A word with those who voted No To AV

Apologies in advance for the strength in tone of this rant, but I’m absolutely gutted about the result in the referendum on AV and I know exactly whom to blame… the British electorate. We are offered a chance to make our voting system more representative and fairer and 70% of us who bother to vote decline the offer.

Many will blame the negative campaigning of the No campaign, and of course, it played a role in the result, but that is to ignore the facility we all have to do a little bit of research for ourselves and use our own brains to establish which system lends itself to modern politics.

FPTP does not represent the will of the electorate, and yet most of the electorate which bothered to vote voted in favour of retaining it!

Advocates of FPTP claim that it produces stronger government. Well, this is true, because it’s massively biased towards the two largest parties and therefore returns large numbers of seats for each of them in parliament, as was the case in the 2010 election (figures are from Wikipedia):-

Conservatives: 36.1% (306 seats)
Labour: 29.0% (258 seats)
Liberal Democrats: 23.0% (57 seats)

At the time of the election, there were 650 seats in the House Of Commons. You’ll notice that the Tories got 13.1% more of the vote than the Lib Dems did, and 38.3% more seats as a consequence. That means that the Conservatives got 3.42 times as many seats as the Liberal Democrats did per percentage split of the vote.

It would appear that some votes are more equal than others.

As a proportion of the national vote, the seats would have been distributed as follows:

Conservatives: 36.1% (234.65 seats)
Labour: 29.0% (188.5 seats)
Liberal Democrats: 23.0% (149.5 seats)

Of course, AV is not PR – AV retains the current link between voter and constituency representative (One of the two only good thing about FPTP – the other being its debatable propensity to return strong governments, which I’ll come onto shortly), but it does make it more likely that people vote according to their wishes and not tactically. I present the above figures merely to point out how unjust the FPTP system is. AV is only a small improvement, but it’s an improvement.

So, why might you have wanted to vote No to AV?

“I wanted to bash Nick Clegg for getting into bed with the Tories and reneging on manifesto pledges.”
If you used a referendum on our voting system to punish the Liberal Democrats, you are, to use a Charles Dickens quote, ‘a ass’. The Yes campaign enjoyed cross party support from all parties except most of the Conservatives (some Conservatives were in favour of AV), half of the Labour party (mainly the old guard, used to having two-party dominance), and the BNP (which relies on minority support in one constituency as its best chance to get a seat in parliament).

You are the same ass which uses all elections as a popularity poll on national issues. This was a one-off chance to make our electoral system fairer, and rather than grasp that opportunity, you thought, “I’ll kick Cleggy!”. Your short-term thirst for electoral vengeance is foolish and extremely misplaced, because the Liberal Democrats WILL bounce back – perhaps not for another five years, but they will bounce back, and in all probability in a much shorter time than that. Modern society has rejected two-party politics since the early 1980s and, in a general trend, smaller parties like UKIP and the Greens are steadily growing in prominence. Your gesture was stupid, futile, and I guarantee 100% that it will bounce back and kick you in the sprollies.

The Liberal Democrats are a minority partner in a government. They have successfully implemented three of their four core manifesto pledges despite this position. Under any measure, that is bloody good going. If you’re a Lib Dem supporter, you’ve got to be happy with that result. Just for the record, I know it may seem by the tone of this piece that I am a Lib Dem supporter, but I am not, and have not been for some time – nothing to do with their current programme. You may have gathered that if you’ve read some of my other rants against the undemocratic and corrupt institutions of the EU (but that’s a horse of a different colour, and another rant for another day).

You have also conveniently forgotten that every former government has failed to implement its full manifesto and has broken key manifesto pledges. Labour promised PR in their 1997 manifesto (or at least to set up an independent commission to look into it) and guess what – it didn’t happen. I know, because on that occasion I voted for them on this one issue (my rant against the concept of political parties is also for another day), because I passionately believe in fair democracy and knew that the Lib Dems couldn’t win in my constituency. I had to vote tactically (as usual, thanks to FPTP), rather than according to my convictions. AV would have meant everybody could vote according to their real preference. On that occasion, I could have put Lib Dems as my first choice (because I identified mostly with them at the time), and Labour as my second choice. Had the Lib Dems failed to win in my constituency (they did lose, as expected), I would have known that my vote would still have been worth something and, despite what the No campaign told you (and you swallowed wholesale), my vote would not have been counted twice.

