Don’t Take No For an Answer: Lewis Baston and Ken Ritchie on the AV referendum

The May 2011 electoral reform referendum is not a happy memory for Britain’s electoral reformers, which makes this book from two long-standing electoral reform campaigners surprisingly positive. As the title indicates, their view is that the overwhelming No vote does not signal the death of electoral reform in the UK.

In part the optimism comes from the gory details it gives of the appalling mistakes and mismanagement in the referendum Yes campaign. This was not a superbly organised push for electoral reform that got defeated; the weakness of the campaign gives some hope for a future if, as the authors express the hope, the book helps people learn from the mistakes made.

As Baston and Ritchie point out, the government’s plans for Lords reform include proportional representation, which may yet mean that half of Parliament gets PR within a few years. Moreover, whilst the idea of elected Police Commissioners is controversial, the provision for them to be elected by something other than First Past The Post has gone with barely a murmur of protest – and the only protests there have been about the electoral system are not about the decision to avoid First Past The Post but about the particular alternative chosen (the Supplementary Vote rather than the Alternative Vote).

Lewis Baston and Ken Ritchie are (rightly) very critical of the Yes campaign, which makes their lack of criticism of other, earlier electoral reform campaigning a little surprising. The book has no mention, for example, of how badly many Liberal Democrats reacted to the “fill up their email inboxes” campaign activity launched immediately after the 2010 general election even though it was supposedly aimed at persuading them. That is a shame because it means the question of whether the failure of the Yes campaign was just a 2010/11 failure or something that reflected deeper flaws in the electoral reform movement does not get much attention, though it is hinted at when the authors talk of “an appearance of smugness and self-satisfaction with the ‘democracy sector’ in general needs to lose rather than advertise to the electorate”.

What does get addressed is a good, short narrative of the referendum campaign along with a comprehensive summary of the poll data and voting figures, even if the statistical analysis is a little simple at times. (Questions of link between level of Yes votes and demography, for example, call out for some more advanced statistical calculations than those in the book.)

Overall it is a pretty fair account. Baston’s frequently made criticisms of Nick Clegg over electoral reform are repeated in the book but a fair hearing is also given, for example, to the reasons why in advance of the referendum many Yes campaigners thought May 2011 was a good date to pick; a view that in hindsight not many are keen to defend. The book also does a good job of citing a wide range of different viewpoints within parties and not being confined to a few familiar faces from within the Parliamentary bubble. It even quotes a blog post from myself…

All in all, it is a good guide not only to what went wrong with the AV referendum but also the circumstances in which future referendums might be won or lost. It even paints a few plausible scenarios in which the next referendum may not be that far away – such as if the government does legislate to give petitions with large numbers of signatures a real legislative weight or if a future hung Parliament sees Labour courting Liberal Democrat MPs.

You can buy Don’t Take No For An Answer by Lewis Baston and Ken Ritchie from Amazon.

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30 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Oct '11 - 11:52am

    I myself, very publicly (in the London Liberal Democrat conference) stood up and told those in the party present that the campaign was going badly wrong, why I thought it was going wrong, and to remember me when we lost it.

    This was at a time when we were still very optimistic about it, and opinion polls on it were looking reasonably good. What appalled me most was the way it was treated as some sort of betrayal to voice in public one’s concern about the incompetence of the way the campaign was being run, and the patronising treatment I received from some of those involved in response to my being the only one willing to stand up in public and say the campaign was going wrong.

    I see the same in the party more generally now. It is going badly wrong in its public image and campaign tactics and presentation, but it is unwilling to accept any criticism from concerned members. I have recently experienced being belittled and ignored and even abused by leading campaigners and campaign managers when I have tried to vocalise my concern about the way the party is presenting itself. I do not know what else to do, but this arrogant and illlberal behaviour from those in charge, this complacency and incompetency persuaded me our party is going down the drain, and I don’t want to invest any more of my time or money in it until it is willing to see that from the top down, and change.

  • Tony Dawson 26th Oct '11 - 1:01pm

    ” it is a good guide not only to what went wrong with the AV referendum”

    What AV referendum? I only remember a referendum about (a) the issues surrounding the merits or otherwise of Nick Clegg versus (b) those connected with allegedly greedy MPs.

  • @Matthew

    I suspect you’ll have to make them note that you’ve made these concerns public, no matter what how badly they react, then wait until things hit the fan. Then you’d be more likely to be taken seriously.

