Election for new Parliamentarian starts this week – by AV

Yup, you read that right. No need to wait until the referendum. No need even for there to be a Yes vote in the referendum. For this week sees the start of voting for a new Parliamentarian, elected by the alternative vote.

For Wednesday sees ballot papers being issued that curiosity of an election, a by-election for the hereditary peers in the House of Lords. (Weird isn’t it how it’s the hereditaries get a form of election?) Elected by the alternative vote.

This follows the death earlier this year of Lord Monson, and as he was a Crossbencher his replacement will be elected by the existing Crossbencher hereditary peers. Using the alternative vote.

Oh, did I say that the election, ballot papers for which are being posted out on Wednesday, will be by the alternative vote?

I only mention it for two reasons. First it highlights how ludicrous the “preferential voting isn’t the British way of doing things” type arguments are. Preferential voting is, and has been, widely used in Britain – for elections (by STV in fact) for the old university seats, for directly-elected Mayors (including the clutch being elected next week, without a counting machine in sight), for local elections in Scotland and for elections in Northern Ireland. (And that’s without even getting started on its widespread use within political parties.)

Queen Elizabeth IIIn fact, when you next see the Queen’s Speech in Parliament take a good look at the people in the TV footage as members of both halves of Parliament come together. There’ll be party leaders there, elected by preferential voting. There’ll be hereditary peers, elected by preferential voting. There’ll be MPs, selected by preferential voting. There’ll be select committees chairs, elected by preferential voting. And there’ll then also be those elected not by first past the post but by elections over several rounds in a way very similar to the alternative vote – including another party leader and the Speaker.

And the second reason I mention it is because it highlights the hypocrisy of many No2AV campaigners. That is, those who use arguments about why preferential voting is wrong in principle, yet have never opposed preferential voting when it has been introduced on those other occasions. Of course the honourable few who restrict their arguments to the specific context of elections for the Commons have a let-out on this, but listen to many peers and MPs argue why preferential voting is wrong in principle and then look at their voting records, and you’ll see them supporting preferential voting when it is a matter of them voting for others – and only opposing it if it’s a matter of us voting for them.

UPDATE: This is the second AV by-election of the year, with Viscount Hanworth having been elected earlier in the year following a previous death. He won in the first round.

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  • Martin Marprelate 26th Apr '11 - 10:54am

    A first class article by Mark Pack showing the hypocrisy of the NO2AV camp. Bravo!

  • Kirsten de Keyser 26th Apr '11 - 3:50pm

    Nice one Mark.

    On a wider note, The NO2AV broken-record-mantra of ‘only three countries use AV’ is beginning to grind me down. So I decided to dig around a bit and see what everyone else is using – never knowingly passing up someone else’s good idea.

    Here’s a breakdown of voting systems in 191 countries:

    53 (27%) use FPTP
    Examples: Former British Colonies, Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Yemen

    132 (70%) use some form of preferential or proportional system including AV
    Examples: European countries, new democracies like South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, South American democracies

    6 (3%) don’t have elections
    Examples: China, Saudi Arabia

    So if we’re looking for ‘tried and tested systems, widely used in the rest of the world’ why don’t we just pass straight along to proportional representation, No people?

    And can we please change the No2AV tune to something a tad more plausible like ‘Useless ‘?

    although Depeche Mode might baulk at that.

    International Institute for Democracy & Electoral Assistance (IDEA)
    Intute University Consortium: Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford

  • Kirsten de Keyser 26th Apr '11 - 7:34pm

    I agree with you Oliver that AV is not the best system to replace FPTP.
    But it’s the only system on offer from both the other parties and 80% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

    I’m in the camp that believes that once everyone gets used to the notion of 1-2-3, it’ll be much easier to bring the system properly into the 21st Century. Also, as the preponderance of more realistic, modern electoral systems start getting the oxygen of publicity, the arguments for keeping FPTP will become increasingly untenable.

  • Andrew Suffield 26th Apr '11 - 8:56pm

    There’ll be another reform referendum within a decade

    That’s so blatantly ridiculous that I can’t think of any reason you would say it other than out of desperation. There is no real prospect of another referendum on the subject within the next decade (~2 general elections). There is no prospect of Labour or the Tories ever permitting “proper comprehensive reform” in their current state, and as long as FPTP stays, they won’t change. Now, with the next parliament being elected under AV, they will have to change and genuinely respond to the widespread public desire for reform.

    I’ve yet to hear an argument that shows av to be substantially better than FPTP

    AV doesn’t split votes, FPTP does. Split votes (and by extension, tactical voting to try and work around them) are a massive problem in the UK. Most MPs fail to achieve a majority. AV puts a stop to all of that.

    When the vote isn’t horribly split, then MPs must secure the support of more than a tiny fraction of their constituents. This forces them to behave more reasonably and really work to represent the people they are supposed to be representing. Any MP who continues pandering to the minority extremes under AV would find themselves very quickly unelected, as everybody else would vote against them.

    It’s far from ideal, but it’s a huge improvement over the abuses of FPTP.

  • @Oliver – but surely it’s wrong to be ELECTED under AV as leader then campaign against it?

  • Andrew Suffield 27th Apr '11 - 7:20pm

    but surely it’s wrong to be ELECTED under AV as leader then campaign against it?

    Not necessarily – but if your campaign is based on claims that AV is unfair or illegitimate then you’re just saying that your own election was illegitimate. And it’s wrong to not staple a copy of your resignation to this statement.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 28th Apr '11 - 10:07am

    I’m afraid all those who believe the defeat of AV will lead the way open to the more proprortionate systems of their dreams are really living in a fantasy world. If the Yes to AV campaign had to argue for breaking the consituency link as well as combatting the other arguments from the No campaign then I’m afraid this would have been an even bigger millstone around its neck than Nick Clegg. The fact is that AV is a (rather good) compromise between proportional voting and maintaining the consituency link and if you actually speak to most people they want to keep their MP and have a fairer voting system.

    Of course their will be some who see any compromise as hypocrisy by definition.

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