“AV is too complex
Is that what the No campaign leaflet told you and you just believed it, or did you make the smallest attempt to work it out? You didn’t have to understand the mechanics behind it if they were too tricky for your tiny little mind to grasp, but you didn’t need to understand how it worked anyway. If you can grasp the concept of putting things in order of preference, you could manage AV. Even then, if you only wanted to choose one candidate (as under FPTP), you still could. Just make your mark as a cross in the usual way you always have done under FPTP. You know – like how you sign your name.

“AV would benefit the BNP”
Which is of course why the BNP were campaigning for the No vote! If you’d grasped the basic idea behind AV, you’d have known this to be complete and under tosh. How the No campaign had the balls to make this claim, is, in itself, hilariously brave! It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong… brimming over with wrongability.

“AV would lead to more coalitions”
Sorry, I was under the strange misapprehension that we were under a coalition government at the moment – elected through FPTP.

Coalitions are formed because they reflect the views of the electorate. If you have more than two parties which achieve a modicum of success (despite the woeful injustice of the FPTP system), you are going to have minority governments or coalitions in future (and have had in the past). Get used to it. The days of single party dominance of the executive are pretty much gone. Coalitions and minority governments are going to be more prevalent in the coming years.

If your argument is for stronger government and you’re prepared to support a hideously outdated, unfair, and unfit-for-purpose electoral system like FPTP to achieve this end (see above), why not go the whole hog? You want strong government? China has strong government. Dictatorships have strong government. If your preference is for strength of executive over true representation of the will of the people, you need to be campaigning for a dictatorship. The Chinese government is able to act decisively to achieve its objectives, and to sweep aside any resistance to implement brave, new, plans. Sure, the will of the people is ignored, but at least they don’t have to deal with any pesky opposition from other parties or public opinion… and their trains probably run on time too.

A final thought or two for readers who voted ‘No To AV’.

The next time…

  • you think ‘I have to vote tactically’
  • you complain that you can’t change anything
  • you complain that a government is implementing unpopular policies with nobody to rein them in
  • you decide to vote for a smaller party and you realise before you’ve even voted that your vote will be wasted
  • you live in a constituency where your political opponents have the place stitched up, because they always have a slight minority in favour of them, and can act in with impunity towards most of the electorate

…you know who to blame, don’t you? That’s right – yourself.

Oh, and if I know you, and I know that you voted ‘No To AV’ and you ever say to me,
“John, can you get me X, but if they don’t have X, could you get me Y instead.”
be prepared for me to reply with
“I’m sorry. I have to take your first answer. It’s X or nothing for you, I’m afraid!”

If I sound pissed off, it’s because I am. Longer term plans now have to be to escape this country to a place where the electorate isn’t quite so gullible and where people are more engaged in the governance of their lives, less interested in trivial matters of celebrities, and, frankly, just a little less stupid. And this isn’t ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome. I know such alternatives exist, because I’ve lived there.

If you actually understood the pros and cons of the FPTP and the AV systems, and you still voted in against AV, then I have to question your concept of fairness. If you voted for political expediency, because you’re a party loyalist and your party told you to do so for the benefit of your party’s representation in parliament, you’d better hope that tables aren’t turned on you, and your party becomes a minority party – and if you don’t believe that could ever happen, read up on some UK history and speak to the Liberal wing of the Liberal Democrats.

It’s not so much the fact that people voted against AV: it’s the fact that they either didn’t appear to understand fully why they did so and were so easily misled, or they value short-term and selfish political expediency over fairness…

And frankly, that’s bloody dangerous!

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Bye Bye Binnie Boy

Almost as joyful to see as the death of Bin Laden is the clear annoyance of the conspiracy theorists and the apologists of anti-western doctrines, as the falling away of Al Qaeda’s support continues, thanks to three main factors:-

Firstly, the Arab Spring, which has been spurred on through increasing Arab rejection of Al Qaeda violence (which has now hit most Arab countries). The Arab Spring movement has achieved more through peaceful means in the last few months to promote the interests of the man/woman in the Arab ‘street’ than Al Qaeda’s agenda has achieved in more than a decade.

