03 May 2011

AV 5: AV - An Almost Penultimate Rant, wondering about one of the biggest lies in the No Campaign

Some weeks back, Bec told me that if I went beyond ten posts on the AV Referendum we'd have to have words. By that point, of course, I'd written four notes on the subject, more if you go back further.

I'm afraid I've not posted since, instead being busy and occasionally watching in dismay as the whole referendum process was being corrupted by the No2AV campaign. I really think the outcome has almost certainly been vitiated at this point, and that the whole idea of referendums in this country has been hugely discredited by the conduct of the No2AV campaign.

I started to write a note once, about a recent study for a Tory Think Tank, trumpeted on Conservative Home*, claiming that the version of AV being proposed here is so strange and obtuse it's only ever used in local elections in New South Wales and Queensland. The study carried on to reach conclusions based on the last two elections there, as though that was a valid sample, oblivious to the fact that these aren't the only places in the world where Optional Preference Voting is used.

A Mysterious Silence
Yes, it's used in Ireland. We use it in Presidential elections and in parliamentary elections where there's only one seat at stake in a constituency:

Why on earth do you think the No2AV campaign is so keen to suppress the fact that AV is used in the only country in the world which you don't have to cross a sea to get to from the UK? Why do you think the No2AV people hush up the fact that AV is used in the only country you can walk to from the UK? Why do you think that the No2AV people hide the fact that AV is used in the country in which almost a million of Britain's current residents were born, a country which -- Britain aside -- was the birthplace of more residents of Britain than any other, every single one of whom is eligible to be on the British electoral register and to vote in this referendum?
  • Do you think it's because the No2AV campaigners are ignorant and don't realise this? It's possible, I suppose. Certainly, given how George Osborne was claiming just four years ago that the British economy should be run on Irish lines, it does seem that the Tory high command aren't very clued in on political and economic realities outside their front doors...
  • Or do you think it's because they're stupid and don't understand what transferable voting actually is? Certainly, I know someone who's been ardently opposed to AV ever since he was told to be -- you can watch him in the background of the No2AV mob here -- but who had to ask me the other week what AV had to do with transferable voting...
  • Or do you think it might just be because they know full well that if British people realised that Irish people are very familiar with transferable voting, not least the version of it technically called Optional Preference Voting but known here as Alternative Voting, then they'd be able to seek the opinions of the many people here who actually know how the system works in practice, rather than relying on Tory fantasies of 'can you imagine what would happen?'
 We don't need to imagine. We can talk to people who are used to this in reality, and we can look at the facts of election campaigns -- I happen to think the Irish 1997 Presidential Election Campaign would be a pretty close template for how a typical British constituency vote would go under an AV system. I wish I'd written a post on that, but I fear that bird has flown. Still, you can look it up on Wikipedia

Another Irishman's View
Jason O'Mahony, a one-time unsuccessful Progressive Democrat -- that's economically centre-right, for British readers -- electoral candidate at home, wrote on this to good effect the other week, advising that British people should actually listen to people who've used transferable voting before deciding whether they approve of it or not.

Much more gifted as a pundit than he was successful as a politician, O'Mahony's been following the debate here in, frankly, complete disbelief. He's written at least five posts on the topic, all of which would definitely repay reading, for any of you who's not yet made up your mind on AV or for any of you who have but are even notionally open to the possibility that you might be wrong.

The first of the posts, for instance, comments on how surreal he finds the debate here, drily observes the weakness of the argument that First Past the Post should be retained as it's the only way the Conservatives can thwart the will of the British people, notes how the No side seem to be shutting down their brain functions in this debate and convincing themselves that transferable voting is terribly complicated, and makes one very perceptive point about the nature of the debate.
'One thing that has struck me has been that one’s attitude to AV is shaped by one’s attitude to politics, and I don’t mean left wing or right wing.

There’s a common theme running through the anti-AV campaign, and it’s this: You are only allowed think about politics the way professional politicians thinkabout it. You should love one party unconditionally, and hate every other party vociferously.

Of course, that’s not how most people think. Most people have a tendency towards one party over others, but also don’t mind some other parties, have no opinion on others and really dislike one or two. UKIP voters feel differently about the Conservatives than they do about the Lib Dems. Even Conservative and Labour voters, the two traditional enemies, probably are more well-disposed, generally, towards each other than the BNP. It’s like going into a restuarant. If they don’t have your favourite dish, you make a second choice. You don’t storm out and go hungry. Yet that is how anti-AV people seem to think.
In Ireland we use AV in presidential and by-elections. We don’t need special voting machines, we don’t have mass panic trying to understand the ballot paper or voting or counting. Our parliament is elected under a different system that uses the exact same ballot paper, and people vote in the same way. Is there chaos and confusion? No.

There is, however, one difference between British and Irish politics, or at least it appears that way to me.
In Ireland, our politicians, elected under a preferential voting system, seem to be much more afraid of us, the voters, than British politicians are afraid of British voters. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. But I can understand why the professional politicians opposed to AV would think otherwise.'

You should read what he has to say. And then you should vote Yes, unless you like your country being ruled by a minority. To be fair, you might like that, of course. Because, you know, maybe you think that real democracy is government of the people, by some of the people, for a few of the people. And if so, you should vote to keep the current system, even though more than a hundred years have passed since a Royal Commission on Electoral Reform found that it was no longer fit for purpose and should be replaced with AV.
This post if you're interested. You shouldn't be. The guy who did the 'research' should be sacked.

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