    I agree that there are a lot of people in the LDs going “Crisis? What crisis?” at the moment – keeping their cool has turned into burying their heads in the sand, I think. I’m sure that if the party isn’t crippled by the inevitable difficulties in 2015 that lessons will be learned in time (as in, by 2020) though.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Oct '11 - 4:30pm

    George Kendall

    But there are a lot of things we can do, for example by helping in target seats.

    Been there, done that. What about having a prime role in turning a once near derelict seat into a target seat? Been there, done that too.

  • Tony Dawson 26th Oct '11 - 5:37pm

    @dunkhan:

    “keeping their cool has turned into burying their heads in the sand”

    No, I am sure that when the results of the independent inquiry into the causes of Lib Dem failure in parts of the country in the 2010 General Election are made available, there will be a Great Leap Forward, Little Aqua Books in hand.

  • @ Jedibeeftrix

    “That is probably because many of the people who support FPTP in General Elections do so precisely because of the features it brings to parliament in this country, such as:
    1. manifesto mandate
    2. majoritarian electoral system that encourages decisive government
    3. an adversarial system that encourages debate on the grand themes of politics”

    1. Wilfully ignored by most governments and in any case, most voters only agree with parts of their chosen party’s manifesto;
    2: Destructive, divisive and ill thought out policies, I think you mean;
    3: That’ll be yah-boo yobbery that makes rational discussion impossible.

    The AV campaign wasn’t the best, but what really counted was the vicious tribalism of UK politics and the determination of Tory and Labour voters to use the referendum solely as a means of ganging together to administer a kicking to a party that had had the temerity to challenge their cosy duopoly.

    Not sure how we get around that one in future other than (1) getting a parliamentary majority (2) changing to a new voting system without holding a referendum.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Oct '11 - 11:25pm

    @ Jedibeeftrix

    That is probably because many of the people who support FPTP in General Elections do so precisely because of the features it brings to parliament in this country, such as:
    1. manifesto mandate
    2. majoritarian electoral system that encourages decisive government
    3. an adversarial system that encourages debate on the grand themes of politics

    Well, that is more or less what we have now. The government we have is very decisive – it is decisively going round doing Tory things – making cuts, sucking up to the rich, making life harder for everyone else, assuming the answer to any problem is to turn it into a cash market. That’s what the Tories said they would do in their manfesto, that’s what Tories are like – people who think the rich need to be made richer and more comfortable to encourage them to work and the poor need to be made poorer and less comfortable to encourage them to work. We also have an adversarial system – that is, another lot moaning and whingeing about all that, and saying it’s all rotten and no good, but not actually proposing much because they are relying on getting back to uncontrolled power once the pendulum swings their way. We do have the LibDems, but the FPTP system worked much as those who support say is so good about it – they were weakened by its distortions and so have little effect.

    So, if all those who voted “No” to AV were doing so on the main grounds that the current government was not extreme and Tory enough and that was due to those pesky LibDems who needed to be squeezed out, I’d understand their case. But there was a substantial body of people who voted “No” and said they were doing so because they hated the LibDems for not doing enough to stop Tory policies. Now that really is STUPID – the main argument for FPTP is just as Jedibeeftrix puts it, yet you had all these people voting for FPTP on the grounds they didn’t like what FPTP had given them.

    Thats is why I wil carry in saying -anyone who voted “No” in the referendum was endorsing wholeheartedly the government we have because that government came about due to the distortions of FPTP and it is the sort of decisive extremist government that the supporters of FPTP say is such a good thing. Therefore, the only logical complaint anyone who voted “No” in the referendum could have about the LibDems is that the LibDems are doing too much to stop Tory policies and should just let them go through unchallenged on the grounds that the Tories won the most votes so won “Frist Past the Post” so should be allowed to put through all their policies and do what they like. Anyone who voted “No” and then uses the lines like “rotten LibDems propping up the Tories” is either a complete hypocrite or just very, very thick. The MAIN THING propping up the Tories is the FPTP electoral system which gave them far more seats than theri share of the vote, so to vote “No” vote in the referendum was to prop up the Tories far more than the LibDems did.

    I say this again – anyone who voted “No” in the referendum might as well have put on a blue rosette and an “I love Maggie” badge. That “No” vote was a TORY vote, as Tory as if you’d put your cross against the Tory in a general election. If you voted “No” you voted Tory. Have I made my point clear?

