Opinion: A suggestion for an amendment to the AV bill

This article is easier to follow if you understand how STV and AV works. If you’re not familiar with them, I recommend quickly clicking on the links for explanations.

How STV would clean up politics.
When the electoral reform campaign was for STV, one of the arguments we liked to use was how it would help clean up politics by ending “safe seats”. We call a seat “safe” if it has been held by the same party for a long while and it’s pretty much guaranteed that the candidate who runs for that party will win. This means that some of our MPs are guaranteed their seat, meaning they don’t have to work for it, so it isn’t surprising that complacency and sleaze in politics has usually come from politicians who hold safe seats. STV provides a solution to this problem as follows:

  1. It would be extremely unlikely for a party to win all the seats in a constituency, but it’s still in their interest to compete for seats they were unlikely to win. (Just like how they currently field candidates in seats where they have little chance of winning.)
    The standard tactic is to run one more candidate than they are expecting to win.
    So a party would be running more candidates than they were likely to win.
  2. This means that only the best candidates within the party will get in. This will keep MPs competitive and will allow their constituents to easily boot them out if they’re not. (As often happens in Ireland.) In short, STV is a strong solution to the problem of “safe seats”.

Due to coalition compromise, the referendum we’re getting is on AV. I, along with most other reformers, back AV as an improvement over FPTP by solving the problems of “vote splitting” and “tactical voting”. (Although tactical voting will still be technically possible, for all practical purposes it would be ended) So while I’m a supporter of AV, some of us have started making claims how AV will also clean up politics and put an end to safe seats. I’m not sure this is a claim we can easily defend.

Will the 50% requirement end safe seats?

The most common argument used it the MPs will now need the support of 50% of their constituents to get in. Unfortunately, the majority of MPs in safe seats already have over 50% of the vote. The vote is often for their party rather than for the particular candidate. A similar problem applies to seats that would see a different result under AV:

In this seat, the Conservatives would have won under FPTP.

Under AV, the second preferences of the Liberal Democrats will decide the election. Labour may receive enough second preferences to win, or the Conservatives might receive enough to cement their lead. It could go either way.

Does this mean it is no longer a safe seat?

It all depends on how the Liberal Democrat voters chose their second preference.

Did they compare the Labour and Conservative candidates and choose accordingly? If so, it would be quality of the candidate that won the election. In my experience, however, it’s more likely to depend on what party they prefer, meaning that it wouldn’t really matter who the candidate was. Because people largely vote for parties rather than candidates, seats would still be “safe” for bad candidates.

Does AV allow voters to “gang up” on an unpopular MP?

This argument fares slightly better. Under current elections, a candidate might be very unpopular with a majority of their constituents, but still get in due to their opponents splitting the vote.

Under FPTP, the “anti” vote is split between the other candidates and the unpopular candidate wins.
AV would allow the voters of other candidates to choose each other as their second preferences, allowing them to “gang up” on the unpopular candidate.

In this case, AV allows the majority to keep out the candidate they like least, despite these people not agreeing who their favourite candidate is. While there are a few MPs who are unpopular enough for this to happen, it’s a minority of cases. It still wouldn’t affect most safe seats.

Does AV allow parties to stand an alternative candidate?
What if a party was to offer voters the choice of more than one candidate?

Under FPTP, it would split the party’s vote between the two candidates and almost certainly cost them the election.
By allowing voters to transfer to second preferences, AV allows parties to offer the choice without the split.

This is much more promising. If a party is offering a choice of candidates, it challenges safe seats the same way STV does. However, although AV will allow parties to run multiple candidates to give the electorate choice, it doesn’t mean that they will. What motivation would they have to give the voters such a choice?

I can imagine a scenario where a party has two very different candidates and finds it difficult to predict which one the voters prefer. By sending both out, the voters would be able to make that decision for themselves. Another possibility is that local supporters aren’t happy with the official candidate so run their own preferred one as an unofficial alternative. (This actually happened in the Tower Hamlets mayoral elections where a type of AV system is used.) However, these scenarios would still be rare and the majority of safe seats would not give voters the choice required for there to be a proper contest.

So if they won’t stand multiple candidates by choice…
What if legislation was introduced that demanded that parties defending safe seats needed to run a second candidate? It would give the voters more of a choice and ensure that even safe seats were running competitive elections. That said, it only works if the second candidate provides genuine competition by putting up a good fight. There’s nothing to stop a party putting out a weak second candidate to ensure that their first choice gets in. This will be an especially popular tactic for elections of frontbenchers. Even with rules to demand equal funding for each candidate, there will be nothing to stop “dud” candidates being run. But although it’s not the perfect solution, it will at least provide the following benefits:

  1. A formal acceptance of “2 candidate” elections would bring the message to the public that they have a right to chose who represents them. This will encourage them to put their local MPs under more scrutiny, and if the alternative is weak it might even encourage them to stand their own unofficial candidate like in the Tower Hamlets case.
  2. Political parties will be able to keep each other in check. Those that field weak second candidates will be open to accusations of being too chicken to fight a competitive election.
  3. Some MPs are so unpopular that their constituents would much rather have a “nobody” representing their party instead. Forcing two candidates to stand would not only provide the voters with another option, the second candidate would act as a deterrent to any incumbent MP that started becoming complacent or corrupt.

From Tuesday onwards, the House of Lords will be putting forward, debating and voting on amendments to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. There would be an opportunity to add such an amendment to the bill that required parties holding safe seats (i.e. where a seat has been held by the same party for three or more terms) to run two candidates in its next election. I think it would be a worthwhile amendment to the bill that would strengthen both the Yes Campaign and our delivery on the promise that AV would help clean up politics.

