Saturday, April 16, 2011


Of the torrents of infuriating arguments I’ve been wading through (during the hours at work when they disable facebook and youtube), I’d say on balance the No to AV ones are the worst. Perhaps this is because I’ve tentatively pitched myself in their camp.

A little over a week ago Rob '' Powell, Comrade Joe and I dug in at the JS (Rob was allowed in there then), all armed to the teeth with pretentious rhetoric and ready for another exhaustive and inevitably inconclusive debate. So when Rob launched into his yes to AV campaign, and the Comrade into an enthusiastic retort, I silently panicked, beset by ignorance and contemplating launching iPhone Wikipedia..

Soon as I’d stumbled back I rushed online to the No to AV website (since opposing Rob ''’s view tends to be my disposition, and is much more fun than supporting it). At the top of their sparse list of reasons to oppose is ‘It’ll cost lots’. Really? Lots and lots? Lots every election or once off? What is the price of getting the right people in anyway? Irrelevant. ‘It’s complex which is why it’s only used Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea’…’and unlike Papua New Guineans, we aren’t able to understand complex voting systems’.
‘It’ll mean some people get more votes’ is another one flying about the comment pages. Literally bollocks.

For those without as much time on their hands as I, with AV you rank constituency candidates in preference order (as few or as many as you like). When the votes are in if no one has 50% or more first choice votes the party with the fewest votes is eliminated. The second prefs of those who had them as their first are then used in a recount. They aren’t getting more votes, the system simply assumes that if you voted for Comrade Joe Bloggs the first time round and he’s still in the race, you’ll wanna vote for him again. And this is where I take issue.

The problem with AV, as I see it, is about incentives. Incentives on the part of the voter and incentives on the part of the politician. For the purposes of amusement we’ll call these two characters Rob ‘’ Powell and Comrade Joe respectively. Comrade Joe is your hard-line comme, on a ruthless mission for utopia, with a flagrant disregard for facts and practicalities. Rob ‘’ Powell is a right-wing journalist who, when not providing financial advice to misers, parades about London with the pro-fascist organisation ‘Hate not Hope’.

In Comrade Joe’s constituency, his Communist Party has consistently come second in elections, losing to the Conservative Party. Rob ‘ Powell (henceforth to be called Rob ‘ supports the marginal and extremist National Socialist party.

Under First Past the Post (what we have now) the Conservatives, Communists and National Socialists tend to receive 40%, 35% and 25% of the votes respectively. Each party bids for the single vote of each person. Each person votes for one party, presumably based on a policy affiliation of some kind.

An alternative voting system tangles with this clear transaction. There is an additional bidding game for the second, third etc. preferences of voters, and voters distribute multiple votes with a single objective.
Where previously Comrade Joe has fought with eloquence and oratory to sell his utopian dream to the Thatcherites, he now has an incentive to glean second preference votes from the National Socialists (Conservative voters have no incentive for a second preference at all), perhaps appealing to socialist bit. 
Where previously elections were won or lost on the votes of those in marginal constituencies, with successful candidates selling promises to key swing voters, (on which they can be held to account) now there is a bidding game for the alternative preferences of those at the fringes of politics (and sanity).

On the other side there is also a perverse incentive for Rob ‘’, and indeed anyone of the 60% not voting for the most popular party. With AV there is no incentive for Rob ‘’ to list in his alternative preferences the most popular party because his first choice will definitely not win. They and the Comme’s are better off colluding in second preference to dislodge the Tories. When AV is triggered in the above example the second preferences of the National Socialists fall on the Communists and the Communists win with 60% of the vote. The party that most people want in definitely doesn’t get in. The second preference votes of the extremists are not only outcome determining, but they’re given equal weighting to the first preference of the sane.

Furthermore I’d question, in fact outright oppose the logic of letting us all vote on such a thing. It’s an ironically good example of the problem with hung parliaments – a miserable little compromise used by the Tory’s to pay (politically speaking) for the policies they care about. It’s not that the system itself is complex but it’s consequences. Vote no.

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