Friday, 18 March 2011

Labour Leader On Why He Wants a YES to AV on May 5th

Ed Miliband | Speech to Labour Yes to AV campaign | 16 March 2011

"Yes to a system where more voices are heard and more votes are counted. Yes to AV."

It's a pleasure to be here at the launch of the Labour Yes to AV campaign.
Today I want to explain why the Alternative vote will help us build a fairer and better politics
I respect those in our party who are against this change.
But I believe the referendum on May Fifth is a chance to change our politics.
I believe a yes vote to AV is the best way to be consistent with:
-- Labour's history of campaigning for change
-- our wish for a more accountable and democratic country
-- and our mission to build a better politics.
My support for a yes vote is because I believe AV is a fairer system, but the vote also says something about the kind of party I believe Labour must be:
Willing to reform our politics, reach beyond our party, never settling for the status quo.

This campaign launch has been a while coming.
To listen to some people you'd think this change was contrary to our traditions,
In 1918, nearly a hundred years ago, Labour's leader, William Adamson, led Labour MPs into the division lobbies in support of the Alternative vote.
Eighty years ago, another former leader of our party, the Labour Home Secretary, J R Clynes, launched a bill to introduce the Alternative vote.
Clynes told MPs that "our system has been good, but good must give way to better.."
Sadly, when the national government was formed, the chance for reform was lost.
I don't want to pretend there has been no progress in our politics since then.
A lot of the debate in 1931 was about whether it favoured a privileged few over the many to allow voters to be taken to the polls in a car.
So some things have moved on.
But our political system at Westminster has been stuck in neutral for far too long.
Outside the chamber of the Commons, we've made great steps.
In government, Labour delivered devolution to Scotland and Wales,
created the London Mayor;
and helped build a democratic, peaceful Northern Ireland.

All huge changes.
All elected by fairer votes.
But a strange timidity has affected us when it comes to the House of Commons.
There have been many justifications for our inability to challenge the status quo.
The conservatism of the House of Lords.
The need to focus on the economy.
Opposition from other parties.
Our own internal debates.
All of them good reasons to put off change.
But not good enough.
Today, again there are arguments for ignoring reform.
This Conservative led government has cut too far, too fast, and broken their promises on public services.
For families across Britain, these issues are obviously of more immediate concern than a change to a voting system.
So on the day unemployment reached a seventeen year high, it is right that our focus as a party is the local, Scottish and Welsh elections.
Under my leadership, the Labour party will campaign in every inch of our country, from Cornwall to the Shetland Isles, telling this Tory-led government that they are wrong on people's livelihoods, wrong on growth, wrong on betraying the next generation.
But all that said, May 5th offers us the opportunity to change the way our politics works.
And we should say where we stand.
I want to seize that chance for change
We need political reform, and especially the Alternative vote, for three reasons.
First, because our politics needs repairing.
Second, because the alternative vote is a better, fairer system than the one we have.
Third, because the alternative vote will improve the way politics is conducted.
Let me start with our political system
The British people know that our politics needs to change.
Many see Westminster as remote and out of touch.
Turn out at General Elections is on a downward trend.
Even though our membership has grown by fifty thousand, membership of political parties is lower than in the past.
If politicians are honest with themselves they will admit that the voters are not happy with the way our politics works.
The question then is whether voting reform will help us empower voters and make politicians more accountable.
Is the Alternative Vote the best way to change politics?
Let's be honest. AV is no panacea. It isn't perfect.
But it would help to restore the balance of power in favour of voters because it would force all MPs to earn the majority of votes.
It will encourage candidates to appeal to a broader range of voters and to understand a wider range of concerns.
Politicians should never be insulated from those they represent.
Opening up the electoral battleground will be a significant step in making more votes count.
So on May 5th ask yourselves one simple question:
Are you happy with the condition of British politics?
If the answer is no, then seize this chance for change.
The Alternative vote will make votes fairer for one simple reason:
It will make more votes count.
And when more votes count, politicians have to count on more voters.
And at the same time alternative vote keeps the constituency link people really value - the ability to contact, even to berate, their local MP.
So the reform case for AV is simple.
If you want more voices to be heard;
And if you want more votes to count;
Then you should vote yes on May 5th.