    OK, so why couldn’t our “great communicators” at the top of our party have made it so clear instead of fluffing it so badly that some of the most Labour parts of the country trooped out in May and effectively voted Tory?

  • @RC

    Oh dear oh dear… the ‘vicious tribalism’, it was all about ‘kicking Clegg’ argument rears its head once again – when you put that one out to grass I might listen seriously to the debate again.

    Please try to realise that perfectly sane people looked at the arguments being made (not very cleverly by the Yes campaign and very misleadingly by the Nos) and decided that the change being proposed on balance just wasn’t worth it. As for Jedibeeftrix I disagree with a lot of his views but on the AV campaign I think he took the Yes side to the cleaners.

  • @ R C “The AV campaign wasn’t the best”

    Understatement of the year. It was breathtakingly inept.

    When a sympathetic voter, sufficiently interested to keep the leaflets and brandish them at a canvasser, asks what the point is because the examples given produce exactly the same result as FPTP…

    When later leaflets completely fail to address points made in “anti” literature and the media…

    When the only decent coherent explanation of your proposal is a pub vs coffee video on YouTube…

    …heads should have rolled. If this were business, the marketing director and the advertising agency would have been sacked.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '11 - 9:05am

    balbs

    Oh dear oh dear… the ‘vicious tribalism’, it was all about ‘kicking Clegg’ argument rears its head once again – when you put that one out to grass I might listen seriously to the debate again

    As I have said, the logic of the “No” position is that the only criticism that should be made of Clegg was that he was blocking Tory policies. The “No” position said distortion in favour of the biggest party and against third parties, so strengthening the biggest and weakening third parties was a good thing. So I can perfectly well understand Tories voting “No” to AV. But all these people who voted “No” because they supposed it was a way of attacking Clegg for being weak, stupid, stupid, stupid – they were voting for a system whose main benefit according to its supporters was that it did just this. So, I may hold that Tory “No” voters knew what they were doing, but anyone who voted “No” and did not hold to the position that the main thing wrong with this government was that it was not Tory enough did not know what they were doing.

    Now, the problem comes down to the stupendous innumeracy that predominates in this country, so people were easily fooled, and also the stupendous incompetency of the “Yes” campaign leaders who let them be fooled. The main problem I had with the “Yes” campaign, though I have subsequently heard of many further incompetencies I was not aware of when I came to the conclusion it was useless on the basis of what I saw in the open, is that in failing to find a simple way to explain the workings of the system – it really is not that complicated, the system of repeated rounds of votes with the lowest one being thrown out is after all what many people are used to in all these TV competitions that use it – it laid the “Yes” campaign open to the illogical and innumerate attacks that came from the “No” campaign.

    Ann Keelan

    When a sympathetic voter, sufficiently interested to keep the leaflets and brandish them at a canvasser, asks what the point is because the examples given produce exactly the same result as FPTP…

    You mean there was some literature from the “Yes” campaign which actually gave examples of the AV system at work, rather than just vague waffle? All I saw was the vague waffle. Of course, if the only example they gave was of a result that was the same as FPTP would give, that would be incompetent, although it would have been a useful point to show that in most cases AV gives the same as FPTP because that would have shut up the wilder claims of the “No” side. The hyperbolic waffle of the “Yes” side just encouraged that, a better approach would have been to admit this was a small adjustment to cover anomalous situations that can arise in circumstances of more than two candidates for a constituency.

    What was needed was a range of simple scenarios showing where AV would have a useful effect in giving voters more power over who is their MP. For example, the way it would allow an independent challenger to a poor MP more chance because of the way it removes the “don’t split the vote” fear. I myself at one time drew up five little scenarios like this, using nice friendly language and no party names, just to illustrate various patterns where AV would solve a problem. The “independent challenger” one started something like “John was once a good MP, and his area always supports his party, but lately he has been a bit lazy. Anne supports his party, but felt it was time to …”. Well, ok, I don’t have time to repeat it all, but do you get my point?

    But I’m not a professional PR man, I’d have given my little stories to illustrate AV for free, while those who think politics is using what is needed to sell consumer products rather than educate got handsomely paid for material that did not work. Anyway, who am I? Not one of the PR ad-man City elite who now run this party and think they know everything and activists like me are just little people who should shut up and do what we are told. That is why I am an activist no more for the party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '11 - 9:38am

    Jedibeeftrix

    The Lib-Dem’s are not one of the big two parties in our two-point-five party system because they have an allergic reaction to anything that smacks of populism

    Er, I take it that “Focus” is not delivered in your ward.

