LibLink: Nick Clegg – AV is a surefire way of giving power to the people

Over at the Telegraph, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has a piece setting out some of the reasons why people should vote to switch to the alternative vote next month. It’s a good attempt to move the debate back to one about the necessity for change, rather than the rather facile, negative one that has dominated in recent weeks, and, yes, remind people of the acute anger which was felt over the abuse by MPs of their expenses system, and the symptomatic nature of that issue.

Here’s a sample of Nick’s article:

When I’m explaining the problems of the current system to people, I like to ask them one question – did an MP knock at their door during the last general election? Indeed, did anyone from a political party approach them? More often than not, the answer is no. When MPs are elected using a system that positively encourages them to ignore vast chunks of the country, we should not be totally surprised that some take the opportunity to do just that.

So what does the Alternative Vote do to address these problems? First, it might be an idea to say what it is not. It is not complicated, at least not to anybody capable of counting to three; it does not help extremists, which is why the BNP are campaigning against it; and it will not require the mythical “electronic counting machines”.

What is true about AV is that it requires MPs to seek the support of at least half the people in their constituency. A candidate who focuses their efforts on the so-called “core vote” and writes off the needs and opinions of everyone else will not get elected. The many MPs who currently work hard for all their constituents and represent their interests will be rewarded.

AV is one of the most widely used systems in Britain today. Millions of people in businesses, charities and voluntary bodies use it. All our main parties and politicians use a version of AV and preferential voting to select their leaders, their candidates and their officials. If it’s good enough for them, what about everyone else?

Good MPs tend to be worriers – those who are genuinely concerned about their constituents. Bad MPs take their constituents, and even their supporters, for granted. Under AV, every single vote matters, and power will move to where it should always be: the hands of the people.

This is not a revolution – it is a very British evolution. Over the years, we have excelled at making small steps in the right direction. This is another of those steps, keeping what people like about the current system, such as the link to constituencies, while addressing some of its worst flaws.

So when you vote in the referendum on May 5, remember how you felt reading those stories two years ago, and ask yourself: would our democracy be better if MPs paid a bit more attention to the voters? I believe the answer is Yes.

You can read the piece in full here.

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26 Comments

  • I’m pro-AV, but Nick Clegg’s arguments are unfortunately pretty vapid. Whether MPs will suddenly start working harder for your vote is something that might happen or not, but it’s not written into the set-up of AV. They aren’t really connected.

    A MUCH better set of arguments in favour of AV can be found here:
    http://gowers.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/is-av-better-than-fptp/

    This is without doubt the best thing I’ve read on the referendum so far. It’s written by Tim Gowers, one of Britain’s most prestigious (living) mathematicians, fields medalist, good communicator and all-round nice guy. I recommend everyone reads this from start to finish. It’s long, but well worth it.

    @matt, I agree with most of your opinions on the coalition, but I believe you are guilty here of making a long term decision for short term reasons. I know you’ve already voted so it’s too late to convince you, but the above article is still worth a read.

  • “In fact AV would lead to more hung parliaments, and allow Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to become king makers and maintain a share in power, and in return we will hear the same old excuses when they break more promises and pledges, that their in a coalition, they didn’t win a majority and therefore can not deliver on their manifesto.”

    1) It’s very unlikely to, given that it’s only projected to change which MPs are elected in about 20 odd seats it’d only be hung under a situation where you’d have a very weak majority under FPTP. And a weak majority, imo, is worse than none – as the extremists within parties take control and demand endless concessions.

    2) Ever read Labour’s 1997 manifesto? They certainly had the majority to carry it out. What about their other manifesto where they promised to not introduce tuition fees in the first place? This isn’t a matter of (specifically) Labour bashing but, seriously, governments in the UK break their manifesto pledges all the time. This is a pretty terrible state of affairs but in any case you can’t really fairly single out the LDs alone for this.

  • richard heathcote 21st Apr '11 - 10:50pm

    I wont be voting for AV because i dont really agree with the fact people who are last with their first vote get to pick again. if they vote the monster raving loony party why do they even deserve a 2nd preference. They made the choice to vote for someone with no chance.

