02 April 2011

AV 2: AV Again, OR If you have to lie to make your case, then it probably isn't a good case...

See, here we go again. Have a look at this article and especially the three quotes from David Cameron. Every single one of them is a lie. It seems as though he has no respect for the truth, the British people, or the integrity of the referendum process.
"It is a system so undemocratic that your vote for a mainstream party counts once, while someone can support a fringe party like the BNP and get their vote counted several times."
Leaving aside how in a quarter of UK constituencies, the Conservatives are at best a third party, this is nonsense. In AV your vote is ultimately only counted once. However many rounds of counting there may be, there's only one decisive round, and in that round everybody's vote is counted just once. Not several times. Once.
"It's a system so obscure that it is only used by three countries in the whole world: Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. I'm not making it up, three countries in the whole world. Our system is used by half of the world."
Leaving aside how its just an accident of history that lots of countries have inherited First Past the Post -- with there being no shortage of ones that have abandoned or rejected it -- this just isn't true. I've voted twice in AV elections in Ireland, as we use AV for presidential elections and parliamentary elections when there's only one seat at stake, and India uses AV for presidential elections.
"Just think forward to the Olympics. Usain Bolt powers home in the hundred metres but when it comes to handing out the gold medals they give it to the person who comes third. You wouldn't do it in the Olympics, we shouldn't do it in politics, we've got to vote no to this crazy system."
These are the same Olympics that'll be held in a city where the Mayor is elected by instant run-off voting? And not by FPTP? Just making sure...

Look, the metaphor's wrong for starters, as an athletic contest has a clear finishing line, which AV has and First Past the Post, despite its ironic name, lacks: AV basically requires a winner to be supported by half of the voters, whereas FPTP just requires the winning candidate to be supported by one more voter than the next guy. Depending on how many credible candidates there are, that figure can be pretty low. That's why the Liberal Democrat Simon Wright is in Parliament with just 29.36% of the Norwich South vote and why the Greens' Caroline Lucas is there with just 31.33% of the Brighton Pavilion vote. Neither of them even needed 29%.

That aside, Cameron obviously doesn't believe this. If he did, he'd favour using First Past the Post when selecting Conservative leaders and candidates. Granted, that'd have meant that Ken Clarke would have won in 1997, Michael Portillo would have won in 2001, and David Davis would have beaten Cameron himself in 2005. The Conservative system is, after all, a sensible one: a series of preliminary rounds of voting is used to winnow the field of candidates down to two, those two then being decisively voted on. AV does exactly the same thing, except that preferences are all stated at the outset, which is why it's also known as Instant Run-Off Voting.

And none of this nonsense about run-off voting being okay for choosing individual candidates, leaders, presidents, or whatever, but not for choosing parliaments. Given the British system of single-seater constituencies, a general election is just a load of individual elections happening at the same time.

No, Cameron obviously opposes AV because the undemocratic advantage the Conservatives enjoy in the current system might be cancelled out under AV. Might. The fact is that nobody knows what the effect of AV will be. The only thing we can be certain of is that it will allow people to express honest preferences, without fearing that doing so could mean that their vote will be wasted.

I have a fair idea of what the broad effect of the change will be, in the short term, but I'll save that for another day. Back to work, methinks.

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