Mark – my words

Category Archives: Fairer Votes

What went wrong?

To Katie Ghose and all at the Yes campaign:

What your erstwhile supporters would now like to know is this: how come the Yes campaign screwed up so badly? Did you have the wrong headline messages? (I know that where I live, the “make your mp work harder” line generated massive pushback!) Were you too slow to recognize and challenge the lies that the No campaign produced? Why did you fail to invest in explaining the mechanics and the advantages of AV?

The referendum was a sitting duck for Yes. All the positive arguments were on the Yes side. The No side failed to produce any positive arguments for FPTP. Yet the vote was overwhelmingly lost.

Please use whatever funds remain to commssion a survey from YouGov, or Ipsos Mori, or whoever, to determine why people were persuaded to cast their votes against reform.

You owe it to your supporters. You owe it to the millions who voted Yes. Please.


Electoral Reform Society – no conflict of interest

Once again, the No to AV campaign is shouting foul over the relationship between the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), one of the Yes campaign’s main sources of finance, and ERS subsidiary Electoral Reform Services (ERSL). Time for some facts.

The Electoral Reform Society has existed for well over a century, with the primary objective of securing voting reform. Specifically, ERS wants the UK to adopt Single Transferable Vote proportional representation. The ERS Memorandum of Association (PDF) makes this quite clear. It also makes clear that the Society may “advocate and support other measures, not being inconsistent with” the PR objective. Note also that ERS is a membership society and not a charity, as under UK law charities are forbidden from acting for political purposes.

On the topic of the present referendum on AV, ERS balloted its members and their decision was to support the “Yes” campaign. This decision, wholly consistent with the Society’s published objectives, was arrived at in an entirely proper and above board manner, as anyone familiar with ERS would naturally expect.

From its beginnings, the ERS has sought to raise the standards of probity and honesty involved with ballots and elections and has built a reputation for integrity and impartiality that is recognised internationally. More than a century after its inception, the Society found that demand for its services was increasing as organisations in many fields became more willing to resolve issues through ballot and consultation. To meet the growing need for direct ballot management, Electoral Reform Ballot Services was constituted as a separate company in 1988.  Now known simply as Electoral Reform Services (ERSL), the company offers the benefits of over 115 years’ experience of best practice in election, ballot and consultative process administration. ERSL provides, on a commercial basis, electoral services including conducting elections, ballots and referendums, for a wide range of companies, organizations and local authorities.

As a wholly-owned subsidiary of ERS, all profits from ERSL are returned to ERS. This is and always has been an open and transparent arrangement. ERSL clients, including those in the public sector, are naturally entirely free to select alternative election service providers if they so choose.

It’s difficult to understand how anyone in possession of these facts can construe this perfectly logical and sensible state of affairs as any kind of conflict of interest. One can only conclude that the No campaign is seeking to gain advantage for its own cause through innuendo and malicious mudraking, attempting to insinuate that there is something improper in ERS pursuing the electoral reform objectives for which it exists.

Annotated No2AV donor list

So the No to AV campaign did after all publish a list of donors. I must say I was surprised that they did so.  I was expecting that they’d want to conceal who has been funding them, because the list was always likely to consist of “the usual suspects” – the “the great and the good”, the peerage and landed gentry, the millionaires, the billionaires and the assorted City types who traditionally bankroll right-wing causes. And with few exceptions, this has proved to be the case – note a very strong overlap with this list of Conservative party donors.

Below for your amusement is the No campaign’s top donors list, annotated with such publically available information as I was able to quickly collect on the forty one individuals and organizations who made donations of £10,000 and above.

Peter Cruddas £400,000

Founder of CMC Markets, said to be the richest man in the City. Donated around £200,000 to the Conservative party in 2009. His wife Fiona is also a dedicated Conservative fundraiser.

Jonathan Wood £100,000

Jonathan Wood is a British hedge fund manager and regular donor to the UK Conservative Party. He is the founder of the hedge fund SRM Global. He donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party in 2010.

Michael Davis £100,000

Can’t positively identify this donor. There’s a Michael Davis who is Director of Strategy and Performance at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, Chair of Governors at Leicester College and Chairman of Lastolite. There’s a Canadian Michael Davis, CEO of the Responsive Marketing Group (RMG), a telemarketing corporation that raises money for many of Canada’s biggest charities. And of course there’s Conservative MP a leadership challenger David Michael Davis.