But the case for AV is not only that it creates a fairer system.
It's that the need to win a majority in each constituency will lead to a better politics.
Many of our Labour parties ran fantastic campaigns at the last election.
Where we placed ourselves firmly in the community, we were sometimes able to overcome the national swing against us.
I want the Labour Party campaigning on every street, in every community, trying to win a majority of votes in every seat.
Under AV our candidates will need to knock on more doors, make more phone calls, listen more carefully to criticism.
That will make sure we hear what the electorate really thinks of us.
And it will make us more likely to be open and straight with the electorate about what we think of other parties.
That's got to be good for voters.
After all, one of the things that turns people off politics is exaggerated disagreement.
The problem with our system is there's no incentive for politicians to do anything but tell voters how awful everyone else is.
Even candidates who agree on some issues have to pretend they oppose on every issue.
Today, there are enormous differences about where take our country.
But when all you hear is how terrible all the others are, then to voters it feels like yah boo politics for the sake of it.
The alternative vote will punish parties that don't campaign, don't listen and stop challenging themselves.
So the alternative vote will put pressure on politicians
To be more inclusive,
To be more active in communities,
to reach out to those who disagree.
For Labour, changing the way we vote will be a constant reminder of the need to be strong, broad and inclusive, not narrow and tribal.
I want Labour to listen to those who always vote Labour,
Those who vote Liberal Democrat or Conservative
and those have given up on politics entirely.
The alternative vote will encourage us to do that.
I also say this: for us, the tragedy of British political history has been the split in the progressive vote.

After all, it's no wonder the Conservatives are united in opposition to the Alternative vote.
They are the party of the status quo.
The Tories are opposed to reform because they fear a connected, campaigning politics.
They fear a progressive majority that doesn't share their values.
They want to stick to the old system because an out of touch politics makes life easy for Conservative governments.
So Yes, the alternative vote will make life harder for politicians.
We'll have to work harder to win, reach out to more people and speak to those who are sceptical and doubtful.
The life of the political classes will be far harder under AV.
But that will be better for voters, and so better for politics.
Let me at this point deal with some of the anti-AV myths that have been spread by those opposed to change.
- That it leads to more coalitions;
No-one wants a Labour majority more than me.
But there is no evidence that AV results in more coalitions:
For example, the Australian Alternative Vote has led to fewer hung parliaments than we've had in the UK.
- That AV is complicated;
Really this is a patronising argument. Putting 1,2,3, in boxes in order of preference is not that complicated.
Finally, let me take head on a fear designed to appeal to Labour supporters:
That a yes vote in this referendum will be seen as a vindication of Nick Clegg.
I know this referendum is harder to win because of his broken promises.
But we can't reduce the second UK wide referendum in our political history to a verdict on one man.
I supported the inclusion of an AV referendum in our manifesto because I believed the time was ripe for change.
So far, much of the referendum campaign has been conducted as a debate about whether David Cameron will be hurt by Yes vote or Nick Clegg by a No vote.
I think it should be about something more.
Give your verdict on Nick Clegg and David Cameron by voting Labour in the Scottish, Welsh and council elections.
Tell your friends, campaign with the local party, and let everyone know how you feel about this government's broken promises.
But let's seize the chance this referendum gives us to change our politics for the better.
The change to the alternative vote deserves our support.
I want change to win on May Fifth.
but that should be the beginning of the journey, not the end.

But our campaign for a better politics must continue on May Sixth.
The next steps are clear.
We need a reformed, democratic House of Lords.
Labour and the Lib Dems called for a fully elected Second Chamber in our manifesto.
I want to keep that promise.
Next, we need every person in Britain who is entitled to vote to be registered to vote.
Far too many voices go unheard because they don't even have the vote, and whoever is in government, we must work together to address that.
Our long journey to a better politics didn't stop with secret ballots,
It didn't stop with universal suffrage.
It didn't stop with devolution.
On May Fifth, we can take another step on this journey to a fairer politics.
So I urge people to say.
Yes to change,
Yes to a challenge to the status quo,
Yes to a system where more voices are heard and more votes are counted.
Yes to AV.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

10 Facts About The Alternative Vote (AV)

1. If you have ever said to someone going to the shops - "get me a coke or if they haven't got that I'll have a lemonade', then you understand the principle behind AV voting. It only sounds complicated if you explain it badly, which the No campaigners are doing on purpose (finding the most wordy academic text they can).

2. Simply rank the candidates in order 1,2,3 etc. You can put as few or as many preferences as you want. If you only want to choose one candidate, like you HAVE to under our present system first-past-the-post (FPTP), you can. The difference is that FPTP ONLY lets you choose one candidate which leads to more wasted votes and immense pressure to vote tactically which gives a distorted view of what people really want.

