LibLink: Nick Clegg… AV got the Mayor elected – now he’s voting against it

Nick Clegg wrote an article for the Evening Standard yesterday aimed at London voters, who’ll only be voting in the AV referendum on May 5th as London does not have council elections* this year.

As well as outlining the reasons for voting Yes to Fairer Votes, “I believe most Londoners want a new way of electing MPs that cleans up politics, makes MPs work harder and makes every vote count,” Nick busts the myths about AV: “vote-counting machines that don’t exist and won’t be needed. Claims that the alternative vote is too complex for the British people to understand, as if people are too dim to put 1-2-3 on a piece of paper. And the claim that AV helps extremists like the BNP.”

Nick says that the last of these myths is “the most pernicious” and criticises London Mayor Boris Johnson for opposing AV:

We know it has long been the dream of the BNP to win a seat in London. Only last year Nick Griffin was hoping his own brand of extremist politics would land him the seat of Barking. He was soundly defeated, but we should not kid ourselves. The BNP will be back, looking for seats where they can create and exploit racial tension and where they can hope to get an MP elected with barely 30 per cent of the vote.

A Yes vote would be a no to racist parties.

The referendum allows London to slam the door in the face of the BNP for good. Its dream of taking advantage of the flaws in the current system will be over.

Here in the capital we know all about AV because it’s what we use to elect the Mayor. If you didn’t know that, it’s probably because it’s such a straightforward system that you’ve never had to think about it.

Yet, absurdly, Boris Johnson has decided to side with the No camp. Not only was Boris elected under an AV system, his Conservative Party used a version of it to elect its own leader, David Cameron – David Davis would have won if they had used first past the post – and they use it to select candidates too.

If it’s good enough for the Conservatives, why don’t they think it’s good enough for you?

The alternative vote puts you back in charge. You get a bigger say in who your MP is, a bigger foothold in our democracy, a bigger stake in our country.

This city doesn’t have any other elections on May 5 but that’s not a reason to stay at home. In fact, it’s a reason to get out and vote.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Never before have we been asked to decide how to elect the people whose job it is to represent us. In little more than a week, we have that chance.

Politics could change for the better on May 5. I hope everyone in London can be a part of that change. Don’t let the rest of the country decide without you.

You can read the full piece in the Evening Standard.

* with the exception of a by-election in Lane ward, Southwark.

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This entry was posted in London and News.


  • Boris was elected by supplementary vote, as others have said.

    So not only was Clegg embarrassingly wrong – LDV is supporting him in being wrong.

    Same old, same old…

  • Erm … I think the people criticising this particular article are splitting hairs. SV is used for London elections, SV is a version of AV (a crap one though) – it is an instant runoff system. Whether Boris would have won on 1st preferences or not is irrelevant, it’s clearly not too complicated for Londoners.

    The Tories use the exhaustive ballot, which is like AV but with voting and counting for every round of the run-off rather than just setting out your preferences in advance. And Clegg did say “a version of AV”.

    So, yeah, really, I don’t see what there is to criticise here aside from small technical details, the jist of it and the main thrust of the argument is correct.

  • “And Clegg did say “a version of AV”.”

    Read it again.

    He said that about the system used to elect the leader of the Tory party (an even more ludicrous claim). But according to him the mayoral election is AV without qualification:
    “Here in the capital we know all about AV because it’s what we use to elect the Mayor.”

    And to top it all, after all the years of Lib Dems arguing that FPTP is unfair because it denies minority parties fair representation, he’s telling us that AV is wonderful because it makes it even harder for another minority party to win any seats at all.

    Obviously the only criterion of “fairness” in Nick Clegg’s eyes is whether or not the Lib Dems will benefit.

  • LondonLiberal 27th Apr '11 - 4:29pm

    i think dunkhan has a point – as far as the voter is concerned in Mayoral elections in London you go into a polling booth and mark down your preferences in order. at the end there is a winner who may have needed the support of more than their base to get elected if their core vote was too small. this no doubt makes them conscious of the need to reach broader sections of the community. we’ve seen this in both Boris and Ken’s approaches. Whether it’s pure AV or SV is a minor technical detail lost on most voters; which in practice makes no difference to their voting ‘experience’ ; and is no harder to explain or to operate than AV. So Nick’s comparison stands.

  • “SV is a version of AV … it’s clearly not too complicated for Londoners.”