I’d much rather the House passed Lord Alton and Lord Owen’s amendments to give the voters a better choice of systems in the referendum, but failing that, forcing competitive elections in safe seats under AV would certainly be the next best thing.

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69 Comments

  • There’s one major flaw in your suggestion. The other part of the reforms is that the boundaries will be redrawn for every election. Therefore, it would be far more difficult to determine exactly which seats are “safe”.

    I would support the Alton / Owen amendment as long as there is no chance of a further amendment being passed making it a FPTP contest. If that happened, any chance of reform would be gone.

    We should also strongly resist any attempt for a minimum threshold – either a minimum turnout or a minimum proportion of the electorate. That would mean opponents of reform could simply stay at home.

  • paul barker 27th Nov '10 - 2:59pm

    Sorry, this is typical of the clever but stupid stuff Geeks like me come up with. Av is on the ballot because it was the very most Parliament might accept. Any amendments will be attempts to derail the Bill. Supporters of the Status Quo will try to confuse the voters & talk of monotonicity is just what the Establishment ordered.

  • Tony Dawson 27th Nov '10 - 3:29pm

    I agree with Paul Barker’s comments about geekiness,but still think the article raises some interesting questions. What it fails to cope with, I think, is the potential role of independents and, even more so, ‘risk of independents’ which might become significantly greater. Very occasionally, even under fptp, independents have been able to win or come close, in single-member constituencies, despite all the ‘vote-splitting’ arguments against them. Generally, however, non-fringe independents rarely bother because they recognise the forces against them are too hight for them to have a reasonable chance of success.

    Under AV, a well-funded individual candidate might well be able to pitch him/herself as (say) ‘between Lib Dem and Tory on most things but anti-Afghan war’ in a credible manner which might allow voters to offer ‘first choice’ support under AV to them without jeopardising the chances of their own ‘other’ candidate. The threat of dissident party members splitting off and running a candidate against their ‘home’ party a la Ken Livingstone would also be greater under AV in my view and this might help keep internal party selections more honest than they have been in the past in some areas – and thus encourage some MPs who are beyond their sell-by date to retire earlier than they might otherwise have done.

  • Patrick Smith 27th Nov '10 - 3:31pm

    The Alton Steel amendment is clearly Liberal but only the AV was on the table as part of the `Coalition Agreement’ as I understand it.

    The main reasons are twofold for supporting AV.

    1.It is Fairer than FPTP and will ensure that the winnerMP will be made to secure 50% or more of the Vote to claim the Seat.

    2.AV ( as would STV if it were on the table) will end the ancient fears of electing safe MPs since the days of the `Rotten Boroughs’ and campaigners like John Bright and all those who would seek to lessen the risk of `largesse’ or `corruption’ in Parliament.Let`s remember that the vast majority of the `MPs Expenses’ sticky fingers mob were from the so called `Safe Seats’ rustic shires of England.

  • There is no point in abolishing FPTP unless its replacement delivers a result closer to voters’ intentions. I’m not convinced that a system which would elect a candidate who came second in first preferences on the basis of second or third etc preferences, achieves this. Can someone persuade me otherwise?

    On a slightly different tack, while there is much to be said for coalitions I would like parties to set out in their manifestoes which of their policies are so fundamental as to be non-negotiable, and which are not , having regard to (a) the policy’s perceived importance – eg tuition fees?! and (b) the chances of another party accepting the policy – eg the proposed amnesty to illegal immigrants, which clearly would not be accepted by Conservatives or Labour.

  • Daniel Henry 27th Nov '10 - 4:48pm

    @Lee
    You’re probably right.
    AV as it is is perhaps the best we can do at this stage.
    Nevertheless, dealing with the problem of safe seats is important to people.
    The better we deal with “safe seats”, the stronger the pro-AV campaign would be, and the more people will appreciate the reforms we’ve done.

    @David
    “Of course, forcing a party to stand a second candidate doesn’t force competition, because there’s no requirement for that second candidate to actually campaign, put out any leaflets etc.”

    That is a fair point and one I anticipated in my post.
    If you look again you’ll see that I give 3 reasons why the forcing of second candidates to stand would still be a worthwhile improvement. I’d be interested to seeing your answer to those three points.

    @ Paul Crowley
    I agree that a Condorcet method is superior, but doesn’t AV’s counting system give a condorcet result at least most of the time? Isn’t it only on rare occasions that it doesn’t?

    @ Simon
    How boundary changes would effect this did cross my mind.
    I figured that if a constituency had largely remained the same with perhaps one or two areas added or subtracted, then it could be considered the same constituency for “safe seat” purposes. (No doubt that this would be controversial though!)

    @ Paul Barker
    Let me assure you that when campaigning for AV I would keep it a lot simpler! 🙂
    But if such an amendment passed, I think it would be quite easy to show the average voter how AV would now let them choose which candidate of their party represented them, rather than being stuck with candidate they didn’t want. I think it would make a good “AV provides choice” argument.

    @ Tony
    Nice contribution.
    One of the things I’m working on at the moment is a way to sell this benefit to the public. This is more than just selling them AV, it’ll start planting ideas into their head on how they can make full use of the system in the 2015 election.

    @ Patrick
    I personally think that the vote-splitting and tactical voting arguments are more important, but you’re perhaps right that the electorate will perhaps relate more to issues of safe seats and an MP having to connect with more of their constituency.

  • Daniel Henry 27th Nov '10 - 5:09pm

    @Chris
    AV serves voter intentions better by solving problems of split votes and tactical votes.
    A significant number of people don’t vote for their favourite candidate because they feel that they can only make a difference by choosing their favourite “front runner”. AV would allow a person to vote with their heart with their first preferences, AND vote for front runners with their later preferences.
    For this reason, I think that AV provides a significant improvement towards voter intentions.