    Listen, Jedibeeftrix, I did not win Downham Ward LB Lewisham three times by a dry technocratic approach.

    My point is that because of the incompetency of the “Yes” campaign most people just did not know how AV worked, and voted for reasons other than having carefully thought it through and come to an informed decision. I think I have expressed this very clearly, but let my try again. The argument in favour of FPTP is that it distorts representation in favour of the biggest party and against third parties and this is a good thing because it leads to more decisive government. Well, anyone who holds to the logic of this position must also hold to the logic that the best result from the last election (and accepting democracy) is that we should have a pure Tory government. But many people who voted “No” took the opposite position – they wanted the LibDems to be doing MORE to stop Tory policies. So if that is your position, why vote for a system whose main benefit is that it strengthens the biggest party and weakens the third? There is no logic in it, and therefore I am sure those people just did not think it through and did not vote for FPTP on the grounds they understood the systems and had made a rational decision on that basis.

    The “Yes to AV” campaign TRIED to be populist, but it was an ad-man’s PR-person’s idea of populism i.e. an elite type’s form of it, which is as laughable as anyone else trying to be what they are not – trendy vicars, teachers dressing up like teenagers, all that sort of stuff. I knew damned well from my own experience working a tough council estate ward, and also from my experience of teaching algorithmic concepts to teenagers in my professional job, how AV could have been sold to the masses, and it was not done as it should be done through sheer incompetency – and through the clueless out-of-touch public schoolboys (of all ages and sexes) at the top of our party.

    You want emotion? You’ve got it from me, on this very issue. I am ANGRY beyond belief at the way our party is being driven down the pan by the people at its top right now. I am ANGRY beyond belief at the way the people I persuaded to vote LibDem have been let down by those at the top of this party. Not by the formation of the coalition – that was unavoidable given the party balance after the general election, and the distortions that made it unavoidable have been endorsed by the “No” vote in the referendum – but by the way it has been handled since, a way which will destroy the party I have worked for over 33 years, and a way which will hand this country back to the even more useless and incompetent Labour Party, the fruits of whose last governemnt we see around us in the rotten state of our country now.

  • anyone who voted “No” in the referendum might as well have put on a blue rosette and an “I love Maggie” badge

    Matthew – coming from someone that complains about vicious tribalism that’s a bit rich… but your’e forgiven that insult as I know you are angry.

    However I’ll try again to explain.. my no vote wasn’t a vote for FPTP as you seem to imply. As I said above given the system as proposed just didn’t offer me a decent alternative. Much as I might despise the Tories I was voting for a new system of representation, not in a general election. Much of the population seemed to agree the longer the debate went on.The yes campaign struggled to rebut many of the valid criticisms and was left trying to defend an idea that they didnt seem to believe in themselves.

  • @ Balbs

    “Please try to realise that perfectly sane people looked at the arguments being made (not very cleverly by the Yes campaign and very misleadingly by the Nos) and decided that the change being proposed on balance just wasn’t worth it. ”

    I realise that some perfectly sane people made up their minds the way you say, but most voted out of sheer bloody mindedness. You can’t try to pretend that they didn’t. Both Tories and Labour supporters voted along purely partisan lines and weren’t going to give the real arguments behind voting reform any chance whatsoever however good a campaign was run.

    It is a classic Lib Dem misconception of politics that if you just argue nicely and present the facts people will eventually agree with you. They don’t, particularly when faced with a vicious campaign of misinformation, particularly on the part of the press.

  • Old Codger Chris 27th Oct '11 - 4:24pm

    My reason for voting NO to AV was exactly the same as balbs.

    Anyway that’s history and if anything useful emerged from the referendum campaign it was how not to conduct one in the future – people often learn more from success than from failure and we may face future campaigns on issues such as real electoral reform (PR) and the EU. We will certainly face a hard battle in 2015.

  • Stuart Mitchell 27th Oct '11 - 7:03pm

    R C: “Both Tories and Labour supporters voted along purely partisan lines and weren’t going to give the real arguments behind voting reform any chance whatsoever however good a campaign was run.”

