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Vote No To AV on May 5th!

May 4, 2011

You should vote No on May 5th because:

Under AV MPs don’t need 50% to Win

The AV system being offered in May makes the ordering of preferences optional. Most voters would not work their way through ballot papers, exhausting every preference. In a survey of Conservative voters only 44% would not use a 2nd preference, 72% wouldn’t use a third preference. Therefore a large number of MPs would win with less than 50% of the vote.

Research by electoral experts Prof Rallings and Thrasher has shown that ‘more than 4 out of every 10 MPs would still be elected with the endorsement of less than 50% of the voters’. Pg. 8 The Electoral Commission’s impartial information booklet also makes this clear, saying: ‘Because voters don’t have to rank all of the candidates, an election can be won under the “alternative vote” system with less than half the total votes cast.’

AV won’t tackle a job for life

AV would make no difference in nearly 300 safe seats where the sitting MP has 50% of the vote, or is close to it. And AV will actually create new safe seats where some voters’ second preferences consistently protect one candidate (e.g., third place Conservative voters supporting a Lib Dem). So-called safe seats aren’t necessarily that safe anyway. Neil Hamilton lost a 15,000 majority in 1997 to Martin Bell who replaced it with a 11,000 majority of his own.

AV can’t end swing seats winning elections

Elections will always focus on the most competitive seats – political parties will always put their resources into the seats they are most likely to win. Parties would  just concentrate on those 2nd and 3rd preferences in marginal seats, which is exactly what happens at the moment.

AV will not end wasted votes

There will always be winners and losers in any contest, elections are no different. Even in a seat won with 51% of the vote, can we really describe the other 49% of ballots wasted? Surely every vote, no matter if it’s a winning vote, every vote legitimises the final election result. Moreover, AV will increase the real ‘wasted’ votes: spoiled ballots. In Australia, where they use the alternative vote, five times more ballots are spoiled and thrown away than the UK.

Tactical Voting won’t become a thing of the past

AV wouldn’t eliminate tactical voting, it would reinvent it. Under AV, the challenge comes in working out the order in which candidates are eliminated, and ordering your preferences accordingly. Dr. Roger Mortimore from Ipsos MORI puts it, “under AV there is a real incentive for tactical voting.”For example, in a three way seat where both Labour and the Liberal Democrats were in danger of coming last, a Conservative might be tempted to give their first preference to Labour, for fear a Labour elimination would mean a hefty vote transfer to the Lib Dems.

 AV will not end negative Punch and Judy politics

You only have to look at Australian politics to know this isn’t true. Here’s the verdict of the commentator, Tim Colebatch, on the 2010 election in Australia: “A negative campaign, where the leaders stood for less than ever before, and insulted voters’ intelligence more than ever before. Both sides asked us to vote against their opponent, rather than giving us reasons to vote for them.”

AV won’t increase turnout

In Australia, turnout fell dramatically after the Alternative Vote was introduced. In the election preceding the use of AV, turnout hit 78%. In the first election under AV, this fell to 72%, and then fell further to 59% in the second AV election. As a result of this dramatic fall, Australia ended up making voting compulsory. Furthermore, there are also more than five times as many spoilt ballot papers in Australia than in the UK.

AV will not help smaller parties

Hardly. Not a single constituency has been identified as likely to fall to a small party under AV. One study in Wales suggests Plaid Cymru could even be wiped out, losing all 3 of its current seats. As Professor K.D. Ewing and Dr. Graeme Orr found, “a small party is unlikely to win any seats under AV.” In Northern Ireland the Green Party stated AV ‘will have a particularly detrimental impact… it will reinforce sectarian voting and increase polarisation. It will effectively eliminate centre parties and reduce each constituency to a sectarian headcount. Australia: Only two 3rd party MPs have been elected at a general election in the past 90 years. The Greens won their first seat in the House of Representatives in 2010, the same year as in the UK under First Past the Post.