Imagine being a Tory living in Margaret Hodge's constituency of Barking and hating the Labour party but wanting to stop the BNP, to make your vote count you are forced to vote Labour otherwise your vote would be wasted and risk the BNP winning with a small share of the vote. This adds another vote to the Labour pile and gives the impression that this is total support for their policies, whereas almost the opposite is in fact the case from this voter and probably many others effectively forced to vote the same if they want their vote to count and stop the BNP.

But FPTP is even worse than this, because it may be that loads of people have changed their mind in the constituency since the last election (which is the only source of information tactical voters really have) and although extremely unlikely maybe your Labour vote might be wasted and another candidate might have been better placed to beat the BNP if you had voted for them instead, so it is possible the BNP candidate wins with a dismal 20 something percent of the vote on a low turnout just because the majority who dislike them had voted for a range of parties.

Think this can't happen? The BNP have won county councillor seats with just 29% of the vote under our present system. With AV you can vote with your heart and show your true first preference and so on. The Tory can stop the BNP with any one of his preferences, including showing that Labour were only his final preference but this still beats the BNP who he did not rank. AV does away with the electoral roulette that voters currently have to play under the present system of first-past-the-post (FPTP).

3. If you order a chicken curry at a restaurant, but are told that has sold out then decide to have a lasagne instead, you have only had one meal. The same is true for AV, only ONE of your preferences will count towards the end result. Don't be fooled by propaganda saying otherwise.

4. In every UK general election bar 1997 and 1983, it is predicted that AV would have distributed seats more in line with vote share, i.e. a more proportional or fairer result.

5. Australia has used AV for over 90 years with just one hung parliament from 38 elections. Our present system first-past-the-post has delivered five hung parliaments and three non-working majorities over a similar time-span. So to claim that AV will deliver more coalition government is not necessarily true. Both India and Canada use the Westminster system of first-past-the-post. Canada has now had five hung parliaments out of the last 8 elections and India has a 18 party ruling coalition.

6. NO2AV are claiming millions will have to be spent on counting machines. Australia has used AV for over 90 years and still doesn't use counting machines. NO2AV are just making things up. Australia is a massive country with much larger constituencies yet they manage to get the result mostly announced on the night of the election.

"Where most UK constituencies would deal with 30-40,000 votes, the average Australian House of Representatives' count involves 90-100,000 votes. While equipment similar to note counters is used in post-election check-counting, the distribution of preferences is done entirely by hand and without difficulty. The tales of expensive counting equipment are not true.

If the United Kingdom wishes to continue declaring results on the night, it seems to me this should be achievable without too much effort or expenditure. After all, examining preferences need only be undertaken if no candidate achieves 50%, and the distribution of preferences need only be done to the point where one candidate has a majority of the vote remaining in the count." Antony Green ABC News Australia

Mark Wadsworth explains how easy it is to count AV preferences:-

"if you have ever attended a count, you'll know that the extra work involved with AV would be fairly minimal. Under FPTP, tellers make a pile of ballot slips for each candidate (in bundles of twenty or something) and then the biggest pile wins (they count them again, under the eyes of the candidates, if it looks fairly close).

The same basic system would apply under AV, only if no candidate gets more than half the first choice votes (which will happen in most constituencies), they'll just grab the smallest pile and redistribute it; and then the next smallest pile and so on. Mathematically, it's unlikely that more than the thirty or forty per cent of the ballot papers would have to be picked up more than once or twice, and as there will only be a few dozen or a couple of hundred in the smallest piles, that's no big deal."

7. If you support primaries then support AV because it enables you to choose which candidate a party selects. As Dan Sutton suggests on the LSE website:-

"For me one of the most attractive features of AV is the ability to have implied primaries.

At the moment the debate is focused on the situation that might arise if each party only put up one candidate.

However, there is no reason why a party should not field two or more candidates in the same seat.

That would allow me as a voter to pick which party I preferred and then pick which of their candidates or wings I preferred. I could also choose between supporting a candidate who was a good constituency MP, or one who contributed to national debate or one who firmly voted with the whips as my notion of a good MP struck me.

I could also influence which of the candidates from parties that I don’t get want to hold the seat did well. A left wing Tory might be more likely to get my vote than someone to the far, far left of the Labour Party. The Conservative and Labour Parties could see from the rankings which of their candidates attracted votes.

It would mitigate the situation where local branches are heavily influenced by Central Office or by radicalised factions. There would be nothing to stop a Europhile Conservative standing if she felt that her constituency party had been taken over by a cabal of Euroskeptics, for example. MP’s who did a good job for their constituents could defy the whips knowing that even if they were deselected as an official candidate they could stand on a quasi-party basis and still hope to be returned. Corrupt MP’s could be punished by voters without necessarily hurting the party that they support.

