Who are Vote for a Change?

UPDATE: the data extracted from Vote for a Change and used in this post was extracted around 1.30 this afternoon. Since then, the site’s data has been changed. Please see comments for further details.

Ever hear of Vote for a Change? Vaguely?

Another of the plague-on-all-your-houses, real-reform-now campaigns which have been springing up all over the internet over the past year, right? Yes, that’s what I assumed too.

Their aim, they say, is to advise people on how to vote tactically in each constituency to bring about a hung parliament. This is what they say about how they made their choices:

We began by looking at the latest national opinion polling, which has the Conservatives in first place, Labour in second, and the Lib Dems in third. In each constituency, we assessed how many candidates had a strong chance of winning the seat – based on polling, personal draw, and the political dynamics of that constituency.

Out of those candidates, we then picked the one whose party was likely to win the fewest seats in Parliament according to current predictions. So we would favour Labour over Conservative, Lib Dem over Labour, and minor parties over the “big three”.

For example, in a constituency like Batley & Spen, where only Labour and Conservative candidates look likely to win, we have recommended the Labour candidate Mike Wood. In Brighton Pavilion, where Green candidate Caroline Lucas has a strong chance of winning, we have recommended her over her Tory, Labour, and Lib Dem opponents. In a battle between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, we will normally recommend the Liberal Democrat candidate. A few exceptions have been made, however, where the Labour incumbent has been outspoken in their support for “hung” or “balanced” parliaments. One example is Edinburgh North & Leith, where we have recommended Labour’s Mark Lazarowicz because of his work with the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform.

Correction: this is what they said up till today. While I’ve been writing this post, their FAQs page has changed and relevant passages can be found here.

Up until today, they haven’t actually displayed their choices publicly. You have to put in your postcode to get your personal recommendation for a hung parliament. No-one could get a look at the overall picture of what is really being recommended by Vote for a Change. Under, I gather, some pressure, they have today released a list (PDF), which covers the 300-odd more marginal seats.

This, on the other hand, is what Ryan scraped off their website a couple of hours ago, asking for its recommendations for all constituencies:

Source code to do the scrape yourself is available here.

I’ve done no more than glance at these, but the headline news is that the scrape version – what users of the site will actually access when they type in their postcodes – recommends voting for 375 Labour MPs, 186 Lib Dems and 16 others. Does that look much like a hung parliament to you? At this point, you may want to have a gander at their supporters page.

The official version of only half these recommendations appears conveniently in PDF form to make life difficult, and I’ve not got time to sort it out and crunch it, but I wonder how different the picture will look? My own MP Ivan Lewis (Bury South) appears as a recommendation in the scrape. Bury South is safe Labour. Lewis has over 50% of the vote, is a junior minister and perpetual Labour yes-man. If this is “Voting for a Change” then someone is using a very peculiar dictionary.

What appears to be going on here is that Vote for a Change are basically recommending a massive, increased Labour majority. On being challenged, they have published only about half of their recommendations and changed their FAQs page, apparently to anticipate some of the inevitable “WTF” type questions that spring to mind.

Further digging into both docs is welcome.

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  • Hi Alix, your data is out-of-date.

    After a considerable amount of consultation with our supporters, we have changed our dataset to recommend over 300 Lib Dem candidates, and roughly the same number of Labour candidates.

    The latest version of our FAQs explains why the number of candidates we recommend for each party does NOT indicate how many MPs we expect to win from each party. Otherwise we would be recommending Conservative candidates as well.

    The implication that we are trying to secure a Labour majority is VERY wide of the mark. I am not a member of any party, and I work for this organisation because I believe passionately in electoral reform. PLEASE read the FAQs for a much more detailed explanation of the methodology: http://www.voteforachange.co.uk/pages/faq/

    Andy White
    Vote for a Change

  • About their director – who is also director of the ERS?

    From the little digging I’ve done it seems they are run by Labour people. The original idea was to push for a electoral reform but they now seem to be pushing for a massive labour majority! Very dissapointing really that all that energy for reform is being hijacked…

  • paul barker 20th Apr '10 - 6:30pm

    Thanks for doing the work Alix, like, I suspect, most people I had lazily lumped them in with 38 degrees & suchlike. They seem to be a classic Front Organisation of the sort favoured by the SWP, Militant etc.
    The whole idea of Tactical Voting in the present conditions is nonsense, the list of reccomended candidates would have to change with every new opinion poll.

  • Alix — the new dataset recommends about 300 Labour candidates.

    But even when it recommended more, you still have misunderstood the nature of the website when you say that it “advocates a Labour majority”. This is incorrect. That assumes that 100% of voters would use the website to make their decision. If you read the FAQs you will see that we have factored in participation.

    I’m not sure what your scrape is saying, but I have in front of me a dataset showing 301 Lib Dem recommendations. The full dataset is here: http://voteforachange.co.uk/page/-/files/Data.pdf

    James – This application very clearly tries to maximise the Lib Dem vote in constituencies they have a REALISTIC chance of winning. Now, should the polls continue to soar, we will have to edit some of our choices to reflect the “overspill” effect that Peter Kellner referred to. At the moment I think our recommendations are appropriate. There may still be a few “safe” seats which we have called controversially, but look through all the key marginals — in my view we have made the correct call in every case. These are the seats where the election will be won or lost.