Lord (John) Sainsbury £100,000

Sits in the House of Lords as a member of the Conservative Party.

Michael Farmer £100,000

Hedge fund founder who donated £325,000 to the Conservatives between January and March 2010, and £262,800 between April and June last year.

John Caudwell £75,000

An English businessman who has made most of his money in the mobile phone business (Phones4U). In 2005, the Sunday Times estimated Caudwell’s wealth at £1,280 million   I can’t find any traces of political donations.

Lord (Philip) Harris £75,000

Conservative member of the House of Lords and businessman. Carpetright.

Lord (Graham) Kirkham £75,000

Executive Chairman of DFS Furniture Company Ltd, Kirkham is a strong political and financial supporter of the Conservative Party, and is one of South Yorkshire’s richest men, with a personal fortune estimated at £315m.

FIL Investment Management Ltd £50,000

Fidelity – city brokerage company.

Mark Samworth £50,000

Director, Samworth Brothers, Food company. Slogan “People, Quality and Profit”

James Lyle £50,000

Financier, Hedge Fund manager. Has donated upwards of £500,000 to Conservatives.

Sir Donald Gosling £50,000

Co-founder of National Car Parks. On ST Rich List, worth ~£400M. Conservative donor.

John Spurling £50,000

Pet insurance magnate PetPartners.  Donated to Iain Duncan Smith’s leadership campaign, and to Michael Ancram MP.

The Funding Corporation Limited £50,000

A company that “specialises in finding appropriate funding solutions to businesses and individuals.” “The Funding Corporation doesn’t operate under the same constraints as conventional funding organisations.”   Appears to be indirectly owned/directed by the evangelical Christian millionaire Bob Edmiston.  Some question mark over the ethical standards of the Funding Corporation?

IPGL Limited £50,000

A private holding company which invests in world class financial services businesses.  Chief Executive Michael Spencer was until recently treasurer and member of the board of the Conservative Party.

Edwin Healey £50,000

Eddie Healey and his brother Malcolm built up the Hygena kitchen empire and in 2008 were listed as having a joint fortune of £1.9Bn. Eddie was the force behind Sheffield Meadowhall development. In 1995, Eddie Healey’s property group Stadium City was one of the leading donors to the Conservative party.

David Mayhew £30,000

Old Etonian Chairman of Cazenove,”the Queen’s stockbroker”.

Christopher Rokos £30,000

“One of the Conservatives’ city backers, Christopher Rokos, a millionaire fund manager, gave [The Conservatives] £100,850…”

Lord (Stanley) Fink £28,000

Hedge fund manager, co-treasurer of Conservative party.

Andrew Sells £25,000

Chairman, The Garden Centre Group (Wyevale). Co-treasurer of No2AV. Known Tory donor.

Lord (Charles G) Leach £25,000

Conservative life peer. Rodney, not Charles (there is no Lord Charles Leach).

Lord (Simon) Wolfson £25,000

Conservative Life Peer. Chief Executive, Next Retail.

Killik & Co LLP £25,000

Asset Management company. / Chief Executive Paul Killik, Matthew Orr.

JC Bamford Excavators Ltd £25,000

Longstanding track record of donations to Conservative party.

Company director Mark Bamford is a member of the board of The Conservative Party Foundation, established to support the Conservative Party financially in the long-term.

JCB tycoon Sir Anthony Bamford is a staunch Tory supporter. Prime minister David Cameron recommended Bamford for a peerage in 2010. This, however, was turned down by the House of Lords authorities due to concerns regarding Bamford’s taxes. He is one of the biggest donors to the Conservative Party.

Ivor Braka £25,000

Art dealer. Oundle School & Pembroke College Oxford. Owns Gunton Hall in Norfolk. In Q42009, Braka donated £100,000 to Conservatives.

Lord (David) Wolfson £25,000

Conservative Life Peer. Secretary to the Shadow Cabinet and Chief of Staff of the Political Office, 10 Downing Street, between 1979 and 1985.

Jeremy Hosking £25,000

British businessman, co-founder and investment portfolio manager for private investment fund Marathon. Has 25% share holding in Crystal Palace F.C.. Hosking was ranked number 333 on the Sunday Times Rich List in 2009, with a value of £170M  In December 2009, Hosking donated £30,000 for funding research support, to Conservative MP David Davis.  In Q42009, Hosking donated £125,000 to Conservatives.