    On your second point, I agree that future manifestos should give an idea on how a coalition would be negotiated, which policies would be prioritised and which ones would be compromised. I also think that we need a better mechanism for choosing our coalition partner. On this occasion the Conservatives were the only ones to offer us a viable option, but if in a future election where the choice is more equal, I think that our voters should be the decider.

    I don’t think that aligning ourselves with the party with the most votes is necessarily correct. It might be that the majority of our voters prefered the other party. Perhaps we should count the second preferences of our voters to see who they generally prefer out of the other parties, or maybe we could present the different agreements to our own members and have an internal election.
    Or perhaps there could be a referendum shortly after the election where the public are presented with the different possible coalition agreements and could vote for which one they want to form the government.

    I think there’s plenty to be discussed and decided upon before the 2015 election.

  • Daniel Henry 27th Nov '10 - 5:11pm
  • David Allen 27th Nov '10 - 7:20pm

    Interesting idea, flawed for various reasons which posters have pointed out. The one I’d like to highlight is the weakness of compulsion. Compelling a party to put up two candidates when it doesn’t want to, so that they put up a dud candidate and waste everybody’s time and money, is only going to bring the electoral system into further disrepute.

    But what about providing help and assistance to any party which actually wants to offer an open choice between two candidates? For example, we could introduce the rule that if two candidates stand from the same party with identical electoral descriptions and produce a Freepost leaflet which advertises each of them equally, then both of these candidates shall also be entitled to a second Freepost leaflet which advertises them as individuals.

    The opportunity to get three paid-for Freepost leaflets delivered instead of one would provide a modest incentive to a party willing to use the AV system to widen the choice offered to voters. (It might have to be restricted to parties which got (say) 20% of the vote last time, since the additional state funding for wider choice should not be given to no-hoper candidates who are not realistically widening the choice to be made). Perhaps all the parties would ignore the option. Perhaps Conbour might decide it sounded good and they would go for it – and then the Labservatives would feel impelled to do likewise!

    Another point – No legislation needs to be introduced now if we go for this. We can wait until AV is adopted in the referendum and then, if it is, propose that this would make an improvement.

  • Peter David 27th Nov '10 - 8:40pm

    Interesting idea, but I don’t know how it would work in practice. Perhaps a more rudimentary way of letting it happen would be to make it illegal for political parties to kick out a member for standing or supporting a candidate against the party’s official candidate, and for lowering the barriers to entry (by scrapping the £500 deposit and replacing it with forcing candidates to get a minimum number of signatures).

    That way, popular candidates would have nothing to fear, while divisive ones would have more of a challenge.

    It has to be said that in the US, one of the main arguments for IRV is that it allows primaries and elections to be combined in a single ballot. Currently, party rules prevent this from ever happening in the UK.

  • @Daniel Henry
    Thanks for link to your AV leaflet, which I think is brilliant except I would remove the reference to Irish elections as Ireland only uses AV in presidential contests.

    I would be less sceptical of an AV system which only counts votes down to the second preference. Admitedly in a 5 cornered contest comprising the big 3 parties plus UKIP and BNP I would vote down to number 4 omitting BNP (obviously) but I don’t think an MP whose victory depended on third preferences would have much of a mandate.

  • Daniel Henry 27th Nov '10 - 11:22pm

    @ Matt
    I’ve heard the “voters of smaller parties get more votes” many times.
    A basic look of what’s actually happens during the count refutes it, Take a look:
    http://cid-93094717ed34c971.office.live.com/view.aspx/TBP%20Leicester/Votes%20in%20AV.pptx
    Count how many votes each voter gets in each round and you’ll see that both voters DO get the exact same number of votes in each round.

    You criticise Australia for having compulsory voting. Our AV system will not involve compulsory voting. People will have the right to choose how to vote and how many preferences they list.

    I was also interested to hear you say that FPTP has worked just fine and that any wishes to change it are “Liberal Claptrap”. It’s not just Liberals who aren’t happy with a system that supports the complacency of safe seats, results that don’t reflect how the public voted and where a signficant number of people think that voting for their favourite candidate is a waste of time. So far, the main opponents of changing the electoral system are certain politicians who feel their positions are cosier under the current system.
    I don’t think the voting people will see any reason to keep such people propped up by an unfair system.

  • Daniel Henry 27th Nov '10 - 11:39pm

    @ David Allen
    I also prefer incentivisation to compulsion and your ideas definitely need more exploration. Perhaps rather than offering to pay for the leaflets to be delivered, we could offer an additional “allowance” above the usual spending limits provided they meet certain conditions of promoting both candidates. That we wouldn’t need to involve tax payer money (and therefore wouldn’t need to make the exclusions for “no hopers”)

    You’re also right that this legislation doesn’t need to be introduced before the referendum, but as part of the Yes Campaign, I would love us to have a rock solid reason to show voters why AV would decisively deal with safe seats, but I guess we’ve got enough other benefits to sell it on. 🙂

    @ Peter David
    I like both your ideas and they definitely need more discussion. They would definitely give local people more flexibility to organise their own unofficial candidates and take the power back.

    @ Chris
    Glad you like the leaflet. 🙂

    The reference to the Irish is in answer to the objection that AV might be seen as complex. Since the point of the question was to show that common people understand it fine, I didn’t think it mattered that it was being used for a president or by election rather than parliament.
    On that point, I perhaps should have mentioned that we already use it for mayoral elections, brought it closer to home.

    On your objection to third perferences, I disagree. If there are three similar candidates with similar positions, voters will still identify strongly with their third choice. More importantly, they prefer their third choice to lower choices, which is important in allowing them to “keep out” the parties they like the least. In your own example, you found it important to rate every other party above the BNP.

