Sunday, April 17, 2011

AV: roundup and conclusion of a sort

So I asked for your help to decide what I thought about the alternative vote.

A few of you were supportive on the grounds that it was a start and it would be possible to demand further improvement later.
NomadUK said..I say vote yes. It's not great, but it greases the skids by changing the system; once changed, it's that much easier to change it again — much as the Reform Act 1832, whilst imperfect, led to far greater changes in the electoral system. If AV is rejected, it'll be touted as public approval of the current system, and it'll be a generation or more before anyone dares try again.
9:21 AM
Jonathan Hopkin said...Agree with Nomad. If you want PR, voting against this makes it less likely. Remember the sinking of devolution in the 1970s? Took 20 years to get that going again. Nick Clegg is ****ed anyway, AV isn't going to save him.
11:21 AM
Pauline said...I agree with Nomad as well. Just think of the "told you so" smirking if there's a no vote. And I can't bring myself to side with Cameron and bloody Nick Griffin.

The problem here is that every attempt to model its effects I've seen primarily benefits the Lib Dems. All other things being equal, this fulfils their primary interest in supporting electoral reform. More proportionality starts to bring other parties into the game. In a transitional AV system, the Lib Dems would be in the position of the German FDP, and they wouldn't have any interest in weakening this position. They would tend to swing against anyone who suggested STV or more, and as kingmakers, prevent it from happening. If making a move on electoral reform really did make it easier to go further, we'd somehow have to get to AV without having a single swing party with an interest in sticking at AV. Essentially, we'd need to have a Labour government with a manifesto commitment to STV, which requires that the Lib Dems get such a thrashing that even the AV bonus can't keep them relevant.

Well, I can certainly imagine the Lib Dems getting a thrashing at the next election. But if the point is to beat the coalition and elect a strong Labour government, either on its own or as a hegemonic coalition partner with a few Lib Dem survivors, and then pass STV, why risk the scenario where the Lib Dems just squeak by thanks to AV and put the Tories in again? What benefit does the detour through AV provide? Isn't it just a more complicated and slightly riskier route to the same goal?

There were those who strongly opposed AV on the grounds that losing the vote would destabilise the coalition and bring a general election closer:
Phil - April 11, 2011 at 10:56 am: Anything that makes the coalition less cohesive is good for us (and for the country), as is anything that stops the Lib Dem leadership from carrying on as if 2010 was politics as usual. Turn it round: the fact that a Yes vote would make Nick Clegg happy wouldn’t be a good enough reason to vote No, but the prospect of a Yes vote consolidating Clegg’s leadership of the Lib Dems and hence stabilising the coalition is quite good enough for me.

Chris Williams - April 11, 2011 at 11:05 am: I’m with Phil on this: vote No to split the Lib Dems and bring down the Coalition ASAP. The next lot in will find it harder to screw up the public sector.

On the other hand:

Tom said..." I'm teetering between the principle of spanking Clegg and the principle of doing anything the Murdoch papers are lying about" Organ grinder or monkey? Yes all the way, baby. 8:18 PM

Some people had technical arguments in favour of AV:

Raphael - April 10, 2011 at 10:14 pm: As far as I can tell, if voters don’t act too stupidly, the main effect of AV in Britain would be that the Tories (or UKIP, or the BNP,) wouldn’t be able anymore to win a constituency where most voters are more or less left of centre or centre-left through a split in the left-leaning vote.

Which, going by past results, might mean that it would become a lot more difficult for the Tories to win a majority in the Commons anytime soon, or even to get as close to an outright majority as they’re now again.

Phil Hunt: April 10, 2011 at 6:47 pm: Another advantage of AV — it makes it easier to get rid of unpopular MPs. I would love to see the look on Clegg’s face if AV wins and the voters of Sheffield Hallam use it to get rid of him.

Anonymous said...STV is fairer. But AV at least prevents you 'wasting' your vote by voting for a minor party. And over time minor parties can grow in strength to win an AV seat. Adam Brandt winning the seat of Melbourne for the Greens at the last Federal election being a case in point. 12:50 PM

One reader was strongly in favour of a majoritarian system, which is surprising as he's a Lib Dem. Another was worried that the Tories would win an early election, to which I can only respond that the UK Polling Report's projection based on the current state of the polls forecasts a Labour majority of 86. And at least one reader believes that voting is just part of the system, like, and I shouldn't bother.