John Nash £25,000

Chairman of Care UK, one of UK’s largest private health companies. Wife Caroline is a regular Tory donor, who together with her husband, has given a further £107,000 since 2006.

Arbuthnot Banking Group plc £20,000

Chairman & Chief Executive Henry Angest has funnelled almost £7m to the Tories in loans and donations over the past nine years.

Nicholas Jenkins £20,000

Can’t postively identify. Possibly Nick Jenkins, ex-commodities trader and millionaire founder of Moonpig.com “I had the privilege of a good education and success seemed like a very reasonable aspiration” No record of Conservative donation though.

Hugh Sloane £15,000

Number 291 in The Sunday Times rich list 2009. One of the founders of hedge fund Sloane Robinson. Sloane’s compensation level exceeds even the reported £50 Million “bonus” paid to a Goldman Sachs director and the huge compensation package of Roger Jenkins, leader of Barclays Capital. Sloane Robinson has a Cayman Islands base. Sloane donated >£100,000 to Conservatives in 2008

David Ord £10,000

Managing Director of the Bristol Port Company and was the Non-Executive Chairman of MITIE Group plc from 2003-2008. He has been the Conservative Party‘s S.W. Regional Treasurer since 1999. He joined the Conservative Foundation‘s Board in February 2011.  “Another party donor is David Ord, the managing director of the Bristol Port Company, Britain’s largest privately owned ports company, and a director of Open Europe, the euro-sceptic think-tank”

Andrew Brannon £10,000

Possibly refers to the Chairman, Mortlake & Barnes Conservative Party. Has donated on at least 2 occasions to Alan Duncan MP.

William Cook Holdings Ltd £10,000

Chairman Andrew Cook runs three steel plants in the Sheffield area and has donated almost £750,000 to the Tories. Mr Cook’s support for the Tories has included flying Mr Cameron around Britain on 27 separate private plane journeys at a cost of £54,000.

Peter Hargreaves £10,000

Founder and Chief Executive of broker and investment adviser Hargreaves Lansdown, Mr Hargreaves was ranked No 111 in The Sunday Times Rich List, with a personal fortune put at £570 million.   Supporter of Thatcher, critical of Cameron and Con-Dem coalition.

Rhoderick Swire £10,000

Director of investment trust Pantheon International Participations PLC. Has donated to Conservative MP Philip Dunne

Charles Caminada £10,000

“Charlie” Caminada is Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director, Ludorum Plc, which aims to exploit technological means of managing IP rights. Has previously donated to Andrew Mitchell MP (Conservative, Sutton Coldfield).

Naguib Kheraj £10,000

Former chief executive of JP Morgan Cazenove and one-time global head of investment banking at Barclays Capital. Briefly in Jan/Feb 2011, Chief Executive of Lazard International, he now intends to concentrate on philanthropic activities. Known Conservative party donor.

GMB Union £10,000

Probably not a Conservative party donor.

Richard Hoare £10,000

deputy-Chairman of the private bank C Hoare & Co. Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire. Gave £55,000 to Conservatives in 3Q2010  His family donated Stourhead to the National Trust.

Robin Fleming £10,000

Has donated to David Cameron, Conservative leader.  The Fleming banking family cashed in a fortune of £1.7bn when they sold out to Chase Manhattan in 2000.

Additional votes for some?

Matthew Rees claims in his blog that AV means Additional Votes (for some). He’s wrong, because he is failing to make the critical distinction between votes, which result in a candidate being elected as MP, and preferences, which guide the returning officer towards the selection of the candidate who wins.

If you indicate preferences 1st for Green, then 2nd for Labour, when your vote transfers from Green to Labour it becomes a Labour vote for the purposes of electing the MP. The Green vote that was your first preference was eliminated, along with the candidate, though the preference remains.

Two parties could claim to have your support, based on your preferences, but not on your final vote (though we might want to question what use support is to a party when their candidate has been eliminated from the race). The Green party can legitimately claim that they had X first preferences, or even that they had that many votes before they were eliminated, but the fact remains that they were eliminated, and those votes all went to other parties, or dropped out of the reckoning because some voters expressed no further preferences.

