I’ve been volunteering for the Yes campaign for a while now, and I’ve heard surprisingly few arguments put to me against AV and for First Past The Post. I’ll try, in this post, to answer all of the ones I’ve either seen online or come across while campaigning. Some of these arguments appear strong at first, others pitiful, but they’re all genuine arguments from genuine No supporters. I’ll try to put a case against the arguments, but you may, of course, remain unconvinced.
If you have other arguments, please make them in the comments. However, be aware that I have a fairly strict moderation policy – genuine discussion gets as much free reign as possible, but derailing and acting in bad faith gets you banned.
It’s Too Expensive
I’ll deal with this one first, because it’s the main plank of the No campaign’s advertising, and it’s simply a lie. They’ve taken advantage of the fact that there appear to be no laws regulating political referendum campaign advertising (as opposed to election campaigns) to simply make up a huge number as the new cost.
It’s Too Complicated To Explain
This one comes from none other than David Cameron, the Prime Minister, who has a first class honours degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford university. Shame that degree obviously didn’t require learning to count. AV is a simple system – it’s a run-off, where the least popular candidates get eliminated, like in X-Factor. Except you rank the candidates in order so you can have an ‘instant run-off’ as they call AV in America. Just keep knocking out the least popular candidates until there’s a definite winner.
FPTP is more complicated, if you’re a voter who wants to influence the result.
Only three countries use AV in General Elections
This is just the argument from popularity. It means we should never be the first to do anything, or even among the first.
AV isn’t a proportional system
No, but neither’s FPTP. However, AV is likely to produce a far more proportional outcome, most of the time, because more people’s votes will count towards the outcome. And it’s far easier to move from AV to a proportional system like STV or AV+ (both of which are very, very similar to AV and would require only minor tweaking rather than a complete overhaul) than it is from FPTP. Anyone who wants electoral reform should choose AV – it’s both an improvement in itself and (if the people of the UK decide it’s what they want) a first step towards an even better system than that.
Nobody likes AV
I do. I’ve dealt with this one here.
I Want To Upset Nick Clegg
If you want to upset Clegg, vote against the Lib Dems in the Council elections at the same time, instead. Clegg, to be honest, isn’t all that interested in voting reform – it’s a big issue for the Lib Dems generally, but his own policy interests have been mostly in the areas of foreign relations (especially Europe) and civil liberties. I’m sure he wants a yes vote, but he won’t be unduly upset if it doesn’t go through.
On the other hand, me, my wife, Floella Benjamin, Eddie Izzard, Tony (Baldrick) Robinson, the leadership of the Labour party, Tony Benn, Colin Firth and my mate Dave (to take a random sample of vocal Yes supporters) *will* be upset if the No campaign wins, while Nick Griffin, Ian Paisley, David Cameron, Simon Munnery and Mark Millar will be upset if the *yes* campaign wins.
But rather than making decisions on major constitutional reform based on which public figures it’s likely to upset or cheer, why not decide based on the issue itself?
I want to end the coalition government
Thought experiment. You’re a Lib Dem MP. Your party’s in the odd position of both being in government for the first time in its history and having the lowest poll ratings it’s had in twenty years. You’ve just lost a huge number of council seats in a horrible local election, *AND* on the same day you discover that people have voted to keep the same unfair voting system which is biased against your party and which you’ve campaigned against all your life. Do you:
a) think “Oh, well now’s the *perfect* time to force a General Election! I like nothing more than losing my seat and seeing my party wiped out for a generation!” or
b) Not do that, and keep your job for at least another four years?
I like strong government
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of strong government – after all, the strongest form of government is dictatorship. I prefer a weak government that’s the servant of the people, rather than a strong one that makes the people its servant.
That said, AV isn’t any more likely to bring in coalitions or hung parliaments. In Australia, they’ve had *one* hung parliament in the last ninety years. In Britain, meanwhile, four of the last ten General Elections didn’t lead to conclusive results, and led to a rerun a few months later, a Labour government propped up by the Liberals, a Tory government propped up by the Ulster Unionists, and now a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition.
What causes hung parliaments and coalitions isn’t a particular voting system, but who people vote for.
The system we have has worked for centuries!
No, it’s worked for just over sixty years. Before that we had a weird hodge-podge system with some seats being STV or AV and others being FPTP.
It’ll help the BNP!
The BNP are one of only four parties against AV – the other three being the Tories, the DUP and the Communists. This is because AV is an anti-extremist system. It helps small parties that can still appeal to something of a broad base (e.g. the Greens), but small parties who appeal *only* to a small, bigoted minority won’t get anywhere, thanks to the need in AV to win the support of 50% of people who express a preference.
Some people get more votes than others
No, everyone gets one vote in each round of counting. Those whose top preference stays in for that round are counted as voting for that person again, while those whose top preference was knocked out get counted for their next preference.
Winston Churchill didn’t like AV
Churchill also didn’t like votes for women, supported sterilisation of the ‘feeble-minded’, held a number of racist views… and, in short, held all the views one would expect of a member of the Conservative Party who was twenty-seven when Queen Victoria died. While in many ways of course an admirable man, his views as to what was a suitable system for the Britain of the early 1930s might not be the best guide to what is best for the Britain of 2011.
Hitler liked PR, Superman doesn’t. Who do you prefer, Superman or Hitler?
This argument from the comic writer Mark Millar on Twitter was apparently intended seriously. He seems to have forgotten that Hitler was a fascist dictator, and one of the defining features of fascist dictators is their lack of support for democratic elections of any type.
Superman remains unavailable for comment as to his views on electoral reform.