  • To Chris

    All preferences shouid count. Let’s say I was a supporter of the Green Party and so made them my first choice. Assume their candidate is eliminated before the three main parties. I would then have to decide how to use my second preference to vote for the candidate best placed to beat the one I least wanted to win. That’s not much better than the current system. In Scotland, where there are four main parties, it would be even more ridiculous.

  • To be honest I think we’ve just got to crack on and win this referendum.

  • Does anyone know what the rules for an election under AV would be?

    Can you put just one preference or will you be compelled to rank the full list of candidates. If people only rank 1 or 2 candidates and leave the rest then there is the danger that someone can be <50% – what happens then? Is the election void or would it be okay in those circumstances.

    Also, I do have some sympathy with the arguments Matt is putting forward. Is a 2nd, 3rd or 4th preference vote as valid as a 1st preference? If voters are compelled to use their preferences then I think it could be worse than FPTP.

    Will all this information be available before the referendum? As with all these things – the devil is in the detail!

    AV is really a poor substitute for PR and I am not totally really that arsed about it. FPTP and AV are both pretty much 'undemocratic'

  • Can someone explain how compulsory preferences can be enforced? When offenders are dragged before the courts, won’t their “secret” vote have to be publicly disclosed as evidence? Perhaps I’m just being thick.

    But regardless of this, the option of withholding one’s vote – whether from some candidates / parties or by simply not voting at all – is essential in any Society which believes in freedom of the individual. Also, the opinions of anyone who either wishes to abstain or just “can’t be arsed” should not count towards any election result.

    Thanks to AV2011.CO.UK for the link to your website – very interesting!

  • AV2011 – Thanks for explaining about enforcement of compulsory preferences. I was obviously confusing it with compulsory voting – doh! Should have kept quiet and let everyone think I was stupid instead of posting a question and confirming it.

    I do still think it would be wholly wrong to ignore a voter’s intentions in this way, or to force them into an artificial choice. At the last European Parliament election there were some very strange parties in the region where I live – and I found at least 2 of them equally obnoxious.

  • David Allen 28th Nov '10 - 3:11pm

    “‘plumping’ could destroy a party that fielded a second candidate (it would split the vote!). The mere RISK of it would make parties extremely weary”

    Oh OK, very good point.

    Let’s suppose there are 30,000 Conbour voters in Loamshire West and 29000 Labservative voters. Let’s suppose Conbour decide to let Bill and Ben both stand for their party, while the Labservatives just put up Harry. First round, Harry 29,000; Bill 16,000; Ben 14,000. Second round, let’s say 90% of Ben’s voters put in a second preference for Bill, but the other 10% fail to do so, just because they forget or can’t be bothered. Result of second round, Harry wins by 29,000 to 28,600. So, Conbour have lost a crucial marginal which they should have won!

    Moral, we’re wasting our time exploring this idea, because party strategists will have no truck with it. (Unless they know they’re going to lose, in which case they are not adding much to the sum of human gaiety by standing two sure-fire loser candidates!)

    Like Stuart said – we’ve just got to go and win this referendum.

  • Daniel Henry 28th Nov '10 - 7:18pm

    @Matt
    You’re still missing the point.
    Let’s do your hypothetical voter who gives blue the first preference. (We’ll call him Jack)
    http://cid-93094717ed34c971.office.live.com/view.aspx/TBP%20Leicester/Votes%20in%20AV.pptx
    If you go through each round, you’ll see the Jack gets a single vote in each round, just like Jim and Jane do. Each round they all get one vote each – the same number of votes. Jim and Jane are sometimes forced to change who they voted for, because their favourite in the last round is no longer present, but it’s still just one vote per round.
    Seriously, follow it. The only way that a voter will get “less votes” in a round is if they run out of preferences, and that’s just the equivalent of not voting for any of the standing candidates in FPTP.

    The “voters of small parties get more votes” argument is a bit of a weak sophistry to be honest.

  • Daniel Henry 28th Nov '10 - 7:40pm

    @ AV2010
    I’ve come across your website before.
    I disagree with a lot of the arguments you make, especially on tactical voting.
    (I think there’s a big difference between tactical voting being a theoretical possibility in rare cases compared to it being an actual reality in the majority of elections.) I’m also puzzled as to why you guys consider campaigning for STV in local elections to be an alternative plan rather than a complimentary one to be supported anyway.
    So I’ve been meaning to debate you guys for a while.

    That said, I’ve got a bit of a complaint with your introductory post on here.
    You gave a speech about AV’s effect safe seats without acknowledging the arguments in article, even though they predicted some of your points. Would you be interested in reading the article again and addressing the arguments? I think it would make for an interest debate.

  • @ Daniel Henry

    There’s nothing wrong with safe seats unless you are a Liberal Democrat and have very few. Your suggestions are mere casuistry and are intended to split the votes of those parties that are very popular. Your philosophy seems to be power at any price, as evidenced by your power grab for coalition with just 23% of the popular vote and no mandate to govern. It is outrageous that parties with large majorities in certain seats should be forced to field two candidates just because the Lib Dems can never get enough votes to take the seat. The more I see of your Coalition Government the more I am determined that I will vote against your crafty attempts to rig the electoral system quite unjustifiably in your favour. Under AV losers vote twice and first preference votes have the same value as subsequent preferences. That can never be fair.