In summary, your preferences may very well have twice as much effect on the claims that parties make about the levels of support they enjoy in the electorate as a Tory voter’s single preference, but in terms of the effect on electing the MP, your vote counted for exactly the same as the Tory voter’s – one vote, no more, no less.

How much is my AV vote worth?

AV skeptics and campaigners for a “No” vote in the May 5th referendum frequently assert that because voters rank the available candidates, there must be some associated reduction in the value of a vote as it gets reallocated from a voter’s first preference, to their second, third and so on. This is wrong-headed nonsense, and it arises from a fundamental misapprehension of the purpose and operation of the alternative vote system. Reallocated votes should and must be counted at full face value, in order to preserve the principle of “one man, one vote.”

The first point that needs making is that AV is a form of run-off voting. In attempting to elect the candidate who is most acceptable to most voters, there may be several rounds in the contest, with the field of candidates being narrowed down each time by excluding the least popular choice. Each voter gets a vote in each round, and as the choices narrow, so the selection focusses onto the candidate who can command a majority of all the votes cast in the voting round. AV does the run-off “instantly”, rather than as a series of separate ballots, but the underlying principle is the same. The compromises involved in doing an instant run-off1 rather than a multiple ballot runoff make the system both quicker and more economical – clear advantages when what is wanted is a quick, simple and decisive election.

No-one would seriously suggest that in a multiple ballot run-off election, certain individual voters’ votes in successive rounds should count less if the voter had been prevented from voting for the same candidate as in an earlier round due to that candidate’s name no longer appearing on the ballot paper. That would be a nonsense. It would negate the whole point of the run-off. If a candidate isn’t standing, you can’t vote for them. Yet that devaluing of votes is exactly what is being suggested should be the procedure in an instant run-off, AV election.

Here’s another reason to reject the idea. As I’ve described elsewhere, under FPTP no-one questions how passionately people vote. One voter’s deeply sincere and committed “X” is never said to be somehow more valid than another’s hesitant, doubtful, perhaps even reluctant mark for the candidate she hopes will prevent her personal nightmare MP getting elected.

Thus it seems unreasonable to insist that the degree of enthusiasm or sincerity (or whatever) that informs a voter’s ranking of candidates in AV makes any particular position in the ranking more or less valuable as a vote. Rather, the places in the ranking merely serve to indicate which, out of a particular subset of candidates, the voter wishes their vote to count for. The ranking is more akin to an instruction to the returning officer than it is any absolute measure of the amount of favour the voter assigns to the respective candidates.

Each voter in an AV election has one and only one vote to award. At any given stage in the AV instant run-off, that vote can count for only one candidate. A lower-ranked preference counts if and only if all of that voter’s higher ranked preferences have been eliminated from the race and no overall winner has yet emerged. Clearly it would be impossible in those circumstances for their vote to count at all unless it were awarded to their next highest ranked candidate. Equally, it would be entirely inappropriate to take into account the lower preferences of voters whose first preference candidate is still in the running.

From the perspective of the voter who submits their more-or-less carefully considered ranking of the candidates, the descending order of preference clearly does indicate a result that they will find personally less and less desirable. If we then additionally penalise the voter by making their lower preference vote count less than a full vote towards the determination of the eventual winner, we add insult to injury.

There are still more reasons to insist on full value for all ranked votes. If the value of a re-allocated vote were to be factored down, according to its position in the voter’s ranking, it would cause all sorts of problems for the returning officer2, and the contest might prove unwinnable by any candidate, because the winning criterion – “more votes than all other candidates put together” – could turn out to be unattainable were some votes to count significantly less than others.

Finally, devaluing lower preference choices comes perilously close to saying that some people’s votes are less valuable than others. That’s a slippery slope that ends somewhere in the direction of the gas chambers.

1 In a multiple ballot run-off, voters have more information. They know which candidate or candidates have been eliminated. This, it is argued, may cause them to choose a different candidate to vote for in the next round. By forcing voters to rank all candidates from the outset, AV denies them this additional flexibility.

2 What should the fractional value of each transferred vote be exactly? How should the reconciliation between votes cast and votes counted for each candidate proceed when some votes are fractional? Should the turnout or shares of the vote be reported using whole or fractional votes? I’m sure there will be quite a few more such issues.