    Im also not really sure what happens if someones later preferences are for someone who has already been eliminated does that mean then their vote doesnt count?
    it just seems a complete mess of a voting system and i can see many people still being nominated as MP with less than 50% of the vote so doesnt really seem any fairer a system then we have now.

    I have an example in my head and i know the numbers are simplified but it is also possible this may happen with slightly different numbers. what would happen if we had 4 candidates with say labour lib-dem conservative and ukip just for the sake of this we have lib dem on 30% labour 31% of the vote with the tories on 29% of the vote with UKIP on the remaining 10%

    what if the UKIP voters in 2nd preference pick 3% labour 3% lib dem and 3% tory and 1% dont pick 2nd preference we would end up then with the 2nd preferences of the conservative voters being counted.

    say they voted 2% lib dem and 27% on ukip the result of this is we would end up with the 2% of the 2nd choice votes of the party who came 3rd deciding who becomes the mp for that ward with a vote of 32% of the voters the Lib-Dems would take that seat.

    Ukip who could potentially have 27% of the tory 2nd preference and the 10% they gained from the first round being knocked out of the running right at the start.

    This is a very simplified and probably unlikely event but it is also possible for the party with the most number of votes if you included the tory 2nd preference being knocked out in the first round and 2 % of the 3rd choice deciding who takes the seat.

    It might be a load of rubbish what ive written its just how i picture the AV system.

  • @richard heathcote

    Some of the numbers in your example don’t quite add up, but your basic point is correct – yes, under AV someone could get knocked out early on who may have been a lot of people’s second choice. But I don’t follow why you see this as a bad thing. The numbers you give (i’ll use the same) suggest that UKIP, in your example, are not exactly a popular party – they maybe got 27% of second place votes, but only 10% of first place votes – whereas the Lib Dems got 30% of first place votes and (at least) 2% of second place votes. Under AV the Lib Dems are judged to be more popular and are thus awarded the seat. This seems reasonable enough to me. First place votes count for more than second place votes, as it should be.

    It is possible to construct situations where AV functions imperfectly, but they are all a bit contrived. Unlike with FPTP, where they are the norm. See the article I linked to above.

  • AV will not stop abuse of expenses. It is arguments like this from both sides that have made this the most pathetic campaign I can remember for any issue. It will not cost hundreds of millions, it will not make every vote count… blah blah blah.

    No wonder the turnout is looking like being so low, every time we hear an decent argument for or against it is wrapped up in complete and utter tosh….

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Apr '11 - 11:57pm

    I wont be voting for AV because i dont really agree with the fact people who are last with their first vote get to pick again.

    Rubbish. Everybody gets exactly the same number of votes in AV: one vote per round.

    It might be a load of rubbish what ive written

    It is, yes. Looks to me like rubbish you lifted directly from the “no2av” campaign’s collection of lies.

    it just seems a complete mess of a voting system

    FPTP gets people elected with about 30% of the vote – so a huge majority (70%) of their constituents voted for somebody else. Now that’s a real mess of a voting system. AV has its problems but at least it’s not that bad.

  • The No campaign are telling fibs, but they are talking about things which, if true, might really matter to people (cost, complexity, power to extremists, etc).

    The Yes campaign aren’t telling massive porkies, but, nor are they trying to identify what matters to people and talk about that.

    Miliband and Clegg have both made it clear that their personal rivalry is more important to them than winning this referendum. Wonderful!

    Then we get weak arguments about expenses and “hard work”. What arguments like that say to the voters is “I am scraping the barrel to find a decent argument, because there is nothing else I can say.”

    Ludicrously, No2AV are getting away with two contradictory scare stories at one and the same time: that AV will let in extremists, and that AV will ensure permanent coalition and centrism. How can those possibly both be true?

    The truth is, it is FPTP which favours extremism, because the major parties (for example) adopt anti-immigrant policies so as not to lose a crucial few percent of votes to the BNP. Under AV, they wouldn’t have to do that, because they would be just as happy to pick up the second preferences of BNP voters once the BNP had been eliminated early. That’s why the BNP are against AV, and that’s why AV is a bulwark against extremism.

    The truth is, FPTP gets the wrong result, so that the government can be and has been a party which came second in the national vote. That’s dreadful! That is an argument that people would listen to! Why on earth aren’t the Yes campaign saying that?