  • Ian Sanderson (RM3) 28th Nov '10 - 8:40pm

    I think much of this argument has been about parties and outcomes, but the real possible winner in AV elections is the individual voter. It should be the voter’s right to have a view about which party he/she prefers, and to express that view both from the whole slate, and between the candidates or the reduced slate at each stage until the result is clear. I don’t have a problem with this, even if it means that the election is finally decided by people whose first preference who first or subsequent choices weren’t in the final race.
    The strength of feeling among voters varies enormously. At one end, there are people who can only bring themselves to vote for one candidate; they can use the AV election as FPTP, but in the knowledge that they are voluntarily giving up some of their rights. At the other extreme are the floating voters, who to the frustration of party apparatchiks actually decide most elections. Voters only lend a party their votes and it is their right to have orders of priority among candidates that us politicians would regard as perverse – it is called democracy.
    The big advantage of AV over FPTP is that everyone can have their say; Northern Ireland experience is that depriving people of their say can have dire consequences.
    Of course, STV would ensure that, as well as having their say, the people could expect fairer represntation of views in parliament – that is the next step.
    It is worth remembering that the present franchise dates from around1970, when 18-21 year-olds got the vote, and the previous reform was put into action in 1950. In the 1945 election there were a number of 2-member constituencies in medium sized boroughs like Brighton, Derby and Oldham – electing by F2PTP, I suppose. And graduates of British universities, using their second votes, sent as many MPs to Westminster as Northern Ireland!

  • Daniel Henry 29th Nov '10 - 12:54am

    Thankyou Ian. Nicely put.

    @ Matt
    Your reasoning is starting to lose me…
    You seem to agree that in each round each voter gets a single vote, but you’re then saying that Jim and Jane have an unfair advantage because they have to change who they vote for? In what way is it unfair? Are they getting anything that the other voters aren’t getting?

    @ MacK
    Your post seemed to be more of a cynical rant at the Lib Dems rather than a criticism of AV.
    Are you aware that the Lib Dems aren’t the only party in favour of AV?
    This is a cross party issue for anyone who’s in favour of improving the voting system.
    Everyone recognises the problem with safe seats and their link to complacency and corruption. Even opponents of AV don’t deny the problem of safe seats, they simply deny that AV solves the problem. (Many of them believe that Open Primaries would be a better solution instead.)

    I agree that the Lib Dems are following their best interests in supporting AV.
    If you look at the 2010 manifesto, every party supported the electoral system that would give them the largest amount of seats. I don’t agree with my party on everything and I agree with this coalition on even less. My views on electoral reform are based on giving the voter more choice and power rather than for party political reasons.

    To be fair, you may be right that having two candidates may cause a split vote if the population fail to use both of their preferences properly. That is something I hadn’t considered. Even so, I wish you’d put your criticisms across in a less tribal and more rational manner.

  • You guys and gals are missing the point. AV isn’t going to happen why? Easy Nick Clegg wants it, he is a despised individual all the no campaigners have to do is put a few posters up with smiling Nick maybe signing his fees pledge and the unaligned majority will vote anti-nick irrespective of the merits (sic) of the AV system. Couple them with the activists who are actually against AV in all the main parties and your ship is sunk!

  • This article is a waste of time.
    Yes, STV would be preferable if you believe in voting reform, this has been established.
    You’re still not going to get a referendum on it though.

  • @Daniel Henry

    Typical Liberal Democrat response: you disagree with me therefore you must be tribal and insufficiently rational.

  • Ed Maxfield 29th Nov '10 - 3:25pm

    Another obvious problem with this proposal is the risk that it introduces unintended incentives. If it is limited only to ‘safe’ seats you have to define those in law. If that definition is ‘seats won on first preferences’ then you risk parties solving the problem by shaping their campaigning to minimise the number of seats falling into this category (or even maximising the number of safe seats won by their opponents.)

    A better option would be to compel all parties to stand two candidates (I suggested something like this in an earlier LDV debate.)

    Alternatively you could just compel all parties who want to receive public funding for a constituency campaign (ie have the freepost leaflet) to run open primaries to select their candidates.

  • Daniel Henry 29th Nov '10 - 3:32pm

    @ Steve
    I’ve half a mind to make a powerpoint that would show how Nick-haters would find it easier to kick him out of his seat using AV (where the “anti-Nick” brigade could use their preferences to make sure their vote goes to anyone who could beat him) compared to FPTP (where his opponents would split the “anti-Nick” vote.)
    I like Nick, but I think that he’ll agree that “AV will assist you in kicking out a politician you hate” is the right message we want to get across to people! 😉

    @ Nathan
    If the only point you picked up from my article was the STV was better then AV then I can only assume that you read the first and last paragraph and skipped the rest! :p

    @ MacK
    It wasn’t the point you made that I considered irrational.
    You might be right that potential splitting of vote is a flaw in my idea.
    The thing is, your post also carried accusations and conspiracy theories about my motivation and character (when you don’t know anything about me) which suggested to me that you were ranting with prejudice. And yes, that’s something I consider to be irrational.

    If you you think my ideas are flawed and want to challenge them then be my guest.
    I, on my part, would read carefully and debate as rationally as I can.
    If, on the other hand, you prefer to just rant at me with crazy accusations and conspiracy theories then I have nothing more to say to you.

  • Daniel Henry 29th Nov '10 - 4:12pm

    @ Ed Maxfield
    My preferred legal definition of a “safe seat” would be one that has remained under control of the same party over the last three parliaments. (Although I’m open to suggestions that two parliaments would be enough) That should avoid the pitfalls you described for a “first preference” definition.

    Even so, your alternative suggestions might be even fairer.
    Did you see David Allen’s earlier post where he suggested a similar method of incentivisation?

