Monday, January 10, 2011

Yes2AV debate invokes the support of Churchill

There has been a fuss recently about the names of various MPs being bandied about as ostensibly supporting one side or the other of the AV argument. Some of those MPs have insisted that their names be removed from campaign literature, as they have publicly declared for neither side.

But His Grace has received an invitation to a debate on the Alternative Vote, to be chaired by the eminent Paul Goodman of ConservativeHome.

The circulated information included this summary:
What are some of the arguments in favour of First Past The Post?

• It gives strong government. One party has an overall majority which guarantees it the ability to get its programme through Parliament.

• AV is obscure: only three countries in the world use it for their national elections: Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

• It enables an electorate to kick a government out.

• AV is complex. The Government will spend millions of pounds explaining to voters how AV works to prevent a fall in turnout at elections. In Australia, the only reason they have a high turnout is because they made voting compulsory.

• The alternative is expensive. Under AV ballot papers cannot be counted by hand on election night. Local councils will have to purchase electronic counting machines that are very expensive and prone to malfunction.

• There are lots of ways of genuine reforms which would go some way to restore people’s trust in politics – but changing of voting system to AV is not one of them. That’s why it’s a shame that we’re about to spend £90 million and five months debating a system that nobody wants.

What are some of the arguments in favour of the Alternative Vote system?

• MPs receiving more than 50 per cent of the vote have legitimacy. Currently barely 1 in 3 of MPs are supported by a majority of their voters. Under AV they would have to be. Eight MPs were elected in the last General Election with less than 20 per cent of their electorate voting for them.

• It’s simple, tried and tested. With AV you can rank as few or as many candidates as you feel are up to the job. It is used to select party leaders, The Commons Speaker, indeed any role which requires a winner to have the widest possible support.

• The end of Tactical Voting. Voters face unwelcome “tactical” voting decisions in every election. AV eliminates the need for it. Supporters of parties large and small can vote sincerely for their favourite party in the knowledge that their vote can still help to decide the winner.

• AV shuts down extremism, who almost invariably scrape in with minority support. Winners need the goodwill of the majority. For extremists, AV is a brick wall.

• A chance to have a more permanent approach to the real problems of Britain such as the economy, transport and health, so they are no longer political footballs.

• Winston Churchill, speaking about our electoral system in 1909, said: “The present system has clearly broken down. The results produced are not fair to any party, nor to any section of the community. In many cases they do not secure majority representation, nor do they secure an intelligent representation of minorities. All they secure is fluke representation, freak representation, capricious representation.”
Aside from some obvious mendacities (like criticism of FPTP not being a de facto argument for AV; and there being no mention of the fact that AV is likely to lead to more coalitions whose governmental agendas will be decided irrespective of manifesto pledges), it is curious that the mighty weight of Churchill was invoked (at some length) as the final persuasive point for the pro-AV argument, with no mention at all that the great man later said (in 1931) that AV allows democracy 'to be determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates'.

His Grace trusts that Paul Goodman, an undoubted chairman of integrity, might point out to the assembled parties that this referendum literature was a little biased in its content and distorted in its presentation.


Blogger The Church Mouse said...

It is odd in every regard. I note that the comment quoted from Churchill comes from 1909, which was pretty early in his political career.

10 January 2011 at 09:37  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no need to change the voting system for the Commons. To allow small parties the representation they need reform the house of Lords.

If the house of Lords was composed of 100 hereditary peers (elected from those elegible), 100 life peers(either chosen by MPs and existing Lords, or by popular vote and removable, also on a 1 in 1 out system), 100 5 years peers(chosen in the same way as life peers) and 300 elected peers (proportion based on votes in the general election, chosen by party list), you would have a Commons full of MPs who directly represented a constituancy and a fair, legitimate and representative Lords.

10 January 2011 at 09:58  
Blogger Richard Gadsden said...

Certain of these arguments (on both sides) are somewhat mendacious.


