Alternative Vote (AV) : It’s Just an Illusion

The Alternative Vote system is being heralded as a major step forward in British democracy, and will somehow mean that politician’s are more accountable, and will be elected using a fairer system. All of which is palpable nonsense. Ask David Miliband, and the Labour Party, whether the vote for their party leader produced the right answer – of course it didn’t.

This is very helpful and impartial presentation of the AV system.

First, and foremost AV is not proportional representation and is nothing like it – it is a version of First Past the Post (FPTP)

The criticism of FPTP is that MP’s are elected on, potentially, less than 50% of the votes cast and does therefore not represent the majority of the people. This is still possible under AV – the goal here is to secure over 50% of the votes counted in a given round – that may be less than 50% of the votes cast, and so despite all of this additional effort a smilarly “flawed” outcome is still achieved.

When an MP is confirmed with more than 50% of the votes counted, in the majority of cases he/she will have been supported by a voter where that person is the 2nd/3rd/4th preference. Does that really provide a more robust mandate?

The validity of the system breaks down for a number of reasons:

1. In most English constituencies there are 3 main parties and a range of much lesser parties. Those lesser parties would have their votes re-distributed ( assuming that the voter has offered preferences) to the main parties, and, most likely, will not result in a 50% majority.

This then leaves one of the main parties to drop out. It is unlikely that a person who has voted Labour as a 1st preference would have Conservative as a 2nd preference and vice versa. They are more likely to vote Liberal Democrat as a 2nd choice, if at all. A Liberal Democrat is more likely to have a 2nd preference of Labour than Conservative.

Which explains why Labour and Liberal Democrats are generally in favour and Tories against.

This is slightly more variable in Wales/Scotland/Northern Ireland where there are more dominant national based parties.

2. If the people who have voted for the eliminated candidate have not given a further preference ( or where their preference has already dropped out in an earlier round), their vote is not counted, hence the reason why the bar becomes 50% of the votes counted and not cast. As each round proceeds then the likelihood increases that the number of votes being counted reduces.

The more this continues, particularly in well-balanced marginals, the more likely it is that AV is no better than FPTP….but at great cost, complication, and unnecessary confusion.

One of the other arguments for AV is that candidates will have to appeal to a much broader base to attract their 2nd/3rd preferences. This is theoretically satisfying, but based on the last election 200 seats achieved the 50% through FPTP and the others would, on average rely on one of the main parties being eliminated before a 50% would be achieved. It is difficult to see how this broad appeal would work, unless all parties became more bland and indistinguishable…which is not exactly a step forwards.

If we are going to go to the trouble of having a better voting system we should have one that is substantially different and worth the effort and expense. AV is a complicated form of FPTP, does not necessarily deliver on its promise and gives the illusion of being fairer and more progressive.

I will be voting NO, with my second preference being YES – just to make the referendum much fairer to all!

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