  • People generally don’t like change and will only vote for it if there are clear and significant benefits. The problem the Yes campaign has is that AV is only a small improvement over FPTP. But that truth is simply not inspiring enough to motivate the majority to ditch the status quo. Thus we get these specious arguments about expenses and making MP’s work harder that convince no-one. I will vote for AV but I’ve always thought this was an unwinnable fight and that the leadership were startlingly stupid to pick it. Let’s just hope we can get STV for the Lords.

  • I once again urge those who want real reform to vote NO to the “miserable little compromise” that is AV. The more Nick Clegg opens his mouth on any issue, the more he comes across as unprincipled. How can something go from a miserable little compromise to a great electoral system. The Lib Dems would be better off telling voters “AV will not cure Britain’s electroal woes but considering neither Labour nor the Tories were willing to offer anything more, this was the best electoral system we could get for the moment”.

    Another problem with AV is that the winner can largely be dependent on who gets eliminated at what stage. Take a 3-way marginal like Colne Valley. On 1st prefs, Tories got 20,000, Lib Dems 15,500 and Labour 14,500. Now the matter of elimination would determine the result. Let’s assume that both the Tories and Labour transfer overhelming to LD, and LD transfer to the Labour party at a 3:1 ratio. Now if the Labour party candidate is eliminated then the LD would likely win. But assume that given the closeness between Lab and LD, the Lab candidate just edged ahead of the LD and so the LD candidate was eliminated, but since his transfers break more for Lab than to the Tories, the Labour party candidate is eliminated. However, this does not consider the 2nd prefs of the Tories, who would rather have had LD than Labour, and since Labour’s 2nd prefs were also the LDs wouldn’t it have been better to have a LD MP rather than a Lab one?

    Sometimes I feel AV would be more fairer if they discounted 2nd, 3rd and 4th prefs at a rate so as to give more weight to higher prefs than lower. After all a lower preference means “only if I can’t have A or B or C, then I would give my vote to D over E” which means that you are not overwhelmingly supportive of D.

    Vote NO to AV!

  • As a lifelong Liberal (UK version), now LD supporter who has been living in Australia for 16 years, I’m not a great fan of AV, but it is, in my view, a slightly fairer system than FPTP. That’s why if I lived in the UK, I wouid be voting YES, although its by no means clear that at the next election it will help our party. It might actually even hurt us. But this is all academic, anyway, as most of my fellow Brits are so drearily ‘small-c’ conservatives at heart that any kind of real change sends them running for cover in fear. Also, the Murdochian media knows this and is expert at playing on people’s fears, and will carry enough influence to ensure the NO campaign wins a clear majority. I’m going for a 40% turnout, with 39% voting YES and 61% voting NO.

    The future for our party looks bleak for the next few years, but our chance to build again will come once Labour or the Tories stuff things up in majority government after the next election.

  • richard heathcote 22nd Apr '11 - 9:01am

    @ Andrew Suffield

    Im just looking to get the full picture on AV so yes i maybe am thinking of this more than i should. The numbers i posted where simply to illustrate how easy it would be to have an MP selected with less than 50% of the vote so how is this better than fptp. i thought this was one of the core reasons for doing this.

    To just say its rubbish ive lifted from no2av doesnt exactly deal with the issue that bothers me about AV so isnt really likely to make me vote for it.

  • Old Codger Chris 22nd Apr '11 - 9:26am

    @Alex P
    Many thanks for the link to Tim Gowers’s piece – I hadn’t come across it before and it certainly makes more sense than much of the stuff churned out by the official Yes campaign. Gowers’s well argued piece almost persuaded me!

    @chigsee
    “Sometimes I feel AV would be more fairer if they discounted 2nd, 3rd and 4th prefs at a rate so as to give more weight to higher prefs than lower”.
    One of my greatest objections to AV is that 3rd and 4th preferences can be counted at all. My other big objection is that the allocation of second preferences starts with the votes for the least succesful candidate and ends as soon as one candidate is deemed to have reached 50 percent.