1. It's demonstrably untrue that FPTP gives overall majorities - it didn't last year, and it consistently fails to do so in two of the three other democracies that still use it (Canada and India) and the third (USA) uses an adjusted form (primaries) which reduces the chance of a hung parliament.

2. FPTP is used in only four countries (UK, USA, Canada, India), so it would be 4-3 to AV if we switched.

3. AV does about as good a job at kicking governments out as FPTP. In recent years, the only occasion FPTP kicked a government out and AV would not have is 1979, but AV would have kicked out Major in 1992, and FPTP did not.

4. Any change will require explaining, but the more complex STV is coped with well in Ireland, so that's only really an issue with the transition

5. I've counted AV by hand, so I have no idea where the myth comes from that it can't be counted by hand. It will take a bit longer, but a competent count will only take another hour or two.

6. There are lots of other ways to improve trust in politics. Agreed.


1. MPs do not require majority support under AV, just a majority of those expressing enough preferences. Not voting all the way down the ballot paper may be treated as an absention (a "non-transferable" vote).

2. But we aren't electing an individual; we're electing a 646-member House of Commons.

3. There still can be Tactical Voting under AV - switch your first and second preferences around if (a) your second preference is less popular, (b) your second preference is more centrist, and (c) your first preference is unlikely to win.

4. Exaggerated, and presumes that extremists can't get transfers, which is disproven by both Sinn Féin and the DUP in Northern Ireland, but there is a point buried under the hype.

5. Sigh. Just about every electoral system is in use somewhere in the world. The economy, transport and health are still political footballs everywhere.

6. Well, you've answered for Winston, so I rest here, Your Grace.

10 January 2011 at 10:20  
Blogger English Pensioner said...

Virtually all countries which have any form of PR invariably end up with a coalition government, which is why I can't understand why the LibDems are so enthusiastic about PR as they are clearly not happy being in a coalition and having to compromise.
I would prefer compulsory voting as in Australia on the basis that you can leave the voting paper blank (or make some appropriate comment) which is far more effective than simply abstaining which the politicians like to put down to idleness. At least the "None of them" supporters could have their say!

10 January 2011 at 10:31  
Blogger Phil Taylor said...

On the comment suggesting that tactical voting would still happen, if it did it would be absolutely pointless. The idea changing your #1 and #2 around would change the result is insane as it's all about getting over 50%.

As to the whole argument, I am broadly in favour as it does give the impression at the very least (and we all know that impressions are often far more important than substance in politics, just look at Blair!) that the public has got the more preferred candidate to represent them. Whether it is better than FPTP is debatable, but then so is the question of whether it's worse!

The biggest thing about it is whether it would stop us going towards PR, because in my view PR is a definite no-no. If it's the start of a slippery slope, then we need to keep things the way they are. If it's as far as we go, then I don't see the harm in at least trying it.

10 January 2011 at 11:15  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Funny in 1909 the electoral system did not even permit my grandfather to vote - that took until 1918 Representation of The People Act...though my grandmother still could not vote.

So it was hard to consider it representative after all my grandfather had spent 4 years of his life fighting.

That has nothing to do with AV.

The simple fact is that we need MUCH LESS Government doing FAR LESS and leaving US ALONE.

It is Politics that has destroyed Lives and Morality and ravaged Incomes by building the kind of STATE we did not know prior to 1914

10 January 2011 at 11:23  
Blogger Richard Gadsden said...

Phil, there are situations where you should vote tactically under AV. Let me do a worked example.

Party L is left-wing and gets 40% of first preferences

Party R is right-wing and gets 35% of first preferences

Party C is centre and gets 25% of first preferences.

All of the voters for L and R give their second preference to C.

Party C's voters split 15-10 to L rather than R on second preferences, so L wins 55-45.

This is a large election with lots of good polling, so we can be reasonably confident of the figures (e.g. London Mayoral election).

