor change that it makes sense not to have a referendum. It requires no change of boundaries and does not affect in the slightest any of the so called positives put forward in favour of first-past-the-post (erroneous as most of them are). The 'constituency link' would be the same, it would just mean ranking candidates rather than putting an x and MPs would have to get a preference from a majority of voters rather than just one more vote than any of the other candidates as at present - which can result in an MP most people voted against.

The downside is the Tories will play this as gerrymandering and will get a receptive audience. It would smell of desperation from Labour.

The better option is just to give people a say on a proper proportional system rather than foisting another non-proportional system on the public - even though slightly better than what we currently have.

15 comments:

  1. "The downside is the Tories will play this as gerrymandering and will get a receptive audience. It would smell of desperation from Labour."

    No kidding. If Labour try and feed the public this one then they will end up with a bloody stump.

    Labour has no mandate to change the system. Regardless of the merits of the various systems, any changes will have to wait for a new government to have any chance of going through.

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  2. Falco, what about a referendum at the same time as the next general election.

    You see, I (and millions of others) don't think the 'winners' of the next general election will have a mandate to do anything. They might only get 37-39% of the vote, what sort of mandate is that to change the constitution and do whatever else takes their fancy - like completely redrawing the constituency boundaries for partizan gain (in the Tory manifesto).

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  3. "what sort of mandate is that to change the constitution"

    A damn slight more than the current one has, particularly if they put it in their manifesto. The current lot do not have the authority to pursue any significant changes.

    As for the boundary redrawing, are you refering to removing the over representation of countries other than England? Or is it the fact that due to population drift we will go into the next election with a set up that is significantly to Labours advantage, (as it happens, population drift could favour anyone but Labours been benefiting from this for some time), and needs re-adjusting anyway?

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  4. falco, labour has promised a referendum on pr in every manifesto since 1992. They have the mandate 3 times over to give us that referendum. Yes, the boundaries favour labour, but they do not discriminate against the Tories. In England the Tories got 34% of the vote and 35% of the seats. It is the smaller parties who lose out at Labour's expense. The way to correct that is PR. The Tories are just gonna replace a Labour bias with a Tory bias.

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  5. "Yes, the boundaries favour labour, but they do not discriminate against the Tories."

    I don't think that's quite right, take a look at the seats vs votes at the last election:

    Labour 413, (64%) of the seats, 40.7% of the vote.
    Conservative 166, (26%) of the seats, 31.7% of the vote.

    So a huge up, (23%), for Labour and a significant down, (6%), for the Conservatives.

    As to the Labour pledges, well I did find it in their last manifesto, tucked away on page 210, long after all but the determindly bloody minded would have stopped reading. Moving away from first past the post will be the most significant electoral reform since universal sufferage. Given that, a rushed, almost certainly bodged, job by a Parliament that the electorate has lost all respect for is not good enough. Any reform this parliament attempts to put in place will be deeply suspect, (there have been a number on the left just wetting themselves with excitement over the idea of sytem that would in effect give an eternal Lib/Lab coalition), and is very unlikely to gather all party support, (essential in order to avoid the fairly justified accusation that Labour want to change the rules because they are loosing).

    I know you are very keen to sieze any opportunity to change the system. However, this is one boat that it is better all round to miss.

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  6. falco, those are 2001 figures. For 2005 it was labour 35% of vote for 55% of seats, and Tories 32% of vote for 31% of seats. In England, like i said, the Tories got more seats than votes - 35% of seats for 34% of vote.

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  7. Mea culpa on the figures, I can't even blame wikipedia, I just missread it. Still, it does show that there has been some wide variations.

    Also, given that the contest is in essence between the two big parties, when one has a big advantage, (20%), then the other is by nature of the contest dissadvantaged.

    Any reply to the second half of my last comment?

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  8. falco, I don't see how giving the Tories 60% of seats on 35% is any fairer than when labour had the bias. A majority of voters - 56% rejected both labour and tory in the Euros. Why should 8 million voters be ignored? Labour has delayed reform for too long. Which is why i suggest a referendum at the same time as next general election. That way no-one could accuse labour of trying to gain advantage. Hope that answers your point.

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  9. falco, google 'gerrymander wheel'. I can quote you figures of councils run for decades by 1 party on 30% of vote, but this wheel best conveys fptp unfairness. All constituencies always have an identical number of voters, voters stay put and always vote the same way, yet by just spinning the boundaries round we can change the result from a labour landslide to a tory one. The thing to remember is that this bias is more likely to be accidental than deliberate. The tories didn't sit down with labour and agree to boundaries they knew were against them. Both labour and tory do however know the smaller parties will suffer.

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  10. I thought I'd posted a reply to this but it seems to have jinxed itself, anyhow:

    "Which is why i suggest a referendum at the same time as next general election. That way no-one could accuse labour of trying to gain advantage."

    Labour have shown no interest despite promises in their manifesto, (and we know they don't view those as binding), in electoral reform until now. I think we are entitled to make the obvious inference; they recognise that they're going to be slaughtered and are trying to game the system. A referendum is all very well but at the moment Labour have such an overwhelming majority that the question posed will be put by Labour, not Parliament as a whole.

