The agony of choice

The bunting is up, the country is buoyed with excitement… yes, it’s nearly referendum time!  After the crass, misleading and anti-politician campaigns is there clear blue (or purple?) water between the two?

The Alternative vote…

…gives a fairer result: everyone will have to have the support of 50% of the voters. This is one of its best selling points, because it gives people the chance to say who they’d prefer if their top choice doesn’t win – as this advert demonstrates, the idea of settling for a compromise if not everyone agrees on the first choice is a fairly natural human activity.  (Of course it is not quite that simple and actually it is only 50% of the votes still left in the ballot after a few rounds, which might not actually be 50% of the voters because people are less likely to state a 2nd preference, and then less likely to put a 3rd, etc. As Aveek points out, when AV is used in Scotland 12 of 31 winners have got there with a minority of votes.)

…will stop politicians from being corrupt and devious: AV will ‘make safe seats less safe’, by… erm… making marginal seats more marginal.  Apparently this would have stopped the expenses scandal – a scandal that was not related to safeness of seats and did not undermine the incumbent advantage in the 2010 election. The Yes2AV campaign clearly hate MPs, if their video with hectoring Yes2AV campaigners shouting at them is anything to go by and want to punish them all for the excesses of some by changing the voting system (See Ian Murray MP’s excellent response to that video, here).

…will stop the BNP: The BNP don’t like it, so it must be bad for them! More seriousnly, though, it won’t help them into power because the winner needs the support of 50% of voters (NB, see above) and since the BNP do not generally get that level of support even where they win in council elections they would not win seats under AV.

…means you can vote positively: since you get a second choice, you can vote for a candidate you really like as your first preference and then a potential winner thereafter. This is supposed to get rid of tactical voting, but in fact would probably just mean people stating preferences for the candidates they don’t hate, which is not very positive.

…is very British: Nick Clegg has told us that the change to AV would be ‘a very British reform’. Must be true then.

Whereas First Past the Post…

…gives a fairer result: it is clear who has won, because they have the most votes.  It doesn’t matter if this is as little as 30% of the votes so they clearly aren’t who most people want. This is a simple and effective argument that doesn’t need to be sullied by ludicrous exaggerations and lies equating AV with the loser winning in horse races (see 1.30 in this video), school sports days or two-fighter boxing matches.

…will stop politicians from being corrupt and devious: because FPTP gives strong majority governments (apart from when it doesn’t), politicians will be more honourable and stick to their promises and pledges (unlike Alan B’stard in this advert).  Remember how much everyone loved and respected politicians before May 2010? – glory days!

…will stop the BNP: FPTP means that parties can happily ignore people who vote for fringe parties… which is the only way to defeat ‘fascism’ apparently.

…means you can vote positively, or rather AV does not stop negative voting. FPTP is more likely to give tactical voting, AV does not stop it (there will be different kinds of tactics) and probably would increase negative voting.

…is very British: the Lord formerly known as John Reid has said that AV ‘un-British’. Must be true then.

I hope that clears everything up.  It’s not the whole story, of course, there are differences between the systems and there are other meaningless or misleading angles being pursued in the campaigns (AV kills babies, FPTP gives politicians who hide behind lamp-posts); it is remarkable and depressing how similar and rubbish both campaigns are.

Fundamentally it comes down to which system one thinks is the better (fairer, most effective, etc) way to pick MPs.  Should it be the one with the most votes in FPTP, or should it be the one with the broadest support amongst the electorate even when many of them would place a different candidate first.

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