If you are a Party R voter, you would be well-advised to vote first preference for C. If 5% of the voters make that switch, then C can beat R on first preferences, the remaining R voters can then use their second preference for C and C defeats L 60-40. You get your second choice, not your first, but that always applies to tactical voting.

This happens when there is a Condorcet winner who can't get into the top-two under AV because of a shortage of first preferences.

It will happen very rarely in practice - the Lib Dems have tried this argument in the (SV, but the same applies) London Mayoral election and have been completely unable to get traction for it. The problem is that you have to give up on your second-place candidate and switch to the third-placer - and the second-place candidate is likely to be getting much more media attention than the third-placer. This means it's only meaningful when the second and third places are close, so more like a 40-30-30 election than 40-35-25.

I agree that it's an unlikely scenario - you don't get an uncompetitive second and a strong third in the same election very often. But it can exist, and, especially in high-information electorates, the tactics can apply.

A good example of something like this taking place is the 2001 conservative leadership election, when votes were very carefully manipulated to ensure that Michael Portillo would not be placed in the top-two of the election.

10 January 2011 at 11:49  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Voyager: The simple fact is that we need MUCH LESS Government doing FAR LESS and leaving US ALONE.

Yep, that sums it all up very nicely.

10 January 2011 at 11:51  
Anonymous berserker-nkl said...

PR equals coalition.

To quote English Pensioner: "I can't understand why the LibDems are so enthusiastic about PR as they are clearly not happy being in a coalition and having to compromise."

They are having to compromise because of the ridiculous promises they made during the election campaign. They had no idea they would soon be sharing power. Will this make them more careful in future? Coalition should be a pact between reasonable equals. The Lib Dems got less seats than in the previous election and yet they are helping to decide policy.

Let us look at plucky little Belgium. They still have not come close to forming a coalition after about seven months of wrangling. I believe there are four Dutch parties and three French speaking parties. They are in dire straights. They are the third most indebted country after Greece and Ireland! Also, I believe the Dutch are or were in a similar position.
One pities the poor King and Queen of these countries.

So PR in whatever form always comes down to coalition.

10 January 2011 at 11:58  
Blogger Richard Gadsden said...

Malta has PR and no coalitions; India has FPTP and always has coalitions.

And AV is not PR; Australia has AV and has Labor governments without coalition (and a permanent coalition between the Liberal and National parties - more like SDP/Liberal in the eighties or CDU/CSU in Germany than a conventional coalition).

10 January 2011 at 12:26  
Blogger srizals said...

How the feeling is mutual at the ballot box, East and West. Hope I can overcome them for the coming election. Are there any more true heroic politicians for the people out there, here and there? How I missed the overwhelming confident when casting my vote.

10 January 2011 at 13:09  
Anonymous not a machine said...

The idea that AV will produce better goverment is absurd , the only proven thing that gives good government is accountability with actionable justice on wrongdoing.

It perhaps a form of voting with consensual politics as the result in mind .
This country has not run nor escaped the strangualtions of socialism by concensus .

By all means if the people cant make a majority vote then have a coalition , but do not remove the mechanism to enact a majority goverment with purpose, by this fraud .

10 January 2011 at 18:22  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couple of other points:

- 'strong' internal government isn't necessarily healthy government all the time;

- PR might just make for mature politics with less of an adversarial, divisive approach;

- It will need politicians who are sensible and able to cross party floors, listen, discuss and agree rather than the pantomine.

Churchill was a wise old bird - might be an idea to take heed.

Afterall, the mess we're getting into is comporable to warfare - drugs, crime, street shootings and knives, child abuse, domestic abuse, trafficking of children for sexual slavery, racial and, last but very not least, terrorism, and cultural and religious division.

It can only alienate people if our political leaders snipe at each other constantly. We we where at war in Irag - rightly or wrongly - the reaction from some would have been considered treason in past times. Same too with Afganistan.