    Regarding Nick Clegg – As others keep pointing out, this is not a referendum on the current performance of Clegg or any other politician or party. Incidentally, a Tory local election leaflet in my area states that voters should reject the local Lib Dems because the Tuition Fees debacle proves they can’t be trusted. What the Tuition Fees example and this Tory leaflet actually prove is that one may earn an opponent’s respect by negotiation and compromise, but not by caving in.

  • @Andrew Suffield

    Everyone gets one vote per round, yep it’s just that it won’t get counted in a particular round if their preference is for someone who is already eliminated, something which the voter has no prior knowledge of. If my 1st choice gets eliminated 2nd, and my 2nd choice eliminated 1st, my 2nd preference is immediately discarded through no fault of my own. The only way to avoid this would be interactive voting, where voters could re-rank based on the available remaining candidates after each round.

    That’s why Cable’s dancing with the stars voting analogy was so inane.

  • richard heathcote 22nd Apr '11 - 11:35am

    @ David Page
    “The correlation between safe seats and expenses fraud makes it clear that if we had fewer safe seats, we’d have less expenses fraud.”

    i don’t really think this is true, I am more inclined to think a poor expenses procedure is the cause of this. If people are corrupt and will take advantage of a poor expenses system they would do that regardless of being an MP based on a result from fptp or AV.

    It is also possible that the people in the safest seats have been in parliament longer and as such have learnt how to make the most out of expenses. It might be worth someone looking at the correlation between expenses scandal v length of time in politics. If there is a link on that basis you might aswell say no one should be able to stay in parliament for more than 2 terms to reduce the potential to figure out how to fiddle the system.

  • “What is true about AV is that it requires MPs to seek the support of at least half the people in their constituency”

    Well, so how is this a change, are you honestly saying that MPs don’t bother trying to persuade ALL of their voters that they are the person for the job? What magic ingredient would suddenly make them do this, in fact I would say that it could make them complacent, a Labour MP (in a fairly tight seat) may not be to bothered if the LDP were polling third and he knew that he would eventually pick up most (if not all) of their votes.

    ” Under AV, every single vote matters”
    Umm – not unless you force yourself to fill in all of the preferences, if I make one selection and that person is knocked out on round one, is my vote wasted? If you say no, then how do you explain that it is for fptp when I have just exercised my right to go for the fptp system.

    So we have safe seats = bad MP, marginal seats = good MP. So all of the Lib Dem MPs who had good (safe) majorities are bad MPs and you will of course deselect them at the next election (regardless of the method). Plus, you will ensure that any supporters in safe seats vote/abstain in a manner that will create a marginal? No? Thought not.

  • Andrew Suffield 22nd Apr '11 - 8:10pm

    Everyone gets one vote per round, yep it’s just that it won’t get counted in a particular round if their preference is for someone who is already eliminated,

    More rubbish. Everyone gets one vote per round, period. No exceptions. In each round you have precisely one vote and you cast it for whoever your favourite remaining candidate is. If you dislike all the the remaining candidates then you are of course entitled to abstain (by not ranking them on the ballot paper at all), but that’s your choice to make. You have the vote to cast if you want to.

    If my 1st choice gets eliminated 2nd, and my 2nd choice eliminated 1st, my 2nd preference is immediately discarded through no fault of my own.

    Well that’s trivially the case if you voted 1 for the second-least-popular candidate and 2 for the least popular candidate. So in the first round you cast your one-person-one-vote for the second-least-popular candidate, and the least popular candidate is eliminated. In the second round you cast your one-person-one-vote for the second-least-popular candidate because they’re still in the running and that’s still the highest number on your ballot. In the third round you cast your one-person-one-vote for whoever you marked with a 3.

    None of that is a problem. It’s actually an example of the system working really well.

    are you honestly saying that MPs don’t bother trying to persuade ALL of their voters that they are the person for the job?

    Actually, yeah. There are a significant number of MPs who don’t really bother campaigning at all, because the Tory or Labour party got them parachuted into a safe seat that they couldn’t lose if they tried.

    Umm – not unless you force yourself to fill in all of the preferences, if I make one selection and that person is knocked out on round one, is my vote wasted? If you say no, then how do you explain that it is for fptp when I have just exercised my right to go for the fptp system.