    This is simply incorrect. All the polls I saw showed that it was Tories and LIB DEMS who voted along partisan lines (i.e. >= 90% No and Yes respectively), whereas Labour voters were split pretty much 50-50. Either Labour voters were the only voters to take a non-partisan view of the referendum, or they simply couldn’t decide which vote would better further their partisan interests.

  • Stuart Mitchell 27th Oct '11 - 7:08pm

    “Moreover, whilst the idea of elected Police Commissioners is controversial, the provision for them to be elected by something other than First Past The Post has gone with barely a murmur of protest”

    This is such an irrelevant point. It is perfectly logical and sensible to support (say) AV for a single-post election such as that for a police commissioner, but to reject it for parliamentary elections. Indeed, this was the stated position of the people who ran the Yes campaign for many years before the referendum.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '11 - 11:32pm

    balbs

    However I’ll try again to explain.. my no vote wasn’t a vote for FPTP as you seem to imply. As I said above given the system as proposed just didn’t offer me a decent alternative

    So, let me give a scenario. Cuthbert and Dibble are standing to become MP for Trumpton. 60% of the electorate of Trumpton want Cuthbert and 40% want Dibble. At the last minute just before nominations close, along comes Grubb with a valid nomination form. 22% of the electorate who were going for Cuthbert then decide though they like Cuthbert better than Dibble, they like Grubb even more. So what is your argument that Dibble should be duly elected as MP for Trumption even though more of Trumpton’s people prefer Cuthbert to Dibble?

    That’s the nub of it balbs, that’s the difference between FPTP and AV. You claim you made a carefully thought through decision, so please tell me why is the less popular Dibble the right person to be MP for Trumpton in your carefully considered opinion?

    As for whether your vote was for FPTP, well can you name me ANY commentator who drew the conclusion from the victory for “No” that this was an argument for a more thorough-going electoral reform? Well, I know of none, the universal view seemed to be that the victory for “No” had ended any chance of any sort of electoral reform in the near future, that Britain had decided decisively that it wanted FPTP to stay. I’d have accepted your point had there been anyone serious saying “Well that proves we must go for STV soon” or something like that. There were none – even the most vocal advocates of STV and the like have been silenced by the victpry for “no”. Your vote for “No” was a boot stamping on the face of electoral reform and you have a damned cheek to claim otherwise – it was a vote for FPTP forever, and as FPTP gives us a near majority Tory government even when the Tories had nowhere near majority support and many who voted Tory only did so because FPTP forced them to do so for fear of splitting the vote if they did anything else, it was vote for Tory government, it was like wearing a blue rosette and an “I love Maggie” badge – in effect, even if you did not mean it that way.

    Yes, AV was indeed a “miserable little compromise”, but it was all we were offered, it corrects the Cuthbert-Dibble-Grubb anomaly, allow people at least to vote for what they really want without fear of “splitting the vote” and so letting in what they most dislike, and most importantly a “Yes” victory would have established that people wanted change, that they did not think an electoral system that gave us thw government we have now was a good one.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '11 - 11:42pm

    Jedibeeftrix

    I do not accept that it “distorts” representation:
    dis·tort – 1. To twist out of a proper or natural relation of parts; misshape.
    Because i do not accept that it produces unnatural results.

    Well, please feel free to suggest another word which can be used to mean the Conservatives get over five times as many MPs as the Liberal Democrats even though they got less than twice as many votes. It’s the fact the current system gave that effect I’m on about, not what word you think ought to be used to describe it. If you want to call it “banana”, I’ll accept that, and then I’ll say that as the people who voted “No” thereby voted for banana, there’s something rather strange that so many of them voted No and claimed to be doing so because they so much hated what banana naturally led to. I’m happy to see the logic of those (Tories) who voted “No” and say they like bananas and the only problem is the last one wasn’t bent enough. But to vote for something who main boast was that it gave us a banana, and then to say you did so because you really hate big yellow bent peelable things of the sort so well advertised by David Miliband, well, silly, isn’t it?

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Oct '11 - 12:04am

    Jedibeeftrix

    Likewise, because I do not accept the first statement i do not accept the preposition a pure Tory government was the only legitimate outcome of the election.

    No, but because of the banana, we got something fairly close to it. It meant there were not enough Labour MPs for a Labour-led coalition to be viable, and with over five times as many Tory MPs as LibDem MPs, the inevitable Tory-LibDem coaltion was bound to be very much Tiory in its policies rather than LibDem.