The choice of MP shifts more towards the electorate and away from Party HQ or Local Constituency Offices.

AV with multiple candidates from various parties would allow me as a voter to vote for the person, policies and principles of my choice."

8. "Many Britons already use AV when electing representatives for charities, churches, companies, trade unions, societies and voluntary organisations...
Whether or not they know it, many millions of Britons already have extensive experience of using preferential selection because they have been regular voters in Big Brother, Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor. They not only understand this form of voting; they enjoy it. The no campaign assumes nevertheless that they are incapable of writing 1, 2, 3 on a ballot".

9. Politicians use AV to elect their own because they know it is more representative, yet want to deny us the chance to use the same system to elect them.

"Labour and the Lib Dems both elect their leaders by AV. Funnily enough, ever since the 1960s, when the Tories started to elect their leaders, they have used either AV or a close cousin. Had they used first past the post in their last contest, the leader of the Tory party would not be David Cameron. It would be David Davis." Points 8 & 9 succinctly put by Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer.

10. AV will reduce the number of safe seats. Safe seats lead to the sort of complacency and corruption we saw during the expenses scandal because most of our MPs currently have 'seats for life'.

Politicians don't want the Alternative Vote because it will make them work harder to win their seats. They will have to win more support right across their constituencies and no longer can they pretend that only their party has all the answers. Parties will have to be more positive about each other and be honest about where they agree so as not to alienate potential preferences of their rival party's voters. In short, AV will change politics and the effect will strengthen over many elections. AV will pull away the shroud of FPTP that obscures what people's real preferences are.

We have this once in a lifetime chance to tell the politicians they are wrong. We need to take it. We are going to be up against the might of the establishment and all the media but people power can prevail. Vote YES on May 5th. See YES to Fairer Votes for more.

Monday, 24 January 2011

BBC Act Strange Over Electoral 'Reform'

According to today's Independent, the BBC has told its journalists not to use the word 'reform' when talking about ...err.. well..ahem!..electoral reform. Apparently reform is too positive a word that compromises their impartial approach when talking about the forthcoming referendum on the Alternative Vote.

As Yes To Fairer Votes have pointed out, the BBC use the word 'reform' in other debates e.g. the coalition's 'NHS reform' and education 'reforms'. A YES spokesman continues:-

"This is ridiculous, but consistent, behaviour from the management of the BBC," said Paul Sinclair, the director of communications for the 'Yes' campaign, set up to lobby for a switch from the current first-past-the-post system to the alternative vote (AV).

"If BBC managers are suggesting that by using the word 'reform' in 'electoral reform' they are implicitly recommending it to viewers and listeners, then by their own standards they have spent the last week advocating the Government's NHS reforms and the Government's education reforms before that because that is what they have called the measures."

Mr Sinclair added: "Adopting the alternative vote is electoral reform. There is no other way to describe it.

"We have consistently had problems with the BBC where they have refused to take our spokespeople. They even allowed the 'No' campaign to dictate who we could put up against them. A 'No' campaigner was allowed to insist that they didn't face a Labour MP who was representing the 'Yes' campaign. This cannot be described as impartial or even-handed behaviour."

This is very worrying and makes you wonder how much the BBC are being bullied by Tory spin doctors - was it part of the agreement to limit the cut in the licence fee to just 16%?

What with 80% of the press being Tory and spinning lies against AV and now this, where are people going to here the truth about 'electoral reform'? AV reduces the number of safe seats, means MPs have to aim to get 50% of the vote and means people can vote for their real first choice without wasting their vote.

The fact that the vast majority of MPs oppose AV (445 MPs out of 650 have so far come out for a NO and the number is still rising), shows us how power will move in our direction and away from MPs if we vote YES on May 5th.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Fact: The Alternative Vote IS More Proportional!

Daniel Finkelstein writing in the Times asks why are supporters of PR campaigning in favour of a YES vote in the forthcoming May referendum on the Alternative Vote. He claims this is strange because AV is not any more proportional than the current first-past-the-post system and that smaller parties are still just as disadvantaged (if not more so).

The answer is that in practise AV has proven more proportional when used in Australia and (apart from 1997) all the projections of recent UK general elections show a more proportional result using AV (see the British Election Survey by Essex University). At the 2010 election the Tories got 47% of the seats with just 36% of the vote, Labour 40% with 29%, Lib Dems 9% seats with 23% vote and others 4% with 12% of the vote. With AV and the same vote share both Tory and Labour would lose seats and the Lib Dems gain, with smaller parties unchanged. (Now the Lib Dem vote has dropped, smaller parties might be with even more of a shout of winning seats. Remember that the 'expenses' election didn't elect a single independent in mainland Britain. The Greens in Australia got the equivalent here of 6 seats under AV with their victory in Melbourne).

