18 March 2011

Yes to AV, Yes to PR

The Electoral Reform Society has campaigned relentlessly for many decades for a change to a more proportional voting system. Its membership voted overwhelmingly to campaign for a YES in the referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) on May 5th. It did this because there are many ways AV is fairer than the present system, but one of the main reasons was that AV generally produces more proportional results.

As the Guardian put it in May 2010; 'STV and AV are not technically PR they just happen to usually give a more proportional outcome than FPTP'.

The NO2AV campaign is outspending the YES campaign many times (by how much we will find out after the referendum).

Initially the YES campaign played to its strengths by focussing on its biggest asset - its many supporters, and it ran a successful grassroots campaign, but lately NO2AV partly by being underhand but also by being very clever are beating the YES campaign with NO2AV propaganda funded by right wing Tories and Taxpayer Alliance types and backed by the right wing media.

It is preposterous to claim that a NO vote to changing the present system will somehow help the PR cause. Once this referendum is over, and this has took decades even to get this chance for change in the face of MPs overwhelming hostility to changing a system that gives them jobs for life, it will be business as usual and a NO will be presented as a YES to first-past-the-post. Those funding this new cause with its brand new website are against ALL forms of change. They oppose PR more than they do AV, but they know they need to win over some PR enthusiasts if they are to win against AV, so they fund this ridiculous campaign.

What is even worse is that the BBC gives 2 links to the NO campaign because of this new website, but only one to the YES campaign. How is that fair or impartial?

To this end, I will be contacting the YES campaign to right this wrong. In the meantime here is my new website I have set up to campaign for AV AND PR. A campaign for change that makes far more sense than the spurious and dare I say cynical NO campaign.


  1. "'STV and AV are not technically PR they just happen to usually give a more proportional outcome than FPTP'."

    That is preposterous. Not only is AV "not technically PR", it is not even REMOTELY like PR. Indeed these weasel words show more about the ignorance of Guardian leader writers than they do anything else.

    On the other hand STV IS proportional. If every voter in an STV election filled their ballot in with identical preferences, then the result would be IDENTICAL to an open list PR election. And that is just a fact.

    As long as boundaries are FAIR, and constituencies have reasonable numbers of MPs (say over five), then STV is proportional.

    AV is NOT proportional. And it is NOT true that AV usually gives a more proportional outcome than FPTP.

    The real problem with the Yes campaign is that they keep making claims for AV that are totally untrue.

    And then they whine about the No campaign telling lies.

    Both sides are as bad as each other, both make absolutely false claims about AV.

    I say a pox on both their houses.

  2. "It is preposterous to claim that a NO vote to changing the present system will somehow help the PR cause. Once this referendum is over, and this has took decades even to get this chance for change in the face of MPs overwhelming hostility to changing a system that gives them jobs for life, it will be business as usual"

    I don't agree. Once this referendum is over, one way or the other, what will have been established is the right of the population to decide THEMSELVES what electoral system to have.

    There is evidence that a referendum lost can be an advantage. In Wales in 1979 the No vote was 80%. Everyone said this was the end of devolution for Wales for ever. If that referendum had been won we would have been saddled with an Assembly elected under FPTP with an in built Labour majority. In 1997, for Labour to get their new Assembly measure through, they needed to offer something better, and palatable to other parties in Wales. They offered an MMP elected Assembly, not what I consider properly proportional, but proportional enough to make it difficult for Labour to get a majority, and incidentally much more proportional than AV. All parties backed the referendum in 1997 with the exception of the Tories. Our third referendum in 2011 (for greater powers) was backed by all parties including the Tories.

    So there is evidence that losing a referendum can lead to something better down the line.

    A good friend of mine has been arguing that a "Yes" means establishing the right of citizens to make these decisions themselves. I disagree, I think having the referendum establishes that right. The FACT of the referendum is important.

    I have no idea why the LDs accepted this absurd referendum. AV goes no way whatsoever to meeting their manifesto goals for electoral reform. the LDs made three points on electoral reform.

    1) Fairer more proportional system (AV fails this)
    2) Abolition of safe seats (AV fails on this)
    3) STV (clearly AV is not STV).

    The OBVIOUS compromise was AV+. Although it is NOT a proportional system, it is at least the OBVIOUS compromise between single seat representation and full multi seat representation. It is CLEARLY more proportional than FPTP, and therefore fairer, though it is not fully proportional. This system at least goes SOME WAY to meeting the LDs first manifesto point on electoral reform. It IS a compromise by both sides.

    But AV is NOT a compromise by the Tories. A compromise implies that the Tories have gone some way towards meeting one of the LDs manifesto commitments. They clearly have not.

    The LD have made a massive strategic and tactical blunder agreeing to this referendum.

    I would be happy with STV, or MMP or open list PR. I would have accepted a compromise on AV+.

    I totally reject AV as nothing more than a stitch up by Labour and the Tories to offer the appearance of change, while providing little to no substantive change whatsoever.

    Anyone who claims massive benefits for AV is either a liar or entirely ignorant of the facts.

  3. 1) AV is slightly more proportional
    2) There will be less safe seats under AV
    3) It is a clear step towards STV (gets people used to preferential voting and logically leads to STV for local elections and PR for second chamber.

    The LDems would never have got an AV+ referendum out of the Tories and they were right not to try. AV is going to be difficult enough to win, especially when people who should be onside are making arguments against progress (because it is not the exact system they want). Imagine the complexity argument the NO2AV team are using, they make writing 1,2,3 on the ballot paper sound like rocket science, with top-up MPs to argue against as well, they would have had a field day. AV+ is probably the most complex electoral system there is. It is a mish-mash.

    I hope you would agree that I am not 'entirely ignorant of the facts' on AV and I can assure you I am not lying about my support for the system. I genuinely believe it is a much better system than FPtP, although I agree STV or open-list would be much better. Even AV+ would be better but I really don't think that referendum would be winnable.

    On the welsh assembly point, they had to wait another 20 years for an assembly. Do you really want to wait another 20 years under FPtP to get a referendum on PR? The Euro elections were under FPtP but changed to PR, why couldn't this have happened to the welsh assembly?

  4. One more point, once this referendum is won. On day one I will be campaigning for PR. I think YTFV are wrong to deny that is also their aim.

  5. Alun, NO2AV is full of Tories and Labour 'safeseaters' where PR is 'over their dead body' yet they fund the YES2PR, NO2AV campaign. Why do you think that is? Because they know that defeat for AV will take PR off the agenda for a generation at least.

    Think of women's suffrage, women only got the vote for over 30s first, then 10 years later full parity with men. Without the first concession, it would have delayed full parity with men for at least a generation. The same will happen with AV. Win this referendum and the campaign for PR has momentum. For a start, because council wards elect 2-3 councillors, it will make logical sense to change local elections to STV (which is a lot more proportional system) rather than leave them as a FPtP anomoly. Plus, despite what you say, AV IS generally more proportional and there are more marginals. Smaller parties with broad support (not extremists) will increase their first preferences and over time win more seats. This will bring more coalitions and more pressure for a change to PR.

  6. Alun, it seems like the worst thing you can say about AV is that it is no better than FPtP. What is your point in slagging AV off?