Sunday, May 01, 2011

On abbreviations alone we have a clear winner

I've not yet seen last night's Dr Who so I'll talk about the other burning issue on everyone's mind.

I haven't decided how I'll vote in the referendum on how to vote. Both sides make some good cases. Both also make bad ones. Nothing winds me up more than people I agree with using bad logic to support their argument; because if you can't find good logic to support it, what exactly does that say about your case?

Sad fact about FPTP: it does not guarantee the winner is the guy with the majority vote, whatever nice Mr Cameron might say. Not if they got 40% and their two opponents got 30% each. Do the sums. You can probably do that even if you are a Tory. You will get a guaranteed majority winner only if there are two candidates - and, nationally, if all constituencies are approximately equal. Which they are not.

Sad fact about AV: the most popular candidate is not the guaranteed winner - it may well be everyone's second or third choice who gets in. But (and it's a big but) the policies that candidate represents are most likely the policies of interest to the majority of voters. There's a subtle difference but it's an important one. Suddenly no seat is a safe seat; no candidate can just cruise in because they're representing a constituency that has voted the same way since 1066 and the opposition needn't bother turning up.

A strong argument against FPTP is that twice in my lifetime now it has delivered prime ministers with such a landslide majority, and the personal conviction to back it up, that they can and did do pretty well what they wanted, unopposed; and yet they did not represent anything like the majority of the country. If I knew AV would never deliver another Thatcher or Blair, that would count very heavily in its favour

A strong argument for FPTP is that contrary to popular belief, it can even cope when you get a logjam in the political process and no one wins. Like, a year ago. Given that it still works in that regard, why change it? What is beyond dispute to me that FPTP has always, always delivered the government that was needed on election day. I will say that for Thatcher and I will say it for Blair, because in both cases the opposition was so untenable. And I say election day. It may well be that within a few years, months or even weeks it is no longer the government we need; but on election day, it always has been.

Meanwhile, there are more burning issues to tackle which will go a long way to making our parliamentary system fairer. Boundary reform so that every MP represents approximately the same proportion of the population. Sorting out once and for all the present cludge that gives some citizens of the UK two parliaments and some only one. Things like that. I have a sneaking suspicion AV is just paint on the cracks. FPTP is unfair. So's life.

So, how will I vote on Thursday? Haven't decided. AV has the better publicity but it will take more than clever cat videos to win me over completely and they have four days in which to do it.


  1. Simon8:42 am

    (Please do get round to watching & reviewing Dr Who, I'd love to hear your take on it!)

    Regarding your sad fact about AV - personally, I'd view that as an advantage, because as you say, it forces politicians to concentrate on policies more than FPTP. You aren't going to get many second-pref votes with attack ads, so you need to get your manifesto promises out there - and breaking them will have greater consequences.

    Regarding your strong argument for FPTP - I'm not sure I understand your meaning, here? The part of our current system you're referring to (insufficient MPs elected for any one party to form a majority government, led to a coalition of compromise between two parties) isn't being changed; AV probably doesn't make coalitions more likely, but under either system this situation can and will occur again.

    I certainly agree with your point in the penultimate paragraph - AV is nothing like a perfect system - but I feel certain that it's better than FPTP.

    Aside: in the event of a tie, would you consider the shocking behaviour of the 'No' camp in lying and smearing the other side? I haven't seen a single bit of their campaign that wasn't intentionally misleading.

  2. Agreed that the "sad fact" of AV is an advantage - but the pro-AV camp aren't the only ones pushing out factual inaccuracies and I have heard this fact denied. I have to agree though with your last point that the FPTP group are fighting very dirty indeed. I generally find that the established, complacent old order is very bad at justifying itself with arguments that actually make sense. (It's a bit like crustacean bishops denouncing women and gay priests: there is a theological case to make, but they tend to ignore it in favour of spluttering "because ... because ... BECAUSE!!")

    Doesn't invalidate FPTP as a system, though. If something works then it works, however its proponents mis-represent it.

    Still haven't decided how to vote ...


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