    You have exercised your right to not vote in most of the rounds. In FPTP that would be the same as not bothering to go to the polling station at all. If you chose not to cast your vote then yes, you have very literally wasted it. What exactly is your problem with this?

    Under AV, you may choose to waste your vote. Under FPTP, you may not choose; your vote will be wasted whether you like it or not. That’s clearly an advantage of AV.

  • @Andrew Suffield Posted 22nd April 2011 at 8:10 pm

    “You have exercised your right to not vote in most of the rounds. In FPTP that would be the same as not bothering to go to the polling station at all. If you chose not to cast your vote then yes, you have very literally wasted it. What exactly is your problem with this?

    Under AV, you may choose to waste your vote. Under FPTP, you may not choose; your vote will be wasted whether you like it or not. That’s clearly an advantage of AV.”

    Good lord, you had to come up with some convoluted logic to justify AV there. I have absolutely no problem with people wasting their vote, I have a problem with people trying to sell AV under the pretext that no vote is wasted when it clearly can be. If the incumbent is in one of the 200 ultra safe seats (200 being a figure that seems widely quoted) and I don’t vote for them, then my vote is wasted if they get 50% on the first round (using the Yes logic).

    Also, who are you to say if a vote is wasted, until the count is done then you just don’t know, a low turnout could bring about a shock result, at a time when turnouts are getting lower, politicians should be telling people that their votes matters not that there isn’t much point in going to the polling booth.

    Finally, you imply that there are no safe LDP seats (by ommission in your comment), I find that hard to believe and you’ve avoided the question about the ridiculous statement from Yes that only MPs in marginals can be good.

  • Andrew Suffield 22nd Apr '11 - 10:51pm

    I have a problem with people trying to sell AV under the pretext that no vote is wasted when it clearly can be.

    It is blatantly obvious that this means “no vote is wasted without the consent of the voter”. Your entire rant is a straw man; you have ignored the whole argument.

    (And if anything is convoluted here, it’s your attempts to justify FPTP, a system which has zero advantages. When somebody has nothing good to say about the position they are defending, and spends all their time making up lies about the other position, this is strongly indicative of how little they actually care about the subject)

    Also, who are you to say if a vote is wasted, until the count is done then you just don’t know,

    Well, the counts for the last several elections have been done, and we do know that most of the votes were wasted.

    Finally, you imply that there are no safe LDP seats (by ommission in your comment), I find that hard to believe

    Your pretend ignorance is as unconvincing as your arguments. There aren’t.

    (This has been done to death; I’ve got no interest in responding to any more made-up nonsense)

  • @ Andrew Suffield Posted 22nd April 2011 at 10:51 pm

    “It is blatantly obvious that this means “no vote is wasted without the consent of the voter”.”
    Oh please – what tosh, fptp offers the same. My vote isn’t wasted unless I decide not to use it – absolute rubbish argument and insults all of the people who turn out in seemingly hopeless seats to try and change things.

    “your attempts to justify FPTP”
    That is the system we currently have, if you want me to vote to change it you’ll need to come up with some better reasons than you’ve put forward so far. TBH, I’ve not even looked at the No campaign as they are the status quo, but if it is as bad and as yours then I can sympathise with the people who, like me, are trying to decide.

    “Your pretend ignorance is as unconvincing as your arguments. There aren’t”
    Strange, the Electoral Reform Society has listed the LDP as having 29 safe seats, including Orkney and Shetland (with 62% I believe, seems safe to me), perhaps you should do a bit more research on your own party.

    “This has been done to death; I’ve got no interest in responding to any more made-up nonsense”
    That phrase alone shows me that your campaign is in dire trouble, if you can’t answer the questions and have to shout and run away you are lost.

  • richard heathcote 23rd Apr '11 - 12:11am

    I have been asking questions about AV so i do have an informed choice about it and to be honest the answers do little to reassure me it is any better then the system we use now.

    i can just picture scenarios where peoples 3rd and 4th preferences are for people who are already knocked out of the running so ultimately will not influence the rest of the selection ending up with MP’s voted in with less than 50% of the vote. as this is one of the reasons we are looking to change the system to make MP’s more accountable with this figure of more than 50% to gain selection. it seems to fail badly as there is no guarantee 50% will have voted for the candidate yet they could still win.