    FPTP is a system of governance that encourages a majority government outcomes, that it does not always produce this result is something to be accepted rather than rejected. The maths prevented a Tory majority, for them to govern required a coalition partner, that is life and that is what happened.

    Yes, yes, and I’m accepting your case. You are not moaning about this government and claiming it’s undemocratic or unprincipled. so absolutely fine. You voted “No” because you were happy with and accepted what FPTP gacve us.

    What I am getting at is people whose voted “No” yet were not happy with what FPTP gave us, in fact a large number of people who voted “No” and actually said they did so because they were so unhappy with what FPTP gave us. Those are the people who made no sense – they voted “No” because they felt we ought not to have this Tory-with-only-a-little-bit-of-LibDem government, yet the main argument of the “No” side was that this was the sort of government FPTP gives us – ones with a strong political bias which is likely to be more extreme than average political opinion, because that’s oh so good and decisive. These strange people told us they hated the LibDems so much they wanted to see the LibDems destroyed, yet they hated the LibDems so much for “putting in the Tories”, and if the LibDems had been destroyed as they wanted, it wouldn’t have been an issue because then we would have had a majority Tory government anyway. So in voting “No” they were voting for waht they said tehy hated – unrepresentative extreme government, Tory government in 2010, thus as I said, the equiavalent of wearing a blue rosette andd an “I love Maggie badge”. I am sorry, but I have yet to hear a coherent and logical answer from anyone who voted “No” on the grounds “I hate Nick Clegg and the LibDems for what they did” as to how they explain this strange contradiction. So I can only conclude they are thick, well they are Labour supporters, so what else?

    However, I am a democrat, so I accept the vote of thick people is as valid as anyone else’s, so I accept the result of the AV referendum. It was a vote in favour of the distortion,. sorry, the banana of FPTP. And since the country seems so happy with the banana as to give it a ringing vote of confidence, who am I to argue against? Therefore, the argument that I might have used aganst the coalition as it is constitued – that it is illegitimate because it is dominated by the Tories far more than their actual share of the vote, falls. So far as I am concerned, the referendum vote was a huge national vote of support for the Tory-with-a-little-bit-of-LibDem-but-only-the-more-Tory-like-bit-of-LibDem government we have. Or, as I have put it, the nation putting on blue rosettes and “I love Maggie” badges. I repeat – that is what anyone who voted “No” did in effect, I think I have explained why well enough.

  • @Matthew

    why is the less popular Dibble the right person to be MP for Trumpton in your carefully considered opinion?

    Well how about the fact that when the returning officer reads the results out our Mr Dibble has the largest number of votes?

    Now I know you don’t like that argument but believe me I heard it from a whole host of people around me during the AV campaign and I can see their point (even though my main objection to AV at a local level had more to do with all the stich ups I could forsee happening between parties to gain preference votes).

    People couldn’t see why tinkering with a system was going to improve anything. And that comes back to jedibeeftrix’s point about emotion in politics – I believe that what lost the AV yes vote was the self satisified way in which the campaign went about its task, as if stating something was enough to win people round to their beliefs like a fourth form debating club – and in my experience it just turns people off.

    The party is making the same mistake with its 75% manifesto argument – most people couldn’t care less – all they see is the economy sinking, and they feel insecurity and worry – and if things don’t improve for them (as they were promised) there’s going to be a lot of emotional revenge, and no amount of protesting that ‘look at all the things we managed to do’ will change.that.

  • Interesting reading for me as a long-time LD supporter now resident overseas. I think Matthew Huntbach has it exactly right on this.

    I fear for the future of our party. The choice for the next decade may well sadly come down to the old tribalism. The reactionaries of the right (many of whom vote Labour) with a few reactionaries from the left (which categories include, I think, most of the electorate) choosing between two reactionary party machines wedded to reactionary policies: the Tories and ‘old’ Labour-‘new’ Labour was largely a myth. Ashcroft, Murdoch, Prescott et al. must be very optimistic for the future one would think.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Oct '11 - 12:06am

    Balbs (in reply to my “why is the less popular Dibble the right person to be MP for Trumpton in your carefully considered opinion?”)

    Well how about the fact that when the returning officer reads the results out our Mr Dibble has the largest number of votes?