    What upsets me is that we are being accused of being a Labour front. Yes, we have Labour members and activists involved in the campaign. But I have no party allegiance and many of our staff are non-partisan or from other parties. We worked to a well-reasoned methodology. The unanticipated post-debate rise in Lib Dem polling caught us off-guard, which is why we have had to make so many changes today. But I am confident that what is currently presented is fair.

  • The problem with advocating only two parties when one starts with 350 seats and the other stars with 60 is that it is overwhelmingly likely (to the extent it produces anything) to produce not a hung parliament but a Commons majority for the larger party. It sounds a little like the old Tactical Voter site. A model genuinely aiming to produce a hung parliament would need to use the Tories as a buttress against a Labour majority.
    Also, swings in general elections exceeding 10% are very rare (honestly!) and using historical data it is very easy to rule-out all but two candidates in the vast majority of seats without using current polling data- the model should be quite static. Of course, a 10% swing to the Lib Dems will virtually guarantee a hung parliament, but it is key to have a backup plan should it not materialise. Alas, Vote for a Change is not it.

  • Sunder Katwala 20th Apr '10 - 11:04pm

    vote for a change is an Electoral Reform Society campaign and project. The advisory group is a very broad network of just about everybody non-party and across parties, as are the supporters in general. When I’ve gone to advisory meetings, they has always been good and v.senior LibDem attendance as well as the main unlock democracy, etc pressure groups. I have personally engaged in it, so have Compass, Progress, but this is because those Labour organisations are strongly pro-electoral reform – mostly (Progress, Compass) much more PR than AV, though I am pro-AV and open to both having been pro-electoral reform (and mostly pro-PR) for 20 years.

    But none of us will have had any direct input into this issue at all. Our role has just been being in the broad external advocacy and communication networks for the pro-reform, pro-referendum campaigns of the last year or so, and helping to co-organise events where reelevant, eg on our party fringe.

  • James — it simply hadn’t occurred to us that people would want all the data (most people who have used it don’t). We haven’t blundered into it, but rolled it out fairly slowly so that we can iron out some of the creases. It is now looking more like the finished article, in time for promotion to a wider audience.

    We’re not advocating supporting Labour. We are trying to create a reforming parliament. Read the FAQ again and you’ll see why this necessarily involves people tactically voting Labour — otherwise we let the Tories in, who have no belief in electoral reform at all.

    And calling us an “anti-STV” campaign without explaining why doesn’t mean much. Our tool highlights the deep flaws in FPTP, where people are forced to vote tactically if they want a particular outcome. We aren’t telling people to vote Labour in a particular constituency because we like Labour. Rather, the system is so broken that this is perversely their best chance of voting for reform.

  • Ryan, there are 632 constituencies in Great Britain (we don’t make recommendations in the 18 Northern Ireland constituencies). Total up your count: 285 + 275 + 8 + 5 + 2 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 579. You’ve missed out 53 constituencies!

  • I’ve been on the voteforachange email list for a while. A couple of days ago I was amazed to find that voteforachange were suggesting a Labour vote in Hove – this in a seat that Labour pretty much have to lose in order to lose their overall majority. It is also a seat (majority 420) that is generally considered lost – so they are suggesting that supporters spunk their votes on a doomed candidate with (as far as I know) no credentials as an electoral reformer. I wrote to suggest that in such seats, they’d be better off making no recommendation at all.

    FYI Willie Sullivan, who chairs the campaign, is a Labour councillor (which may explain how for a while I ended up on the Compass email list). Lianne de Mello, the campaigner who replied to my email querying the Hove recommendation, is quoted in the Sun as saying she’ll vote Green in Harrow! If she really did say that – and she may not have done, of course – then she is not exactly promoting tactical voting, is she?

    I don’t want to impugn the motives of everyone who has got involved in this campaign, but at the very least, it does not seem to have been properly thought through.

  • Andy: I notice the VfaC list doesn’t include the four pro-STV Conservative MPs: Greg Knight, Christopher Chope, Mark Field and Roger Gale. I assume this is because they all have “safe” seats (and I do note that VfaC doesn’t endorse any of their challengers), but it may be a good idea to explicitly endorse these four MPs to (1) reduce any suspicion of pro-Labour bias; (2) highlight that there are pro-reform (and pro-STV) Tories and as a limited safeguard against a collapse in the Conservative vote.

  • Ralph: Greg Knight, Christopher Chope, Mark Field and Roger Gale only recommended STV for the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker — http://www.conservativeelectoralreform.org/STV/index.htm

    As far as we are aware, the only Tory MP who supports STV is Douglas Carswell, but he too is in a safe seat so we make no recommendation.

  • Andy: Thanks for clearing that up, Best if luck with the campaign.

  • Mark Wainwright 4th May '10 - 4:51pm

    Can’t quite believe what I’m seeing here…for Nottingham South (my consituency) they’re recommending voting Labour because “You live in a marginal constituency”. The graph they show of 2005 Election results shows Labour and Conservatives on almost exactly the same percentage to back this up, but in actuality Labour recieved 47% of the vote and Conservatives 26% (from BBC). The seat has been held by the same Labour MP for 18 years. Marginal? If that weren’t obvious enough, Vote For a Change’s graph has Lab and Conservatives at just under 50% each and Lib Dems on just under 20-25%…doesn’t *quite* add up. Feel free to check, try the NG7 2GL postcode. I’m hoping this is an honest mistake because otherwise it’s shameful attempt to deceive people with complete mistruths.

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