Secondly, through the Internet, and the Arab world’s realisation through open media channels (rather than the traditional closed, anti-western agenda of mad, ranting, Mullahs) that, contrary to the extremists and their apologists in the West, we in the West really aren’t interested in crusades against the Muslim world. Following the peaceful revolution in Egypt, it was a joy to see an ordinary Egyptian citizen, clearly full of elation proclaiming ‘thank you, Facebook!’

Finally, the introduction of democracy to Iraq following what had been perceived in the Arab world as imperialist behaviour by the Western allies (a perception which was given credence thanks to disillusioned and anti-establishment rants here) was observed from several other nations in the Middle East. It is now widely reported that the standard response of the Arab world to the introduction of democracy to Iraq and the withdrawal of western forces has been one of quiet envy. They have seen a country which, contrary to the claims of Islamists, has not become a western colony, but a new and fully independent democracy, with equal rights for all citizens. And if it’s good enough for the new Iraq, it’s understandable that citizens in other countries in the neighbourhood want to enjoy the same rights that Iraqi citizens now enjoy.

For all the propaganda of Al Qaeda and its apologists, the real situation on the ground has steadily improved. It has been clear to ordinary Arabs that the suffering and violence in Afganistan since the ousting of the Taleban, and in Iraq since the fall of Saddam, has not been instigated by western forces, but by sectarian groups and those with Islamist agendas. They have seen this first hand or have heard the direct experiences from those whom they trust.

We are not out of the woods yet, but, in the face of changes through civil direct action in the Arab world, and the changes which such action has achieved through non-violent means, it is becoming clear that Al Qaeda and its associates are indeed losing the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims, who, for the main part, are ordinary people like us, and quite rightly, just want to enjoy the sane rights and privileges as we do.

We can but hope that Bin Laden’s death will be another nail in the coffin of extremism. There will still be those who act in the name of his warped agenda, but the pickings are becoming fewer the more that life improves for the average man, woman, and child in the Arab world and the more they learn about what we in the West are like in reality, thanks to the Internet and mobile devices, as opposed to how the Islamist propaganda paints us.

It’s been a bad decade, and thousands of innocents (mainly Muslims) have lost their lives, but perhaps in light of the Arab Spring and the demise of Bin Laden, there is room for cautious optimism.

AV is not PR

The No To AV campaign has been making the erroneous claim that AV will lead to more coalitions.

The deciding factor in coalitions is the number of parties gaining widespread support. If you have more than two parties gaining significant electoral support, you are likely to end up having coalitions. This has nothing to do with a non-proportional voting system (AV is not PR). The current coalition is born out of a First-Past-The-Post voting system.

However, taking the current coalition as a model, much has been made of its breaking of manifesto pledges. Well, two things are worth pointing out here:

  1. The coalition didn’t make any manifesto pledges. Manifesto pledges are made by individual parties and are applicable in the case of one individual party forming the government on its own. If you get coalition governments, manifesto pledges go out of the window. Direct accountability to one party is one of the disadvantages of coalition governments.
  2. Manifesto pledges have always been broken by previous governments. I know, because I voted in 1997 based on a key manifesto pledge on the introduction of PR. In the event, that pledge was broken by a single party in power.

Unless manifestos are legally binding (and they can’t be – they are statements of intent), all the electorate can do is vote differently in the next election to punish the party or parties which broke their pledge(s). I write as someone who supports PR and coalitions in principle.

Previous governments comprising single parties have broken manifesto pledges, when they had absolutely no case for doing so.

Given the current AV debate, there is much confusion over the issues over government accountability. I just wanted to make it clear that this has absolutely nothing to do with the choice between a FPTP and AV voting system, both of which retain the link between voter and constituency alone. There is no greater element of PR or ‘risk’ of coalition involved with AV, despite the No to AV campaign’s assertions in its campaign.