  • @Daniel Henry

    Let me make it clear that when I said ‘you’ I meant the Liberal Democrats and not you personally. As for crazy conspiracy theories, let me put my views in context: when the public see the AV bill conflated with the reduction of the House of Commons by 50 accountable, elected MPs at a time when the population of the country has risen in the past ten years by nearly ten million; and when the House of Lords is being stuffed with 100 plus unelected and unaccountable peers, we are entitled to suspect that there is an attempt by the coalition to subvert our democracy. When we then hear you, (you personally that is, )suggest that parties that enjoy strong majorities should be forced to field two candidates under AV to improve the chances of parties like the Liberal Democrats who can never get a majority, we are entitled to smell a rat.

  • “the population of the country has risen in the past ten years by nearly ten million;”

    Correction: that should read: “The population of the country has risen in the past ten years by nearly three million.”

  • @Matt

    re: above

    Excellent point Matt. AV has the potential for being subverted by election “rings” similar to that which occurs in rigged auctions.

  • Daniel Henry 29th Nov '10 - 7:37pm

    Alright MacK, thanks for clarifying.
    I should make the record clear that this “stand two candidates” is MY idea rather than OUR idea and you’ll see that many of my fellow Lib Dems disagree with me. May I point out to you both that these rules would force us to field a second candidate in Sheffield Hallam? It would give Lib Dem voters there a choice of who they wanted to represent them there.
    (I don’t hate Nick, but I strongly believe that constituents should have the opportunity remove politician who they do not like)

    “Ganging up” means that a candidate that over 50% of the constituency dislike will be ousted.
    If over 50% of a constituency hate you to the point where they’d rather have ANYONE else, then you probably shouldn’t be “representing” that constituency!

    As for the electoral pact:
    1) Some Conservatives have suggested it but Liberals always rubbish it.
    It’s purely in their interests and not at all in ours.
    2) Furthermore, do you have any evidence that Liberal voters would vote as the leadership told them to?
    I certainly wouldn’t and I don’t know anyone who would. Would YOU let your preferred party tell you how to vote?

    Where’s your evidence that will suggest that AV will lead the Liberals to the right?
    Take a look at the simulations of how our 2010 results would have been under AV:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/8644480.stm
    Notice that it would now have been possible to have a coalition with Labour?

    Also, given that the Tory party is largely coming out against reform, doesn’t that kind of refute your suggestions that it would rig the system in their favour?

  • Daniel Henry 29th Nov '10 - 9:24pm

    There’s a big difference between “Liberal Democrat” and “Coalition”.
    The way I see it, the Coalition Cabinet have formed a “party” of their own that neither the Liberal Democrat Party or Conservative Party entirely agree with. (Although I can undertand the confusion – I think nowdays Nick speaks more for the Coalition than he does for the Liberal Democrats. One of the reasons why Tim Farron is so keen to promote our individual identity.)
    The “Coalition” is much more right wing than our party, but our Party remains how it was before the election.

    Anyhow, to answer your previous query about the number of votes in AV.

    AV breaks the election into multiple rounds and in each round the voter gets ONE VOTE.
    Sometimes the party the voter chose previously is no longer there, so their ONE VOTE goes to their next preference instead. They still only get ONE VOTE in that round, just the same as those whose ONE vote is for the same party as the previous round. (Neither voter has an advantage in any round)
    The aim is to get a candidate that the majority (i.e. over 50%) are reasonably happy with.
    If a round does not produce such a candidate, we eliminate the lowest scoring party and try again, each voter getting ONE VOTE in each round until we finally have a candidate with a majority.

    So far there shouldn’t be an issue because in each round, each voter gets the same number of votes.
    I guess the only objection you could have is why we need multiple rounds in the first place?
    Why not just pick the winner from the first round?
    The reason is because due to “split votes”, the winner of the first round doesn’t necessarily represent the constituency.

    For example:
    http://bnpelectionresults.blogspot.com/2009/06/bnp-2nd-win-coalville.html
    In a Council Election in Coalville the election results were as follows:
    BNP 27.7%
    Conservatives 25.4%
    Labour 22.4%
    Independent 15.8%
    Liberal Democrat 8.7%

    The BNP candidate won with 27.7% of the votes.
    Now, I’m a believer in democracy and I think that the BNP should take the seat if that’s what the constituents want, even though I strongly disagree with them. However, ask 72.3% of the people at Coalville and they’ll say the BNP do not represent their views, and that they’d rather have had ANY of the other candidates.
    FPTP allows unpopular candidates to get in with a minority due to their opponents SPLITTING the opposing vote!

    The AV approach solves the split vote problem by allowing them to choose the best candidate out of the “finalists” if their preferred candidate doesn’t win. It prevents unrepresentative candidates taking control like in the example above. For that reason alone, it provides winners that are better representative of the people than FPTP.

    Tactical Voting
    Now imagine you’re voting in the next coalville election and the Conservatives there have started using Lib Dem dirty tricks and they give you a bar chart like this one:
    http://www2.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2006/02/07/could-a-good-dunfermline-showing-be-mings-salvation/

    They point out that they are the only ones who have a chance of keeping the BNP out.
    If you risk voting for anyone else, you risk having the BNP representing your area again.
    What do you do? Would you vote Conservative?
    This tactic is called “squeezing the smaller party” and all parties use it where they can in competitive election and it’s proven to be effective in bullying people out of voting for their favourite candidate, in order to keep out the worst one.

    For many voters, it is a hugely frustrating choice to make.
    It also means that small parties and independents have an uphill struggle: even if they convince a large number of voters that they’re the best candidate, most of these people will still consider them a waste of a vote and choose the best front runner instead. For this reason, FPTP puts many people off voting who they really want, and artificially increases the vote for the 2 front runner parties and secures their “duopoly”.
    http://isupportav.co.uk/2010/11/just-43-4-support-the-big-two/

    AV will solve this problem
    People will now be able to vote honestly with their first preference and then use their later preferences to decide which of the “front runners” to back. It now means they have nothing to lose in supporting a smaller candidate, and will now be able to make their choice purely on how good the candidate is rather than whether they’re wasting it on a “no hoper”.