Call me old fashioned, but once a government makes a decision about sending our troops to fight, the least we can do is get behind them and leave the carping until afterwards.

We don't want our representaives behaving like children at a pantomime and the electorate acting like football hooligans - or do we?

No wonder young people are turning their backs on a process that so many gave so much for.
If 'coalition' means less polarisation, then it'sgood enought for gunga din - know what I mean?


10 January 2011 at 19:19  
Anonymous Jonathan Stuart-Brown said...

Are these people just completing the work of the Cambridge spies ? They could only betray the nation so comprehensively because they built the reputation of being fierce patriots batting for Britain hating traitors.
Maybe they are not incompotent or wooly well meaning fools but know exactly what they are doing and doing it with great efficiency.

10 January 2011 at 19:23  
Blogger Revd John P Richardson said...

I'm glad I finally clicked the link from my own blog to this post, as I honestly, seriously, thought it was something to do with the King James (Authorized) Version of the Bible and the 400th Anniversary celebrations this year.

Comes from living in a particular kind of bubble, I suppose. ;-)

10 January 2011 at 20:28  
Anonymous Atlas shrugged said...

How about this system.

1. Scrap the party system completely, especially the whips offices.

2. Each constituency selects 20, potential candidates at random from the electoral register, with another 20 or so in reserve.

3. Those 20 that wish to go forward into a primary list, have then to submit answers as to how they would personally vote concerning, say, the 20 top major political issues of the day.

4. These questions and answers get sent to the constituents for approval, and the 20 candidates go forward into a primary, at which the top 3-4 candidates are selected.

5. These 3-4 then have a budget given to them from central government to fund a 2-3 week general election campaign run on a traditional FPTP system.

6.At the following election the sitting MP would automatically go forward into the primary.

7 After just two years the sitting MP would again have to put themselves forward in an approval vote. After which all MP's that did not gain at least a 50% approval rating have to run in a secondary interim general election, using the above system.

The cabinet and PM to be elected by the resultant MP's every 2 years.

Any MP found being corrupt in any way whatsoever, to be subjected to a mandatory 10 prison sentence, a public flogging of no less then 100 lashes, and confiscation of all personal wealth including their families. MP's wages however to be increased to £300,000 minimum per year with generous benefits. PM's wages to 1,000,000 minimum per year.

While civil-service wages, cut by 50%, and benefits cut by 100%.

Oh, and I almost forgot MI5, MI6, and all government advisory bodies such as The RIIA, permanently disbanded.

A very similar system could also be used in local elections.

Personally I think it would work far better then many could possibly imagine, and most certainly better then the utterly corrupted system we currently have.

Of course absolutely nothing like it would ever happen, for obvious reasons. Not least because the establishment and especially the establishments EU would have a simply massive, collective heart attack.

10 January 2011 at 20:53  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Your Grace

Somebody needs to think clearly about the distinction between constitutional reform and electoral reform.

Two different topics, but inter-related, of course.

In particular, electoral reform is not constitutional reform. What the UK really needs is comprehensive constitutional reform to strenghten the nation prior to its departure from the EU. Electoral reform of any stripe in the current circumstances is just a diversionary tactic, resulting in re-election of the current mess by a slightly different means.

Why bother?

10 January 2011 at 23:33  
Anonymous Atlas shrugged said...

Two different topics, but inter-related, of course.

Quite so.

What is the point of talking about how to arrange the lifeboats on an already sunken ship?

One of the reasons why my system would work is that as people want to be left alone with as little government expensively messing things up as possible. By using my system that is exactly what they will get.

In other words they will get for the first time ever, a conservative government.

Especially as the establishment will not be able to tell this type of government what to do, mainly because the establishment will have been completely emasculated.

We will have a government of the people, by the people, is that not what we virtually ALL want?

Just imagine, no wars, virtually no taxes, no criminals on the streets, liberty, freedom, and justice for all, in other words eventually no state run socialism.

Or don't you actually trust the people to run their own affairs?

