Thursday, 3 March 2011

Rotten Alternative


We are having a referendum here in May, only the second in our history (the earlier one was on membership of the European Community) and the first in my life. It’s on our voting system: are we to continue, the question will go, with our present first past the post method of sending people to Parliament, or should we opt for a ‘fairer’ system? The ‘fairer’ system on offer goes under the rubric of AV, the Alternative Vote, where candidates are listed in order of preference.

The last thing we need at this point in time is a vote on voting. But it has to be; it’s part of the package agreed to by David Cameron, the prime minister, to draw Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats into the present coalition government. It’s something the Liberal Democrats, and formerly the Liberals, have been wittering on about for decades, bemoaning the fact that the votes they gain are disproportionate to the seats they win.

Corporal Clegg says that our present system leaves “too many voices unheard.” I’ll come to this in a moment but first a word on our present electoral horse race. It’s simple: the country is divided into so many constituencies, each sending a single representative to Parliament. In elections the candidate with the most votes wins, even though the combined vote of the other candidates may be greater. Though we have rather lost sight of the point, people are voting for an individual, not a party; so even if their particular political preference loses out they are still represented in Parliament by the victor. They still have ‘a voice’, contrary to Clegg’s assertion.

So what’s the alternative? The alternative is not fairness; the alternative is Clegg and all those like him, who forever after will decide the outcome of elections, not the people. Every election will be followed by the kind of horse-trading we saw last spring; it may take days before that nation knows what shape the future government will have. If the people say yes to this change we face a future of political uncertainty and grubby deals; we face the politics of Australia.

We can say goodbye to any prospect of strong government in future. Manifestos advanced in elections will be no more than opening gambits; promises to be discarded as the occasion demands. But first past the post is ‘unfair’, it leaves too many voices unheard, bleats the little Corporal. Would that be the people, I wonder, who were assured that there would be no increase in university tuition fees? Did they not shout loud enough?

I have absolutely no interest in the hypocrisy of people like Clegg. What angers me is the duplicity involved, the duplicity of the Liberal Democrats, a sort of political glee club for the woolly-minded. Our constitution, the system that has served us so well in the past, is in danger of being undermined because Nick and his gang are irritated that they simply do not have enough bodies in Parliament. It’s all about numbers, its all about vanity; it’s all about the worst kind of political pettiness. It has nothing at all to do with what is right and what is fair.

33 comments:

  1. Australia is controlled by the mining lobby and is selling the national resources wholesale to China. The BNP will address immigration and crime, Nationalize!

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  2. There are Muzzies protesting in New York that they want to impose Sharia law in America, they are out to impose their ideology on the world, there will be civil war. Western Europe and the UK will be lost if you do not wake up. Nibiru is close, soon we will se what effect this will have on the planet.

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  3. I hope you're not suggesting that the current system is 'fair'. I agree that were AV to be adopted it would spawn a host of small, single-issue parties, but in the current system a 'landslide' victory by one party never reflects the majority view, although it may well produce 'strong government'.

    In fact, the average general election campaign in the UK focuses solely on so-called marginal constituencies, because the vast majority of voters will vote the way they've always voted, and the political fate of the country will be decided by a relatively small number of voters who cast their ballots in line with what they think is best for them, not best for the country.

    A more detailed exposition of my thoughts on the UK's voting system can be found in Democratic Deficit, written before the last general election.

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  4. Anthony, that's one form of nationalism I could do without. I dare say the BNP is anxious for AV, though, not that it will take them very far.

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  5. Dennis, you may think this awful of me but 'fairness' a la Clegg, Cleese and Lumley is the last thing I want; I far prefer stability, simplicity and continuity. I would find the kind of bargaining allowed for under AV unprincipled and, paradoxically, unfair, serving politicians not people. Thanks for the link.

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  6. At the moment we have three mainstream parties offering near-identical policies - a situation that seems unlikely to change without major upsets. Assuming we are not going in for revolution I shall vote yes because it may just upset the cozy arrangements we have at the moment. In any case, every referendum is a tiny crack in the opposition to referendums, including the one on the EU.

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  7. Thanks, Michael. Obviously I take the alternative view: that it will lead to even more cosy arrangements, that and mediocre candidates, frightened to court controversy.

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  8. No electoral system will be satisfactory while representatives mistake 'lead' for 'push' and place party loyalty above duty to voters. Sheep voting for wolves will always end up on the menu. I suggest voters become wolves instead of sheep.

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  9. Calvin, if I had my way I would re-introduce the delightful practice of ostracism. :-)

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  10. For me, there are two key reasons why I shall be voting "No".

    Firstly, the greater likelihood of coalition government that will result from AV (or any other brand of PR) means that party manifestos become even less useful than they currently are. As we saw after the last election, even key pledges will be dumped in order to placatre potential coalition partners.

    Secondly, a system that makes coalition government more likely risks handing disproportionate influence to minority coalition partners which may have more extreme views than the vast majority of the voting populace. Also, where there are three large parties, there is a risk of almost perpetual government by a coalition of two of them, effectively disenfranchising a significant proportion of voters. This would seem to be the complete opposite of what AV (and PR) is trying to achieve.

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  11. The EU has taught us that a one-off referendum is passé. We should go for "best of three".
    :-)

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  12. Presumably the LibDems think that AV will benefit them. However, I am a devotee of the Law of Unintended Circumstances. All these estimates of what would happen under AV are just guesses.