    So that’s why AV is fairer on the voter.
    It prevents them being mis-represented through “split votes” and allows them to vote honestly.

  • Daniel Henry 29th Nov '10 - 11:35pm

    It’s fair because the majority of the people prefer Lib Dem to Labour in that constituency.
    If there had been an election between just Lib Dem and Labour then the Lib Dem would have won it.
    FPTP gave the constituency a candidate that the majority voted against and prefered anyone but.
    AV gave a candidate that the majority of constituents would rather have.

  • Daniel

    I did see David’s post but he and I have a standing agreement to disagree with each other about everything :-). An essential difference between our two proposals is that his involves spending more public money on elections by giving more candidates access to the freepost while mine would lead to less being spent because some parties would opt not to take the subsidy in return for not having to run a primary.

    I really am very surprised that there hasnt been more discussion about the use of primaries as a major electoral reform. I’m not suggesting it would return us to the Garden of Eden overnight but it would surely have a far reaching impact on our politics and ought to make it more responsive to the electorate.

  • Daniel Henry 30th Nov '10 - 12:53am

    According to your example, 60% of voters in that constituency put Lib Dem higher in their preferences than Labour. If so then the majority (i.e. more than 50%) prefer a Lib Dem candidate to a Labour one. If Labour and the Lib Dems had run one on one, the Lib Dems would have won 60% – 40%.
    But you still consider a Labour win (with 40% for and 60% against) to be the democratic result?

    Remind me of your definition of democracy?

  • @Daniel Henry

    “Alright MacK, thanks for clarifying.
    “I should make the record clear that this “stand two candidates” is MY idea rather than OUR idea and you’ll see that many of my fellow Lib Dems disagree with me. May I point out to you both that these rules would force us to field a second candidate in Sheffield Hallam? It would give Lib Dem voters there a choice of who they wanted to represent them there.
    (I don’t hate Nick, but I strongly believe that constituents should have the opportunity remove politician who they do not like)”

    Er … I think you’ll find some opposition from Nick Clegg on that one. Are you really proposing to stand a candidate against your leader and split the vote? If I proposed that in the Labour Party I’d be relieved of my membership. And rightly so. In politics getting the party into power is the most important thing, no matter how much individual MPs may be disliked. Politics is about power. It’s not the X factor or Strictly Come Dancing. Your principles are commendable but so were Michael Foot’s.

    ““Ganging up” means that a candidate that over 50% of the constituency dislike will be ousted.
    If over 50% of a constituency hate you to the point where they’d rather have ANYONE else, then you probably shouldn’t be “representing” that constituency!”

    I’m unclear whether you mean 50% of the constituency or 50% of the vote. If the encumbent is hated by more than 50% of the voters then surely the encumbent will be removed under FPTP. People do vote tactically in such situations.

    As for the electoral pact:
    1) Some Conservatives have suggested it but Liberals always rubbish it.
    It’s purely in their interests and not at all in ours.

    When it’s just before the general election and your poll ratings have dipped to single figures I’m sure that there will be many Lib Dem MPs who will suddenly find an electoral pact with the Tories very attractive.

    “2) Furthermore, do you have any evidence that Liberal voters would vote as the leadership told them to?”

    No. I think such evidence would be impossible to adduce accurately.

    ” Would YOU let your preferred party tell you how to vote?”

    That depends on the arguments put forward.

    “Where’s your evidence that will suggest that AV will lead the Liberals to the right?”

    I have no empirical evidence, only deductive. In the next General Election I suspect that AV , boundary changes and the reduction of MPs by 50 will give the Tories and Liberal Democrats more seats and denude Labour of seats. If the parliament is hung, the Lib Dems and Tories will form a coalition, and given the experience of this coalition, right wing Tory policies will prevail. If there is an electoral pact and AV, things will be even worse for the left. Labour will be reduced to a rump and the right will be in the ascendant.

    “Take a look at the simulations of how our 2010 results would have been under AV:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/8644480.stm
    Notice that it would now have been possible to have a coalition with Labour?”

    Thanks for the link. Yes, it would have been possible to have a coalition given the figures but I don’t think it would have happened. The Labour party didn’t want one. The Orange Bookers wanted one with the Tories and Clegg couldn’t work with Gordon. As for the next election, the projections don’t work because they don’t factor in the loss of 50MPs, which is an affront to democracy aided and abetted by your party, and because of the gerrymandering of seats, again aided and abetted by your party. I don’t think you have any idea how angry Labour People are over your party’s betrayal. If you were sticking out for simple, pure PR with a list, which is the system we had for the European elections more people would respect you. Particularly if you had pressed for the referendum to be a vote based on the choice of a “menu” offering different voting systems But your party, despite the fact that it has the Tories by the throat, has been gutless about this. One other thing, I think that if you had taken Labour’s advice and gone into a confidence and supply position vis a vis the Tories you would have escaped the obloquy of the Tuition fess debacle’ . You would have been able to have stuck to your pledge and voted down the ludicrous rise. You would also have been able, with us, to have voted down the wilder excesses of the Tories tooth and claw capitalism and pathological, ideological hatred of anything that has the word “state” in it. Now tuition fees are a ball and chain around your neck like Iraq was around ours. AV is not going to rescue you from that disadvantage. A mass vote against the raising of Tuition Fees by your MPs might.

    “Also, given that the Tory party is largely coming out against reform, doesn’t that kind of refute your suggestions that it would rig the system in their favour?”