    I do also find the assertions it will make MP’s work harder or make them more accountable or stop them being corrupt a bit of a stretch. All it needs is proper scrutiny when expenses are submitted to make sure people are not fiddling the system, most companies have auditors who can check for fraudulent expenses etc. so i’m pretty sure this should be available in the HOC.

  • @richard heathcote Posted 23rd April 2011 at 12:11 am
    I can sympathise with a lot of your points there, I feel a bit the same way. Again, tbh I haven’t looked at the No bunch as I don’t see the need, I know what fptp is and I know it has good and bad points. But some of the stuff put out by Yes is horrendous and dare I say it – consists of some outright fibs. If I can’t trust what is being said then I don’t see why I should vote for it.

    Although it’s getting late in the day, they may get their act together and come up with reasons why it is truly better than what we have now, though being politicians I can’t see them being able to get away from the usual way they do business.

    Interestingly, one of the shining examples Yes often refer to is Australia, however they have compulsory voting which may be why it works and why they have high turnouts. In order to meet all of the “promises” made by the Yes camp I think we would also need a similar system. In itself, that may not be a bad idea and it can hardly be called Stalinist if other democratic nations operate such a system, but Yes probably won’t touch it with a barge pole.

    If AV does get through and is introduced, it will be interesting to see if the politicians try to sneak such a compulsory deal through Parliament, rather than asking the people again.

  • ‘Regarding Nick Clegg – As others keep pointing out, this is not a referendum on the current performance of Clegg or any other politician or party. Incidentally, a Tory local election leaflet in my area states that voters should reject the local Lib Dems because the Tuition Fees debacle proves they can’t be trusted. What the Tuition Fees example and this Tory leaflet actually prove is that one may earn an opponent’s respect by negotiation and compromise, but not by caving in.’

    Yes but one of the reasons Clegg and the Lib Dems voted for the tuition fee rise was to punish the students for their protests. Surely then we can do the same

  • Old Codger Chris 23rd Apr '11 - 1:10pm

    @chris_sh
    I don’t think there’s any chance of voting being made compulsory – and a good thing too. Although low turnouts are deplorable it’s everyone’s democratic right not to vote if they choose. Can you seriously imagine the police being instructed to spend time arresting non-voters?

    And why should a close result hinge on the votes of people who only voted under coersion – some may have made their marks on the ballot paper in any old order before returning to the pub.

    I believe Australia even compels voters to rank every candidate on AV ballot papers. Unbelievable!

  • @ Old Codger Chris Posted 23rd April 2011 at 1:10 pm

    “I don’t think there’s any chance of voting being made compulsory – and a good thing too”
    I used to feel the same way – however in recent times my views have become a bit more radical. I’m of an age where my grandparents lived through 2 World Wars and my parents went through one. I think for that reason alone I would consider voting as not so much a right, but more of a duty (as another Old Codger perhaps you feel the same 😉 ). Perhaps we (as a nation) have become a little too comfortable and blasé about these rights and need a kick up the backside.

    “why should a close result hinge on the votes of people who only voted under coersion ”
    But surely a similar argument could be made about people who vote after only listening to one side of the story and not considering all alternatives (or even considering if the one side they heard was in fact true).

    “some may have made their marks on the ballot paper in any old order before returning to the pub”
    Oh I imagine that this happens anyway – “mmyet bob oon sha wayee to the polshing shtation shthing” 😀

    Looking it up, it would seem that Oz has about a 95% turnout rate and of that 95% about 5% “vote informally”, which is a quaint way of saying that they spoilt their paper (ergo they exercised their right not to vote for a politician).

    Obviously some would see it as an infringement of their rights; however it may be a wake up call for politicians. Many people use the excuse that they can’t be bothered and all politicians are the same, they may all spoil their paper and that could prove very embarrassing for the politician concerned.

    Alternatively, they may exercise their right to inform themselves and assess the arguments and vote accordingly. This again may be a wake up call for the political set, after all we live in an era when it can take 2 minutes on Google to find out if something is an outright lie.

    Having said all of that, I can’t really see it happening either, it would be to great a risk for the politicians.

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