    Now I know you don’t like that argument but believe me I heard it from a whole host of people around me during the AV campaign and I can see their point

    Yes, but my point is that even though Dibble had more votes, Cuthbert who came second was more popular than Dibble. It is only the last minute arrival of Grubb that changed things, it was nothing Cuthbert did. Suppose there had been another last minute arrival, McGrew, who took 5% of the votes which would otherwise go to Dibble? Why does Dibble suddenly not become the right person and Cuthbert once again is? Isn’t there something rather strange about which wins out of Cuitbert and Dibble being down to the chance arrival of others rather than just what Cuthbert and Dibble say and jsut how the town views Cuthbert and Dibble in relation to each other?

    I don’t think most people in the country saw it this way because it was never properly explained to them. Sure, it takes a little bit of reasoning to demonstrate that the person who gets the most votes “first past the post” may be less popular than someone who came second, which is why I think that reasoning needed to be done thoroughly to ensure people who voted did so on the basis of being aware of it. And this is the central incompetency I accuse the “Yes” campaign of having – they did not place at the centre of their campaign this reasoning which is the heart of the issue, and therefore left most of the country voting without ever hearing the proper case for AV – which is that it corrects ths anomaly.


    People couldn’t see why tinkering with a system was going to improve anything.

    Yes, and my claim is that this was because of the incompetency of the “Yes” campaign, which based its arguments on vague waffle rather than a proper explanation of the system and a demonstration of scenarios where it would make a difference. The MAIN place where AV would have made a differende is that it stops the argument that you have to vote for someone you don’t really like out of fear that otherwise you wouild “split the vote” and so “let in” someone you actually hate.

    In my scenario, those people who preferred Cuthbert to Dibble, but liked Grubb better are forced to think about not voting Grubb in order to avoid getting Dibble elected. Why should they have to do that? And why should Grubb, who also likes Cuthbert better than Dibble but just thinks he could himself do an even better job, be in the position that in putting himself forward as an alternative he may damage the case he supports, so he may decide not to do it?

    In reality, this might be a constituency where Cuthbert is the sitting MP, of the party most people in that constituency support, but he has become a bit complacent recently, or was excessiove with his expenses or whatever. Grubb is someone who supports the general line of Cuthbert’s party, but thinks the people of Trumpton deserve a better MP though one whose politics are similar. But if Grubb stands, he runs the risk of splitting the vote and so letting in Dibble, who is of a party which has only minority support in Trumpton. With AV in place, Grubb can mount his challenge – if it works, he wins, but if it turns out most Trumpton people still back their long-standing MP, Grubb’s second preferences go there so they don’t end up with an MP whose party doesn’t have majority backing. AV gives the people more power by allowing indepednent challengers like this without the “don’t split the vote” fear.

    So, Balbs, why do you think most people in this country think making it easier for independent challengers to complacent majority party MPs won’t chnage things or is a bad idea? Or will you admit that, actually, they would have thought it a good idea had only someone told them this was what AV ws all about, but no-one did thanks the bunch of incompetents heading up the “Yes” campaign?

    On your last point “The party is making the same mistake with its 75% manifesto argument”, I agree with you thoroughly, and have been arguing elsewhere just now that this constant putting forward of the 75% number along with an exaggerated claims about our achievement is disastrously wrong tactics and is hugely damaging us. Well, had they listened to me when I said the tactics being used with the AV campaign were disastrously wrong, maybe the results would be different. But what should I know, I’m just an ordinary bloke who’s been active in the party for 33 years, not a high-flying City or PR type who’s just joined the party and shot to the top on the grounds of being naturally superior to the likes of me.

  • Stuart Mitchell 29th Oct '11 - 3:37pm

    Matthew: “Yes, but my point is that even though Dibble had more votes, Cuthbert who came second was more popular than Dibble.”

    So what? AV would be perfectly capable of producing a winner who was less popular than another candidate, simply because of the way that only some second preferences are taken into account. I gave you a detailed example of how this could happen in a comment on 22nd February, which I won’t bother quoting here.

    The Yes campaign was a disaster for two reasons. First, most Yes campaigners did not actually understand AV. Second, the few who DID understand it knew it was unsellable, so in desperation resorted to making untrue claims (such as the infamous 50% claim) which were easily shot down. Most Yes campaigners did not actually believe in the things they were saying – the whole thing was litle more than some sort of debating-society game, played at huge public expense.

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