Monday, 15 November 2010

Contradictions In The No Campaign

Less than 6 months to go to the planned referendum on May 5th 2011 on how we elect our MPs, and the strategies of the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns to the Alternative Vote are starting to become clearer.

The 'Yes' campaign are pinning their hopes on being positive, 'stronger on the ground' and organising and recruiting as many activists as possible to create a good 'word of mouth' momentum to put the 'positive message out there'. It could work, however, I worry that the official 'No' campaign are stealing a march on us by 'outblogging' and 'out-twittering' the official 'Yes' campaign and the opinion polls suggest their strategy is working. Whoever is running the official YES blog, if you are listening, we cannot neglect to talk about this, the 'No' campaign are posting stuff every single day, feeding mis-information and seeding doubts. We need to be posting our message every day too, this would not cost money, just time and enthusiasm.

I do believe that if people get the chance to start to compare and contrast the two voting systems on offer we will start to get a momentum in our direction but we can't afford the No campaign to get too far ahead of us in moving the debate onto stuff other than vote reform.

The 'No' campaign seem to have a simpler strategy based on 2 main themes:- keeping discussion of voting systems to a minimum AND divide and rule the opposition with misinformation of what AV is actually about i.e. talk about the cost of the eferendum, coalition cuts and jump on board any other populist movement they can.

The No campaign are successfully targeting the weaknesses in our campaign - which is firstly that AV is not exactly the system most of us would have preferred and secondly they are playing on the biggest problem for us - the complexity of trying to explain the relevance of voting reform to the actual real world. We have got to be strident in response to this, especially as they will outspend us and have most of the print media on their side.

Lets look at some of the posts on the 'No' Campaign site and pick apart their contradictions:-

1. A referendum on AV will cost £90m and is a waste of money in these stringest times.

At the same time as saying this, they now contradict themselves by saying that the Lords should not block the referendum and we should 'trust the people'. Please make your minds up. Of course any referendum is going to cost money, but that is not a reason to vote against AV.

2. AV is not proportional so advocates of PR should vote against.

This is a more subtle attack by the Noes trying to divide people who know that the present system is rubbish. What we need, to get the Noes to answer here is, what advantages does the present system first-past-the-post have over AV? The answer of course is none. Basically we shouldn't vote against progress just because it is not as big a leap as we desire.

Another interesting point to raise here is that despite not being a proportional system by design, it has produced more proportional results in Australia where it is used. We need to hammer home why AV is better than what we've got, i.e. reduces the number of safe seats which means more competition and accountability, eliminates tactical voting, makes votes more equal and fairer and ensures every politician is elected with at least 50% of the vote.

3. Coalitions are weak and AV makes coalitions more likely

Funnily enough coalitions have happened less often in Australia using AV than they have here under FPTP. But apart from that, where is the evidence that coalitions are weak? The wartime coalition with the war effort run by Churchill and domestic agenda run by Labour is arguably one of the strongest, most well run governments we have ever had - creating the NHS, welfare state and winning the war. And whatever you think of the present coalition, you could hardly accuse it of being weak and avoiding difficult decisions.

4. AV lets in extremists

Basically this is a complete and utter lie, as AV makes it even more difficult for extremist parties. Under FPTP, extremists can be elected on 29% of the vote (or much less depending on the vote split) as a recent BNP county councillor won with, under AV, absolutely EVERY winner has to get the support of at least 50% of voters.

Expect the NO campaign to get even more outrageous in their claims in the next few months. We in the YES campaign have got to get moving and counter all this misinformation, after the long wait we have had, we know our stuff, we just have to get it out there and we can't rely on the mass media to help us, the contrary is sadly true.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Why Change The Voting System?

At present, the way we count votes in elections (the voting system) means that the percentage of seats allocated to each party bears little resemblence to their percentage of the vote.

For example, in the last general election, the Tories got 36% of the votes, but 47% of the seats, while the Lib Dems got 23% of the vote, but just 9% of the seats.

The reason this happens is because instead of a general electon being a genuine 'national' election, it is in fact a collection of hundreds of 'mini' elections in a marked out area (each called a constituency) held across the whole country at 'generally' the same time.

The size of each constituency and their precise geographical position is controlled by our political masters, not by us the voters. The sizes and locations of these constituencies can have a bigger impact on the result than the actual votes cast - see gerrymander wheel. (It is important to note here that the constituencies can be absolutely equal in terms of the number of voters each have and yet still yield these perverse results in terms of seats allocated. So any argument that 'equalising' constituencies would solve the problem is false, constituencies are anyhow already fairly equal in size in the vast majority of cases).

Until we allocate seats in 'proportion' to votes cast we will continue to live in a 'semi' democracy where results are manipulated by the political elite. The best way to demonstrate why this is important is with a simple mathematical model:-

Party A wins 40% of the vote and has policies x, y-20 and z+3
Party B wins 35% of the vote and has policies -x, y+20 and z-1
Party C wins 25% of the vote and has policies -x, y+10 and z-2

The policies can represent anything you want them to, for example x could be to introduce a DNA database or maybe to invade Iran or re-introduce the poll tax, with -x signifying opposition to these. y could represent how much to alter taxes, redistribute wealth or alter the deficit, z could be the age at which we are entitled to vote or stand for parliament, or age of consent etc. You get the general idea.

In the above example, under our present voting system, party A most likely wins outright winning more than 50% of the seats (although any one party or none could win depending on how the constituencies are positioned and how many there are). This would enable party A to try to implement policy x despite the majority 60% explicitly voting for the opposite -x, decrease y by 20 despite the majority voting for an increase and increase z by 3 despite the majority voting for a decrease. I think you get the general idea of why this is undemocratic.

Under a proportional voting system a coalition would have to be formed, almost certainly between the parties with the most similar policies, this would mean the majority would get policies much more in tune with what they voted for, -x, an increase in y and a decrease in z. You can alter the variables and percentages of vote as much as you like and still the proportional system will always deliver the majority of voters more of the policies they voted for. Try it yourself.