Ok, they may mess up sometimes, but my system would almost instantly correct itself, and would do so in a gradual manner that we could all cope with. Responsibility would lay with the individual MP, if they did not do what they said they would do they would lose a very well paid job. Rather then what they currently do when they mess up, which is earn far more money working for the establishment that long since bought them, in one capacity or another.

11 January 2011 at 00:42  
Anonymous not a machine said...

I blame Blair for the ushering in of presidential style poltics for the globalised world.

If your saying that our best educated can no longer see beyond the seduction of globalisation , then perhaps a robbery has taken place.
As for Labour leader I would be pointing out how much bankers recieved in bounuses whilst they were running the prawn cocktail circuit , or for that matter the nine bankers in the goverment of the tent of the talents . It will not do hes making out nothing bad was happening on there shift , they signed off the RBS and the lloyds deal , leggin the tax payer for continued bounus payments in ultimate champagne socialist deal .

both systems are capable of complete corruption as the labour years showed , goodness knows how much visible cash went on now defunct vanity projects from 97 onwards .
The globalised theme removes any comprehension of looking after your patch honourably , just become pot chasers rather than principaled.

I dont know what to think , I mean how/why do you knowingly create 5mn people not working whilst telling parliament and the people that everything was alright .If there had been a little more honour the scam would have been blown before it affected all the people , but then you wonder why they acted in such a reckless way or why oppositons thought very little was wrong .

If PR stands for Profitable Roundrobin I think we have taken a one way ticket to corrupt socialism aligned to fascist corpratism.

I am trying to track the debate in the USA on the deficet , why now are they saying (after blowing stimulus) that they have to reduce deficet , yet they are trying to float a company for $5obn that hasnt made money or will employ a lot of people .

11 January 2011 at 01:15  
Anonymous not a machine said...

mr Atlas shrugged I do hope you are not trying to raise socialist eutopia , have been there and worn the T shirt , it creates cattle with a state induced idea of freedom .

Who guards the guards .

11 January 2011 at 01:18  
Blogger Bugler said...

Don't know much biology
Don't know much about a science book
Don't know much about the French I took
But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be

Don't know much about geography
Don't know much trigonometry
Don't know much about algebra
Don't know what a slide rule for
But I know that one and one is two
And if this one could be with you
What a wonderful world this would be

11 January 2011 at 02:38  
Blogger Bugler said...

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They're really saying I love you.

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

11 January 2011 at 02:41  
Blogger ENGLISHMAN said...

This is meerly another commie scam,decieving the people into thinking that the scum in westminster have thier interests at heart,this system was devised to be as complicated as the eussr con,which no-one has read and understood in its entirity,nor can they,it is simply to confuse the sheep even more,for if they truly had one iota of concern for the indigenous population,would we be recieving orders from a foreign unelected junta,would our streets be awash with muslim terrorists broadcasting how much they want to kill us and rule over us,would the third world be arriving in thier millions to defraud our welfare system,deal drugs and rape our women,would the police be manhandling representatives of particular political parties to prevent them from speaking on the election hustings?The fact is ,that to the establishment the people are an embarrasing irrelevance,and are seeking ways to make our opinions and our democratic rights obsolete?yet you still hurrah for the criminals that have brought this country and its people to this abomidable condition,even though you know full well that they have lied to you for the past half century,and continue to do so,consistently on every issue,where do you see the will of the people evidenced in any way,on any issue that is not in the personal interest of the elite,do you really expect truth from those who have distorted democracy for thier own gain,and are de facto our masters?

11 January 2011 at 08:47  
Blogger English Viking said...

Good government is dependent on good men.

With that fact in mind, I recognise that no amount of tinkering will improve anything.

When was the last time you saw an MP on TV (or, more importantly, in the flesh) and thought that they were someone to be admired, respected, followed?

I would hang more than a few, an justifiably so, just to encourage the others.

12 January 2011 at 00:28  

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