    I know that there are problems with the current system but then all the possible systems throw up some issues. Deciding which one we should vote on changing to should not be up to a corrupt, discredited government. Any solution they propose, even if put forward with the best of intentions, will be shot down as gerrymandering.

    "The thing to remember is that this bias is more likely to be accidental than deliberate. The tories didn't sit down with labour and agree to boundaries they knew were against them."

    I have made no suggestion that the bias was deliberate, just that it tends, and has tended for a long time, to favour Labour. Things are reset at each boundary redrawing but the continous movement of people keeps going on in between those times.

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  11. Falco - boundaries can never be correct under fptp, there will always be bias. The Tories are going to amazing lengths to try to find a solution under fptp, when the real solution is PR.

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  12. "the real solution is PR"

    The real solution may well be PR but what, if any, version of it? Labour are not the people to put this question to the public. As I've said above, even if they managed to find the best system, (I have very little hope that they would), then they will be shouted down as trying to corrupt a system that is about to see them consigned to the wilderness.

    If you want a new electoral system that has some hope of working and being aproved in a referendum, then you have to wait for Labour to depart.

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  13. "If you want a new electoral system that has some hope of working and being aproved in a referendum, then you have to wait for Labour to depart."

    What you are saying is that Labour have missed their chance - they should and could have won a referendum on AV+ in 1999-2000. I can agree with that.

    The problem is, we both know that any incoming Tory government is going to kick PR into touch. On their backbenches they even mutter about abolishing PR in the devolved parliaments and assemblies and for Europe. I don't think they could get away with that.

    But, what really does scare me are the changes they are committed to make (it's in their manifesto anyway) to the boundary commission's remit and to the size of constituencies.

    For all their talk of the importance of the constituency link, they intend to make constituencies 20-30% bigger, increase the number of reviews and also abolish any geographical and administrative considerations.

    Their argument for these changes are to counter 'rural drift' which over time makes rural Tory constituencies have bigger electorates than urban ones.

    The counter to this is that (i) registration of voters is much lower in urban areas so the number of constituents is actually probably similar (but unrecorded). (ii) changing the boundaries more frequently than the current general reviews (8-12 years) and minor reviews (every election) is impractical and makes a mockery of the so called 'geographic link' between constituent and MP. Especially as the Tories plan to ignore community, administrative and geographical considerations and make constituencies far bigger. This is just a licence to gerrymander, as they have taken to an art-form in the US (where the winning party even using computer models to maximise their seats).

    The Tories are hellbent on creating a bias to favour them for generations.

    As I have already explained, the real bias is not caused by discrepancies in constituency numbers (which is actually quite small - the vast majority of seats vary by only a few percent in constituent size), it is caused by something called 'differential turnout'. Urban seats have lower turnouts, and as these seats are largely won by Labour they can won by fewer votes which makes their national vote share less. Short of the wholly undemocratic suggestion of disenfranchising people who don't vote (i.e. drawing boundaries by number of voters not constituents - thereby punishing voters who live in low turnout seats), there is no solution to this.

    What is proven to increase urban turnout, as shown in New Zealand is to introduce PR - I would suggest the system they have in NZ and Germany (with the exception that the order of regional party lists is determined by the voter not the party) is the way to go. They have this system in Baden-Wurtemberg in Germany. So half are constituency MPs and half list MPs. I know people can object to having two types of MPs, but this is a minor drawback compared to having a wholly unrepresentative government.

    I think the changes the Tories are proposing to boundaries are constitional issues and I believe people deserve a say over how their MPs are elected. Not these shoddy back-room deals.

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  14. "What you are saying is that Labour have missed their chance - they should and could have won a referendum on AV+ in 1999-2000. I can agree with that."

    That is exactly the point I've been making.

    On a general point, I'm not sure voter turnout should be taken into account. Everyone has the right to vote, if people refuse to exercise it then they have every right to do so. Rural drift is an issue that needs addressing, it gives Labour an unfair advantage at every other election. Whether I think the Tory plans are the right way to go about it, (that being ever such an important thing, natch), will have to wait until I get time to look at the proposals in detail.

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  15. Falco - Rural drift is only a very small part of the problem. Most of the bias to Labour is caused by differential turnout and 'clumpiness'.

    Differential turnout and clumpiness of a party's vote are impossible to draw impartial boundaries for. Rural drift and clumpiness and differential turnout are all tackled by introducing proportionality. So no party (not just the Tories) are punished for having their votes spread evenly across the country.

    Labour just happen to concentrate their vote in seats they can win and get virtually no votes in safe Tory seats. Even enlarging the boundaries will make little difference to this, but will make the MP even more remote from his constituents. As 75% of seats are safe already, there is no accountability as it is. These changes will make this worse.

    Even after the expenses row, only around 150 or so seats will change hands out of 650 at the next general election. Nearly every MP knows he/she is safe no matter what fiddles they did. And Hazel Blears and Michael Gove's survival shows how useless party members are at sorting this problem out.

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