AV won’t shut the door on extremist or stop the BNP

No extremist party (including the BNP, National Front and BUF) has ever won a seat under the current system.

While we hope that AV wouldn’t lead to extremist parties winning win seats, it has in Australia. Under AV, the far-right One Nation Party won 11 seats in the Queensland state legislature, whereas they would have only won 8 under First Past the Post.

Regardless it would certainly give them more influence – BNP second preferences alone could swing at least 35 seats. Moreover, they will gain legitimacy from a greater vote total. Fringe parties could expect their first preference vote to be higher than it is now, giving them more support and legitimacy. And mainstream politicians would pander to the extremists to try and win their second preferences.

FPTP didn’t lead to the expenses scandal

The expenses scandal had nothing to do with the electoral system and everything to do with a lack of openness. MPs were able to get away with it because their claims were kept secret. The think tank, Policy Exchange found that “MPs’ expenses were statistically linked to length of service but not to the safeness of an MP’s constituency, as is often supposed.” In 2009, the day after the Speaker Michael Martin resigned in the Expenses scandal, Australia also suffered an expenses scandal. Details emerged that over a fifth of Australian MPs were self-funding mortgages by falsely claiming travel expenses. One MP, Peter Slipper, who was caught fast asleep in Parliament, clocked up $640,000 in false expenses.

AV can’t end Safe Seats

In the 217 seats where the winner got more than 50% of the vote in 2010, AV will make no difference. In another 74 seats where the winner had a majority of more than 20%, AV would almost certainly have no impact, making a total of at least 291 seats that would be unaffected. AV only affects seats that are already competitive, because these are the seats where second and third preferences can potentially make a difference. Studies of the 2010 election confirm this; the 43 seats where AV would have made a difference were almost all already competitive seats (marginals such as Cardiff North and Dudley North).Moreover, AV risks creating new safe seats. There’s no reason to believe that the order of voters’ second preferences will be any less consistent than their first preference; therefore an MP who wins by receiving 40% of first preferences and 20% of second preferences could be in a new ‘AV safe seat’.

AV isn’t a step towards Proportional Representation

If you want a proportional voting system, the Lib Dem Roy Jenkins’s independent commission warned that AV can be ‘disturbingly unpredictable’ and ‘even less proportional’ than our existing system. The Electoral Reform Society said that “AV is not a proportional system, the Society does not regard it as suitable for the election of a representative body, e.g. a parliament”

Reruns of the last 7 elections for Newsnights found 6 would have been more disproportionate under AV. And in landslide elections, AV would have dramatically exaggerated the winners’ majority. For example, in 2005, Tony Blair would have had a majority of 88 MPs under AV, despite only getting 35% of the vote.

No country has ever used AV as a stepping stone to PR, If AV proves popular, there won’t be demand for further change; if electoral reform proves unpopular, and voters will demand a return to first past the post. Examples from Canada show provinces that changed to AV changed back to FPTP when dissatisfaction increased. Six out of ten voters in Australia say they want to return to first past the post, not a change to PR. Polls ahead of New Zealand’s referendum on whether to keep PR show that first past the post is the leading alternative.

By contrast, many countries have moved directly from first past the post to PR, including New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland. That’s the change we should be demanding. As Lord David Owen, founder of the SDP, the forerunner to the Lib Dems, says in his ‘No to AV, Yes to PR’ campaign, ‘a new voting system has to be tested for a substantial period of time – otherwise it will destabilise our political system and encourage cynical attempts to change the system for partisan gain’. Constitutional change doesn’t – and shouldn’t – happen regularly.

A vote for AV risks saddling the UK with a system that is less fair and less proportional than the system we have at the moment.

And a No vote wouldn’t prevent any further reform

Obviously the defeat of AV will not immediately trigger a referendum on PR, but a progressive ‘No to AV, Yes to PR’ can keep the door open. The reasons for PR won’t go away after a NO vote; the pressure for PR won’t go away after a NO vote; the fragmentation of political parties won’t end after a NO vote. It’s our job to capitalize on this and put real reform on the agenda after the referendum.