    No. AV is a trojan horse for forcing through the boundary changes and reducing the number of MPs. That’s the really important thing as far as the Tories are concerned. And the Liberal Democrats have facilitated this for the measley compromise which is AV. AV is not proportional, and won’t make much difference to the Tories anyway. They can live with such a small change. But to be sure that they can win the next general election they have to vitiate Labour seats and reduce the number of electable (mostly Labour) MPs. That’s why the right will prevail. I predict that shortly after the boundary changes have been forced through and the number of MPs have been reduced the Tories will engineer a quick general election. They will reason that the Lib Dems are hugely unpopular and and the next parliament will not be hung given the reduction of MPs and boundary changes. I predict that this will happen some time next year. Then whether the next election is held under FPTP or AV will be irrelevant as far as the Tories are concerned.

  • Daniel Henry 30th Nov '10 - 4:24pm

    @ MacK
    Perhaps Nick would also disagree with my suggestion on this page.
    And you’re right – this proposal would affect ALL safe seats including Nick’s – no exceptions.
    It wouldn’t be against the party’s interests so long as the other parties had to abide by the same rules. It would then be a cross party issue on how to educate the public on using their preferences in a way that didn’t split their party’s vote.

    Re: Your comments on “ganging up”
    One of the big criticisms about FPTP is that it DOES allow unpopular candidates to take control. A few posts above you’ll see an example of a BNP member winning with 27.7%. I’d bet that the remaining 72.3% were STRONGLY against this candidate but the vote was split. You said “people sometimes vote tactically” but that would only work if EVERYONE did it. Many people (myself included) strongly believe in giving their vote to the best candidate. And those that DO vote tactically, is it fair that they should have to give up their positive voice in order to do this?

    AV allows people to vote for who they really believe in with their first choice, and then use preferences to keep their least favourite candidates out – the best of both worlds.

    The rest of your post was just party political.
    I think it made a lot crazy speculations on Liberal behaviour.
    I also think you over-estimate how much the Tories can achieve with boundary changes.
    (Incidently, many Tories are also strongly campaigning against AV with wild claims how Labour and the Liberals will now fix parliament to ensure they have an eternal coalition…)
    Since neither of us can see the future, I don’t think this debate will go anywhere if we debate on party political issues. If we’re to continue, it would have to be about the fairness of AV in the abstract. After all, it’s about getting a system that reflects the will of the people rather than favouring a certain party.

    And for the record, the Lib Dems actually wanted to reduce the number of MPs down to about 508. Allowing as many as 600 to stay in the chamber was a compromise! :p

  • @Daniel Henry

    “I don’t think this debate will go anywhere if we debate on party political issues.”

    Of course we have to debate on party political issues. This is a party political site not a symposium for the erudite. The LIberal Democrats are a party political party. (Mind you, sometimes, I do wonder) Why is it that when people disagree with the Tories or the Liberal Democrats they always accuse them of being party political? Is it because politics is essentially about argument and the Tories and the Lib Dems think that their views are indisputable? If so, that is the worst kind of arrogance.

  • @ Matt

    I entirely agree with the substance of your last post.

  • Daniel Henry started this thread by saying that STV would help to clean up politics. Take a look at some Irish Republic websites Daniel! Their dreadful and greedy politicians have been squandering their country’s – and the EU’s – money for years, while essential services such as Health go to pot.

    Why this obsession with second choices, whether AV or STV? Why not accept that the world isn’t perfect and quite a few votes will be “wasted”? Another phrase for wasted is – sorry, you lost, try harder next time. The main point of an election isn’t infinite choice, it’s the election of a GOVERNMENT whether single-party or a stable coalition.

    But let’s not accept the hopelessly skewed FPTP, which sometimes hands single-party government to the party which came second in popular vote. Let’s continue to elect most MPs (two-thirds perhaps?) by single member FPTP (not AV as the Jenkins Commission suggested) and top-up with regional list PR using the D’Hondt method as per UK elections to the EU, but with an open list which allows voters to choose EITHER a party bloc OR a preferred candidate in their chosen party’s list OR an independent.

    Northern Ireland voters would probably need to have a different system due to the Province’s small size.

    No second choices, not perfect, not fully proportional, quite a lot of voters wouldn’t elect anyone. But much more representative of voters’ intentions than FPTP or AV, simpler than the “opaque” (quoting Jenkins) STV, and designed to concentrate voters’ minds on choosing a Government rather than the Irish habit of giving one of their votes to the “good ole boy” who will hold a Government to ransom by insisting on some costly project to placate his local constituents.

    As for cleaning-up politics, that needs freedom of information, serious media digging and an electorate which won’t accept a level of corruption which actually is much less than the “standard” in many other democracies. The recent fuss over expenses suggests we’re not doing too badly in this respect, but obviously could do better. Next step – reform the libel laws!

  • Jonathan Phillips 25th Apr '11 - 12:30pm

    Maybe the point has been made already, but I’m in a rush and haven’t got time to read all other comments (sorry!): AV is used in various circumstances in the US, where it is known as instant run-off (IRO) – the idea being that open primaries can be combined with the “actual” election to deliver a result in less time, at less expense and with far less voter irritation at those bloody politicians and their endless wrangling. One of its effects is to reduce the amount of mutual slagging-off that can go on between competing candidates of the same party at the primary stage.

    However, the idea that the electorate at large should be involved in choosing a particular candidate (rather than that party’s local members or executive) is quite alien to us. And anyway, who would decide which of a party’s potential candidates would stand? Could the law be used to force parties to stand more than one candidate?

  • Daniel Henry 31st Jul '15 - 12:26pm

    Font testing
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