Also although AV does not provide the immediate representation in terms of seats that PR does for smaller parties, it does (like PR) provide a platform for smaller parties to grow by showing their real level of support. AV will allow for the first time people to express their first preference in a general election without fear of giving advantage to the party they like the least.

As Daniel does mention, AV will change the political game, which is probably why a majority of MPs have already come out to campaign for a No vote (420 MPs out of 650 - 65% of the total so far and still counting). Not only would it alter how many seats are allocated to each party on the current vote share, it will alter how people vote and this scares the hell out of MPs even those who currently get more than 50% of the vote. Also tactical voting will become a thing of the past so we will know for sure how many rural Labour and urban Tories vote Lib Dem etc.

The closest guide we have to how people might vote under AV, is the Euro elections that are conducted under closed list PR. This also gives us a clue as to the 'softness' of different parties support. The Tories got 29% compared to their 36% share in the GE (so quite a large core), Labour only 16% (29%), the Lib Dems 14% (23%).

This gives us an idea of 'core' support. The 14% Lib Dem figure seems aptly demonstrated by the recent collapse of their poll support to similar figures now they are no longer the 'party of the protest voter'.

People will splinter off to their smaller party first preference but also those who currently give their only preference to a smaller party and 'lose' their vote as 'wasted', can now give a further preference to one of the big guns and not lose their vote.

This could be crucial in a number of seats which is why MPs of all parties are scared by the prospect. The British Election Survey asked 14,000 voters at the 2010 election what their 2nd preferences were and this made interesting reading. Sadly it didn't give the full breakdown for the Tories and Lib Dems, but 66% of Labour voters backed the Lib Dems and 40% of Lib Dems backed Labour. (Incidently only 3% of Labour voters would give their 2nd preference to the BNP, I suspect the figure for the Tories would be much higher - which sort of backs my theory that BNP voters are working class Tories rather than Labour supporters).

If some of these smaller parties can survive into the last 2 by picking up other preferences, then they have a springboard to win seats but ONLY if they can get the support of more than 50%. This is why extremist parties like the BNP will still thankfully be shut out (because hopefully they will never get 50% of the vote) but not more reasonable radical parties who can attract wide support.

Remember votes for women and gay rights were radical ideas once that eventually garnered mainstream support - it took a very long time and the electoral system was probably one hurdle that had to be jumped for these ideas to be established. AV will allow parties with radical ideas to exert more influence as well as garner more support more quickly. Daniel thinks this will mean more 'muddle of the road' politics with politicians even less likely to offend and more likely to chase the centrist vote. In fact the opposite is the truth - politicians will have to be more clear where they stand on more issues and be more held to account for those views as the number of safe seats is reduced. This is essential now that party membership has dropped to little more than councillors, their family and close friends - we are pulling MP talent from a smaller and smaller clique.

The IPPR also informs us this week that coalition is now likely to be the norm even under first-past-the-post, like it is in Canada who have had 5 'non-conclusive' elections out the last 8 using our current system. So if you are not a fan of coalition government, it matters not if you vote against AV, as coalition government is what you will get whatever the system. This is because people are now much more likely to vote against the mainstream parties and demographics suggests this will increase - younger people support 'other' parties more than older voters who are dying off at a rate of 600,000 a year - thats around 3m older voters lost between every general election and millions of younger voters that are used to getting a wide choice in every other sphere. Why not politics? Lets tell these politicians they are wrong and that their time is up. Vote YES to AV on May 5th.

PS, As an aside for those who think voting NO will punish the Lib Dems, remember that more proportional systems tend to diminish their vote as their ragtag collection of left of Labour socialists, Greens, Libertarians etc can register their vote for who they really believe in. Ironically the one policy the Lib Dems are famous for campaigning for, will lead to their demise. I for one have never voted Lib Dem but I understand why a YES vote in this referendum is so important. It is the one chance we will get to improve things. If we lose this referendum nobody will believe the argument it was because we wanted a more proportional system, that will be it for a generation. If we win however, it will kickstart a PR elected second chamber campaign and the anomaly of first-past-the-post for local government will stick out like a sore thumb - the logical way to elect 2 to 3 councillors in a ward as currently would be the single-transferable-vote - basically a multi-member version of AV. So AV for Westminster logically leads to PR for local government - one to think about for those who think AV is a waste fo time.