    Having been present at an SV count (borough mayor), I beg to differ – I’m not sure which was worse, the number of people who’d filled in a ballot paper wrong, or the number of counters who didn’t know how to count them,

    SV is indeed a crap system, but it is far worse and more complex than simple AV – under SV, a voter has to work out who the two candidates likely to progress to the final round are, and then vote for one of them (in the second column), regardless of who they’ve voted for in the first column. If this were used in the French Presidential election in 2002, loads of Communists/Greens would have voted for Jospin in the second column, with no way of realising that since he wouldn’t make it that far, none of their votes would count.

    SV does not really allow ranking in the same way as simple AV – the voter has two columns, two Xs, and they vote twice. If they guess right for the second column, (*and if* they haven’t already voted for that candidate), it counts, otherwise not. At the election I witnessed, far too many people had misunderstood – and either placed two Xs in the same column, or in the same row (the first is an invalid vote, the second is redundant). Scarier was that we had to intervene to stop the counters, who were counting the second preferences of people whose first preferences were in fact in in the second round. AV, with a single column, and just writing numbers, is far easier, to say nothing of more democratic since it almost entirely removes the game theory element.

    (Please oh please, if we can’t get AV for national, can we kill SV altogether and put AV in there?)

  • “… to criticise here aside from small technical details …”

    You could argue that the small technical detail is called the truth, in which case there is a lot to be critical about. Implying that you’ll be using a system already used by others when in fact they are using another version is still a lie, we are either going to use the same system or we’re not.

    Just another example of how the whole thing has turned into a farce.

    PS I’ve got a brand new Porche for sale at a decent price. Well actually it’s a 10 year old Peugeot, but it’s still a version of car so I’m sure you won’t mind paying the asking price.

  • AV, in a more understandable way:

  • Stuart Mitchell 27th Apr '11 - 6:33pm

    If AV is so difficult to understand that a professional politican with an ultra-expensive private education like Clegg can’t actually tell the difference between it and other systems, then the No campaign are hardly being insulting to the British public, they’re just telling it how it is.

    And Clegg really needs to ask his chum Katie Ghose how it can be that AV may be suitable for some single-position elections but utterly rubbish for Parliamentary elections. From the infamous deleted pre-referendum ERS web page on AV :-

    “ERS POLICY ON AV. The Electoral Reform Society regards AV as the best voting system when a single position is being elected. However, as AV is not a proportional system, the Society does not regard it as suitable for the election of a representative body, e.g. a parliament, council, committees, etc”

  • Denis Cooper 27th Apr '11 - 6:41pm

    “3.2 Supplementary Vote

    A modified form of AV is used for the election of the London Mayor – the Supplementary Vote. It restricts the voters to two preferences so as to prevent the very weak preferences at the bottom of the ordering scale influencing the result unduly. If a candidate has over half the first preferences they are elected. If no candidate has over half, all but the top two candidates are eliminated, and the second preferences of those who voted for the eliminated candidates are counted – those for either of the top two candidates are added to the vote, and whoever has the highest number wins.

    The Representation of the People (No 2) Bill of 1930-31 as originally printed, proposed a system of Alternative Vote which broadly corresponds to the Supplementary Vote. An elector was allowed only two preferences in marking the ballot paper. However, only the candidate with the smallest number of votes was eliminated initially, unlike the modern variant of Supplementary Vote where all but the top two candidates are eliminated from the count. The drafting implied that only three candidates would be the norm in constituencies (Clause 1, Schedule 1).

    At Second Reading the then Home Secretary, J. R. Clynes, said that its solution was the best and the most simplest given that there were only three parties which stood any chance of forming a government.16 At the Committee Stage of the Bill, however, Schedule 1 was amended so that voters could give as many preferences as candidates.17 The amendment was moved by Sir Herbert Samuel, for the Liberals, but accepted by the Labour government. Sir Herbert pointed out that the 1917-18 Representation of the People Bill had allowed for more than two preferences to be made on the ballot paper, and argued that four cornered contests were becoming common, owing to party splits.18 In response, Mr Clynes accepted that there were indications that new parties were being formed (c1060). The Conservative spokesman, Sir Samuel Hoare, complained that by introducing third, fourth and fifth preferences the result of the election was being put into the hands of an even smaller number of voters than before (c1062). However, as noted above, the Lords were hostile to AV and the Bill was eventually lost.”

  • Andrew Suffield 27th Apr '11 - 7:25pm

    While it’s true that the mayor is not elected by AV, it should be noted (as pointed out in the article linked above) that he is not aware of this fact. The original source of all the claims that he is elected by AV was… Boris Johnson, writing for the Telegraph in February.