In general, it seems to me that the problem is basically whether you consider the Lib Dems to be a credible partner for a left-wing government. If so, then all the stuff about a progressive majority and keeping the Tories out of as many seats as possible retains its force, up to a point. But only up to a point. One thing we know now that we didn't in May, 2010 is that the Lib Dems are indeed capable of enabling a radical Tory government. For the "anti-Tory AV" model to work, you have to assume that Labour-Lib Dem coalitions will drag the political spectrum far enough to the Left to balance out the inevitable periods of Tory-Lib Dem coalition. That might be true in a STV world where a Labour-led coalition would have to be concerned about its left flank, but it wouldn't be true in an AV world where, assuming mediocrity, the election would be decided by the Liberals. Of course, the Liberals might be a moderating influence on the Tories, but have we seen that much evidence of this?

And if you don't believe they can be treated as a reliable factor in the Left's calculations, well, you just have to consider them to be Tories operationally, more like the Aussies' National party than the FDP.

In fact, I'm coming around to the view that AV itself sucks. Isn't it just a way of dignifying swing-voter politics? Rather than hypertargeting five people in the bit of Stevenage with no smelly foreigners, close to the Tesco and just far enough from the motorway, isn't it just a way of redefining them as the Lib Dem base?

So what about "no, and campaign to get STV on the next Labour manifesto"?

(Someone also dropped off this link, which makes a strong argument against letting Labour become a second preference party.)

(I really am starting to talk like I'm back in again, aren't I?)


Metatone said...

Worth a look at Andrew Rawnsley today... not sure he's right, but it's a plausible analysis.

My own view is that since changing the voting system is a matter for referendums, then the devolution debate is very much a good analogy.

The impending loss on AV will sink reform for 15-20 years. Getting AV may leave no single constituency campaigning for STV, but that's true at the moment anyway. But under AV if you do assemble one, there's a chance of a referendum. No chance if AV lost.

Many of those years will likely be a majority Tory government. And it's hard to see how that's a good thing given their current economic illiteracy.

AV isn't immediately a good thing, except that it allows third parties a greater chance. The Lib Dems are the current third party, but I'd expect AV to improve the situation for the Greens, at the expense of the LDs.

Nick said...

So what about "no, and campaign to get STV on the next Labour manifesto"?

Because the experience of 1997 and after suggests that Labour governments have a very poor record of delivering promises on electoral reform?

Naadir said...

One thing to think about is what happens if we get an elected upper chamber. In which case, you might want a majoritarian lower house, and a proportional upper house.

john b said...

Alex - doesn't your analysis rely on the Lib Dems abandoning their commitment to further electoral reform if AV is passed?

AIUI, the official LD position is to support STV - the AV referendum is because it was the only concession the Tories were willing to make.

If the LDs enter the next election without STV as a manifesto pledge, then we'll know they've turned completely cynical. But - given they've been campaigning for it on the grounds of principle for longer than they've even existed as a single party - I'm sceptical that will happen.

gastro george said...

I agree 100% with Naadir.

My take is that at least AV serves to expand the debating ground. The main parties have come to realise that, with FPTP, you only need to target the 200,000 (or whatever) swing votes in the marginals. As you note, these are "five people in the bit of Stevenage with no smelly foreigners, close to the Tesco and just far enough from the motorway". These are the "Little Men" of England, yet the whole election is played out around their preferences. So these preferences become much more significant than they are in reality.

At least with AV, the debate must widen. It means that the politicians will have to become much cleverer in their pitch to the nation, and I predict some pretty strange voting patterns - at least to start with.

For example, UKIP will do much better than anticipated. If that doesn't split the Tory party, it will force them into a dilemma that has been haunting the Labour Party. Go only for the core vote, or what? This is a worse dilemma for the Tories, as their core vote is more intransigent, and an isolated minority.

Tom said...

"you have to assume that Labour-Lib Dem coalitions will drag the political spectrum far enough to the Left to balance out the inevitable periods of Tory-Lib Dem coalition"

To expand a bit, what the UK *really* lacks is not PR or a slightly better system than FPTP or even an FDP-like Lib Dems, but an equivalent of the CDU - a mainstream right-of-centre party that's OK with coalitions and majority sane rather than majority borderline psychotic.

That's not my cup of tea but it's way better than the kind of GOP-lite/wanktank/executive arm of the lobbyists that the current Conservatives have become, and that knows that it has a sniff of power based purely on 'give the other lot a go' pendulum politics and negative campaigning.

AV therefore weakens the hands of the desperate gamblers in the Tories who will bet the entire country on whatever prospect of total power remains.

For the rest, for Lib Dems read Greens.s

Anonymous said...

And the massed ranks of contributors, with a couple of exceptions, answer the question 'will AV produce a better result for MY party?'.

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