And the organisations that have – before their road to Damascus conversion to AV – campaigned for proportional representation won’t disappear after a No vote. As the Electoral Reform Society stated, ‘The electoral reform movement is not going to go away after AV and accept a permanent settlement that is not based on proportionality’. There will be future opportunities for real reform, whether for the House of Lords, local council elections, or, perhaps after another hung parliament, Westminster.

Implementing AV, however, would end the reform process, burdening the UK with an unfair, disproportional system for the foreseeable future.

So join with the millions of people all across Britain, join with the diverse group of people, parties and organizations saying No to AV:

Labour: a majority of Labour MPs, 6 Shadow Cabinet members, 23 Labour Council Leaders and Mayors, 4 out of 5 Labour councillors, 2 out of 3 members of the Lords including the former DPM John Prescott, John Reid, Margaret Beckett, and David Blunkett. On top of the thousands of rank and file Labour Party members, the majority of whom according to LabourList and polling from YouGov will be voting No.

Others: Conservatives, DUP, TUV, UUP, BNP, RESPECT Party, Green Party of Northern Ireland, Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party and Jury Team. Polling shows majority of UKIP voters and nationalists will also vote NO defying their party endorsed lines.

Trade Unions: GMB, ASLEF, Community, Alliance and the Prison Officers Association are all urging their combined membership to vote No, as well as leafleting and providing the funding for the campaign. Unite, Britain’s biggest union – with 1.5m members – is also campaigning against the alternative vote although it is not officially part of the alliance.

Think Tanks – Policy Exchange

Newspapers: The Sun, The Express, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Evening Standard, City AM, The Telegraph and The Economist

Famous: Professor Robert Winston, William Roache, Esther Rantzen, Paul Heaton (beautiful south), historians David Starkey and Anthony Beevor, Ross Kemp, “Rik” Mayall,  James Cracknell – Double Olympic gold medallist, six times world champion and adventure racer, Darren Gough – record-breaking England cricketer and Strictly Come Dancing winner.

And the millions of non-aligned, average, hard working men and women who are going out to vote on May 5th in council, devolved and mayoral elections. The choice in this referendum: AV or First Past the Post.

This referendum is a choice between our current system, which gives everyone an equal say, one person, one vote, it delivers clear outcomes, it quick to count, cheap to administer at only £1.75 per person, it’s simple to understand and comes bottom of the table for invalidated votes, coalitions are an abnormality rather than the norm and MPs are held accountable by the voters who can chuck out any MP it wishes.

The alternative on offer, is no alternative. Just ask Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne, Caroline Lucas, Pam Giddy, Ben Bradshaw and Peter FaceyAV is expensive, its complicated to vote and difficult to count, coalitions rule the day and it propels the third party into the king makers giving them the power, NOT the voters. AV is an unfair political fix.

We have a clear choice in this referendum and that choice should lead you to Vote NO to AV on 5 May. 

Philip Cane

Editor of Vote No To AV

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 4, 2011 11:01 PM

    Interestingly you could change “AV” and “FPTP” in all of your headings, and it would still make just as much sense:

    You should vote Yes on May 5th because:

    Under FPTP MPs don’t need 50% to Win
    FPTP won’t tackle a job for life
    FPTP can’t end swing seats winning elections
    FPTP will not end wasted votes
    Tactical Voting won’t become a thing of the past
    FPTP will not end negative Punch and Judy politics
    FPTP won’t increase turnout
    FPTP will not help smaller parties
    FPTP won’t shut the door on extremist or stop the BNP
    AV didn’t lead to the expenses scandal
    FPTP can’t end Safe Seats
    FPTP isn’t a step towards Proportional Representation
    And a Yes vote wouldn’t prevent any further reform

    However, AV would do a great deal to tackle the problems of tactical voting and vote splitting.

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