  • The YES campaign (and Nick Clegg) has accused the NO campaign (and Mr Cameron) of making a series of untruths and misinforming the public. It appears Nick Clegg is doing the same.

    First and foremost, the Mayor is not elected by AV, he is elected by supplementary vote. What’s the difference? Under supplementary vote, you only get 2 preferences, a 1 and a 2. Moroever, under AV, each candidate is eliminated one by one after each round until someone gets 50% in that round, under Supplementary Vote if nobody gets a majority on the 1st count, ALL CANDIDATES BUT THE TOP TWO ARE ELIMINATED and the second preferences are re-distributed. Thus under SV you can’t finish 3rd and be elected but under AV you can!

    Secondly, the Conversative Leader in not elected by AV but by an exhaustive run-off. What’s the difference? Under the Tory leadership system, you ONLY VOTE FOR 1 CANDIDATE IN THE FIRST ROUND. The bottom candidate is then eliminated and then EVERYONE VOTES AGAIN FOR 1 CANDIDATE IN THE SECOND ROUND. Thus under the Tory leadership election system, people who vote for one of the higher ranked candidates can change his vote after the 1st round – but under AV all preferences are given simultaneously. Secondly the exhaustive run off is only so Tory MPs will whittle the number of candidates to two before a party wide ballot is held. Thus even if one candidate were to win over 50% of the vote in the 1st round, this would not mean he is elected, because the aim is to ensure the top 2 candidates go forward for a party wide leadership ballot. Moreover, even under FPTP Cameron would have been leader. He came 2nd in the 1st ballot among MPs – and therefore he and Davis would have gone to a party wide ballot – which Cameron would have triumphed in. To say Davis would be leader of the Conservatives under FPTP is an utter lie, because Cameron came second among MPs, but the final ballot which gave him victory was among the whole party membership.

  • Denis Cooper 27th Apr '11 - 9:01pm


    And nobody is told that as their first choice has been eliminated and will not be available in the second round they can only be voting for their second choice in the second round, and therefore they should only have half a vote …

  • Stuart Mitchell 27th Apr '11 - 10:19pm

    Andrew: “The original source of all the claims that he is elected by AV was… Boris Johnson”

    Yet another demonstration of the fact that AV is not understood even by our best-educated professional politicians.

  • This has been an absolutely awful debate, with both sides talking way too much tosh, the bigger problem however remains with the yes campaign because they’re trying to get people to vote for change, they need to have their arguments bang on the money, they don’t.

  • Anthony Posted 28th April 2011 at 12:38 am

    I echo your sentiments, however I’ve just found out that it isn’t even just the Yes/No campaigns that seem to be making some of the same basic errors.

    There is an organisation called No2AV-YestoPR ( that is claiming that a yes vote to AV would block later reform to PR (although to be fair to them, they do cite evidence that this may be the case, I’ve just not had a chance to check all the claims yet).
    Because these things don’t happen very often there isn’t really an evidence base to decide this one way or the other, also of course, not many countries use the form of AV being proposed here anyway.

    However, there is a little bit of evidence that may suggest that breaking the referedum barrier once might make it easier to make further changes a little later down the road (see ), to quote one part:

    ” It is clear that changing the electoral system is easier where change has already recently happened: the idea of reform is no longer so radical; more people are familiar with the reform options; there are fewer interests vested in the status quo. Four established democracies – France, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand – have introduced major reforms to their national electoral systems in the last thirty years. Two of these – France and Italy have subsequently instituted further major reforms, while Japan passed a further smaller reform, and New Zealand will hold a referendum creating the possibility of another major reform later this year.”

    Obviously if Yes used this as a headline reason then they would get slaughtered, but I was surprised that N2AVY2PR didn’t even seem to consider it.

    Another group thinking only of tactics and not strategy.

  • Have any Lib Dem councillors had a guess as to how much overtime would be required to count say 60000 votes over three rounds and how long would that take ? Would results take several days to be produced and do the same counters have to do the count ? Could a national result be delayed to the weekend or Monday in a particularly close contest ? I reckon counting machines may well be needed eventually especially if a result was delayed to Monday,

  • Does Clegg have anyone fact checking his speeches before they are delivered? As @chris_sh rightly says when it comes to politics claiming something is just a technical point just won’t wash, particularly when you are also accusing your opponents of being economical with the truth. Clegg’s late entry to the debate just looks like a hastily prepared intervention which is doing more harm than good.

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