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  13. politicians have their tricks, educated people and the journalism must watch them, The referendum will decide what people want. Hugs. Mario.

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  14. First-past-the-post is the least-worst system I've encountered.

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  15. If anything I think the parliamentary system as you have it already has too much Cleggianism. I suppose the upside of it is you can have more parties then two, but you can always faction your two parties.

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  16. I disagree with you on this Ana. I dislike Clegg and the buffoons surrounding him as much as you do, but AV has to be better than the current system.

    I remember back in the early 70's the Heath Government called an election during a miners strike on the basis of "who runs the country". Heath lost though the Conservatives polled more votes than Labour. This also happened back in 1951 - but the other way round with the Conservatives winning more seats on a smaller share of the vote.

    So on two occasions we ended up with a ruling party with less votes than the main opposition party alone.

    Hardly fair when the governance of the country essentially hangs on a few swing seats and an absolute majority can be secured with much less than 50% of the vote.

    AV is not wonderful and is not a panacea for our political woes but it is a better than the broken system we currently have.

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  17. I'm with you on this one Ana having lived in Belgium where a myriad of political parties would spend months haggling over the formation of a new government only for the said governtment to last about five minutes before another election was called and the whole process started again.

    In Belgium things are more complicated because of the split between Flemish and French speaking parts of the country. It was quite comical when the Flemish Socialists and Wallonian Socilaists couldn't even agree with each other :-)

    I will be voting no.

    If the Lib Dems lose this AV referendum I can see that being the final nail in their coffin unless they make a break from the Tories.

    As some of the previous comments say the three main UK parties are frankly very similar in outlook at the moment and I sense that people are getting fed up with them.

    I would say that if an election was called today UKIP would get a major boost in the polls as a protest vote against the other three parties.

    Glen

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  18. CI, they have also taught us if at first you don't succeed...to hell with voting. :-)

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  19. Michael, it would give them a commanding position election after election, always able to determine the character of the government, no matter the popular mood.

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  20. Mario, they always have to be watched. What kind of voting system do you have in Peru?

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  21. Jeremy, Cleggianism! Yes, there is far too much of that. :-)

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  22. Bill, disagree away!

    My view here is essentially the same as Sucio’s: that first past the post is the least worst system. I remember hearing the expression ‘broken politics’ in the aftermath of the last election, though I was never quite sure exactly what was broken. Yes, first past the post can produce some ‘broken’ administrations; but it has also produced some great ones. It has also produced some great politicians, people who have not been afraid to speak their minds. AV is the politics of the flabby middle, of the lowest common denominator. I’m convinced it will produce more timid politicians, more Cleggs than Churchills, people anxious not to chase away the second or third preference votes.

    The examples you have given, that of 51 and 74, are interesting, though the exception rather than the rule. What do you think would have happened if there had been AV? Why, surely the same thing I’ve touched on in the above, the same thing that happened last May – prolonged negotiations and back-room deals, some policies adopted, others discarded, a flabby synthesis of programmes. Is that really what people want?

    There is another question that I haven’t touched on here, another dimension. It’s Cicero’s Cui Bono? – Who Benefits? Here I think it’s sensible to follow the money. The AV system will be hugely expensive to implement and administer. Guess what? The AV campaign is being promoted by the Electoral Reform Society, though they had previously rejected this in favour of proportional representation. Why? Because it’s being bankrolled by a company called Electronic Reform Services Limited, the leading ballot-services business, which stands to gain substantially from a positive vote. Anyone interested in the details here would do well to read The alternate story, an article by Ed Howker in The Spectator (26, February).

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  23. Glen, I quite agree with your general assessment. People are fed up with so much of mainstream politics, a continuing hangover from the previous Parliament, the most corrupt and venal in our history.

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  24. For majority in favor of a political party have a number of congressmen but directly by the number of a congressman too (more votes of course), we have only one house of representatives with 120 congressmen, we have democratic vote. A hug. Mario.

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  25. Thanks, Mario. But how do you vote? Do you have the same system as here or do you have proportional representation?

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  26. On a paper with the candidates, for president and congressmen. In a secret chamber. The representation is varied with many political parties , more o less proportional but have small political parties too in the congress, many points of view by groups.

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  27. "...the politics of Australia?" No, without compulsory balloting and an elected house of review, you won't be so lucky! More likely the politics of Israel or Italy.

    Now really, didn't the current system produce the governments of Wilson, Callaghan and Blair? What does that say for it?

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  28. Hi Anastasia what do you think of the right to democracy party in Switzerland?
    Have been using this system for over 100 years you have far more say in running your country and you can actually get laws passed or revoked if you get enough votes from the general public.
    I vote once every 5 years really does not do it for me. Even more radical make the Uk a plc run as a business a top Uk business man was recently on TV suggesting that every thing currently public sector should be privatised he was suggesting you could save 1 Trillion Ponds a year on your current spending.

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  29. Hi, Phil, and welcome. I'm not sure how this works in Switzerland, if there is a high level of participation or not, but here I think that people would get exhausted quite quickly if there was voter participation over a whole range of issues. But as I said on Blog Catalogue, I have no objection to referenda on the big constitutional issues, Europe above all. I like the idea of running the UK like a business. :-)

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