Mark – my words

Monthly Archives: February 2011

I take on Sir George Young!

A nearby MP, Sir George Young, had a letter published in the local paper, which I quote below.  In it, he parrots some of the absurd party-line misinformation that is typical of “No to AV” campaign,

Look closely at the impact of AV!

RICHARD Kidd had a letter published, urging your readers to vote yes in the forthcoming referendum on the Alternative Vote.

I take a different view. Under our current system of First Past the Post, we give everyone of voting age one vote each, with the candidate that gets the most votes winning. That sounds fair to me; but we are being asked to replace First Past the Post with what will essentially be a third past the post system. The two parties with the highest votes will have to wait to see what happens to the votes of the parties who come third, fourth and fifth. So the party that is placed third will have more power than the party that is placed second, and indeed more power than the party who polled the most votes in the first round.

Richard Kidd suggests that under AV all winning candidates would have to get over 50 per cent of support, but this is wrong. As the Electoral Commission have said, because voters don’t have to rank all of the candidates, an election can still be won under AV with less than half the total votes cast. Only three countries use AV – Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Two of them have made voting compulsory, with fines for those who don’t vote. There is more to AV than meets the eye and I urge voters to look exactly at the impact AV might have on our democracy.

In response to this I sent the following letter to the paper.  A bit long, but I was trying to write something that would be easy to understand.  We shall see if my response is published!

Sir George Young MP (Letters, 17 Feb), either doesn’t understand how the proposed AV system works, or he is deliberately attempting to muddy the waters and confuse voters into thinking that AV is complex and unfair, when in fact it is the opposite. Please allow an AV supporter to clarify.

All that happens with AV is that instead of choosing just a single candidate from the ballot paper, you can vote for several candidates, and you rank them according to your personal preferences.

If you want to vote for Sir George, and no-one else will do, simply place a “1” against his name instead of an “X”, and you’re done.  If you want anyone but Sir George, place “1”, “2”, “3”, etc. against the other candidates in the order you like them, but leave the box by Sir George’s name blank. Once again, that’s all you need to do as a voter. It’s hardly rocket science.

The counting is basically the same as it always has been and in fact need not take any longer than at present. First preference votes (the “1”s) are tallied up, and if Sir George has more than 50% of the votes cast, as indeed he did last year, then he’s elected.  There would be no difference at all.

But if Sir George gets less than 50%, the alternative votes start to count. This is the whole point of the AV system, to ensure that the person elected as MP has at least 50% of the votes.

The easiest way to understand it is to imagine that the election is immediately held again, but without the candidate who got the least votes. No-one actually needs to vote again, because (we hope) the people who voted for the eliminated candidate already expressed their 2nd, 3rd, etc. preferences for other candidates. Everyone else’s candidate is still in the race, so their votes stand.

The second preference votes of the people that voted for for the eliminated candidate are therefore distributed to the respective remaining candidates. At this point, Sir George could well pick up enough 2nd preference votes to get elected, and it wouldn’t even have taken very long, because the fewest possible ballot papers needed to be re-examined.

In close-fought seats, several rounds of elimination and re-allocation of preference votes may be needed, but overall it needn’t take very much longer than re-counts take at present.  It can certainly all be done by hand, so there’s absolutely no need to spend millions on dodgy unreliable electronic counting machines.

Contrary to Sir George’s allegation, there is no question of “the party that is placed third” having “more power”. Parties don’t cast votes at elections. Unlike MPs, voters are independent individuals and we may vote for whoever we choose.



Clegg didn’t fail, we did

No single party won last year’s election. Most obviously, the LibDems didn’t win – in case you didn’t notice, they came third. Yet many people, including those who voted LibDem, are now expressing hatred of Nick Clegg, because as deputy Prime Minister, he is failing to implement LibDem policies.

This attitude strikes me as irrational, unfair, and immature, even childish.

LibDem policies were fairly decisively rejected by a majority of voters, so there was no mandate to implement them. Because we the voters delivered an inconclusive result, no single party can claim to have an exclusive mandate. This, like it or not, was the outcome of last year’s election, but Clegg is being vilified for “breaking his promises”.   He had no right to carry out those promises, because he had no mandate. He didn’t fail; the voters, hamstrung by a dysfunctional electoral system, failed, and now we’re castigating the victims of our failure?

The unpopular coalition between the Conservatives and the LibDems and its programme of action, which nobody likes much either, was the result of political horse-trading well described in the tragic David Laws’s book 22 days in May. The alternative would have been a minority government: either the Conservatives attempting to push through their brutal policies unmodified, and a likely series of Commons defeats; or a holed-below-the-waterline Gordon Brown administration, preoccupied with a struggle for succession, limping and blundering in the midst of a fiscal crisis. Either way, there would almost certainly have been another election within 12 months, with no assurance of any more decisive outcome.

Poor as it is, the coalition is probably the best option there was. All we can do now is grit our teeth and hope to survive the hard times. Meanwhile on the 5th of May, we can, if we so choose, adopt a slightly fairer, slightly more representative electoral system, the Alternative Vote, which might just make the next election more decisive.