Friday, 11 March 2011

What have we learned: 11th March

So it's been another fun (your mileage may very) week for AV discussions.

Starting off last Saturday, the 5th of March, Bristol had it's debate on AV. From this we learned that Chris Skidmore, a Tory MP, is willing to throw his party leader under the bus if it means winning a relatively minor point in a discussion...inferring that perhaps Cameron shouldn't have won his leadership of the Tory party given he didn't get the most number of first preferences in the first round.

All in all we learned from the whole debate that Chris Skidmore is woefully under-prepared to deal with the issue of discussing AV; a man that clearly relies on people to be completely uninformed so that his deceptions pass by as if fact.

We also learned that unfortunately the markets have moved towards the No vote winning, as well as polling, which suggests that unfortunately the No tactic of lying to the electorate (the Big Lie tactic as some have described it might have worked through the last month.

We also learned that the Tories would rather stop voting reform than concentrate on local elections. So little is their care for the public that they're cutting services for left right and center, they are abandoning even trying to make the case for their localism! David Cameron intends to personally take more of a visible role in the campaign and the party itself is throwing more resources behind it.

We still don't know who is funding the No campaign and by how much though.

We learned that historians don't know their history, as a bunch of right wing history "buffs" sign a letter crafted by (wait for it) Chris Skidmore claiming a bunch of facts that are actually historically incorrect.

We learned that some people still believe that a vote for No will have a better chance at delivering PR, after all the Murdoch owned press start a party to celebrate FPTP, and half the Labour party and most of the Tory party go on record to talk about it being an endorsement of our "traditional and time honoured system", and in an environment where the two main parties STILL don't want to move to a PR system.

More than that though we learned the main person pushing for it actually just wants to keep FPTP for the House of Commons anyway, so is hardly the right person to rely on to push PR at any point.

We learned that No supporters will use emotional blackmail at the drop of a hat (as if the "AV will kill babies" adverts didn't show this), as Cllr Terry Paul condescendingly asks Operation Black Vote why they're saying Yes. The dummies, don't they know it'll let the BNP in? That's right, vote yes and it'll be YOUR fault that racists get some power.

However we also learned that maybe the No campaign is cross party (or at least equal opportunity backstabbers) as they layed in to Tory Yes lead, John Strafford, and tried to score cheap political smug points by getting the Yes campaign to disown him. How did they do this? They scoured the internet for *anything* they could find from the man to try and pin his balls to the wall, and found three fairly innocuous personal opinions that they then quoted out of context.

Don't give up your day jobs, chaps.

PS. I personally spent a good amount of time researching Australian Election history, and found no proof whatsoever that preferential voting caused a drop in turnout as those against AV claim. Worthwhile learning perhaps!

FPTP gives people unfair influence, AV is a more equal system

Question: Isn't FPTP a fair system because everyone has one vote and there is only one round for it to count in?

FACT: FPTP is equal in process, but not in influence, unlike AV which is equal in process AND equal in influence.

Probably the most popular myth about FPTP is that due to it being so super simple, it must be so super fair and equal too.

It is not.

25% of the population voted for a candidate that came 3rd or worse in 2010's General Election. Their influence on the result was almost non-existant. If, however, they had decided to vote AGAINST their preference and vote tactically then they would have made more of an impact, either by increasing or decreasing the majority of the winner, or potentially even changing the winner completely.

FPTP leaves a gulf in voter power between those that vote for the top two candidates and those that don't.

AV, by comparisons, almost abolishes this unfair situation. AV is a run off voting system which means that if there are no winners (someone with over 50% of the remaining votes) in the round taking place, the least popular candidate is removed from the race and votes are reallocated to those remaining. These rounds each ask the same question, "Who's the best candidate of those remaining now?", and keeps going until a clear winner is found

It is the electoral equivalent of working out what kind of beer you want from the bar when your favourite has been discontinued because not enough people are buying it.

Because of this process everyone has the same input in to the system, everyone has the same opportunity to rank as many candidates as they like, and then everyone also enjoys a fair outcome, the same opportunity as everyone else in each round to make a statement about who is the best candidate left in the running.

FPTP is the act of making a choice, but then being left out in the cold unless you are canny enough to vote AGAINST YOUR WISHES and in line with the more popular top two candidates, creating a divide in equality between those who happen to support the top candidates and those that don't.

Worse still FPTP provides additional weight in the single voting round of FPTP for those that are willing to abandon their true desires and vote negatively and tactically, over and above those that have decided to vote with their heart.

AV is the act of letting the system know your opinion, and then being involved in a much more equitable process of fairly working out who the most popular candidate is as a group...and not assuming that the largest minority, as small as 29% in one constituency in 2010, knows what's best more than anyone else. And best of all the chance of you being punished for voting honestly and positively is almost completely eliminated.

EDIT: Some like to come and say that they wouldn't put their full preferences, so they get less say. This is wrong. While your candidate is in, you get the same amount of say as everyone else, as soon as your candidate goes out you are also out. Is this unfair? Well ask yourself this, if you wouldn't put further preferences under AV, then you'd probably not turn up (or you'd spoil) at a FPTP election where your party wasn't standing, wouldn't you?

In that case you would have actively chosen to not take part, your choice...the same is said here of AV. If you want to choose to give yourself no further influence that is not an indictment on the system, that is you having the freedom to do as you wish with your vote. The system itself hasn't disempowered you, you yourself have.

Did AV really decrease turnout in Australia?

There’s a throwaway charge made towards the Alternative Voting system that has always bugged me. It’s the charge that AV will cause the turnout in this country to drop through its introduction, and the “proof” of this is supposedly a single year’s turnout figures in Australia, the 1922 Federal Elections. So, did AV, or IRV, cause low turnout at the Australian Federal Elections?

But is this even proof? Statistically it’s flimsy, looking at only two years of turnout for comparison, near the beginning of a parliament’s lifetime, and not long after a war effort. But I’ve decided to take it on it’s own basis and look deeper...and I think the realities of what can be drawn from the drop in turnout are not quite what the “No2AV” camp would enjoy.

First, let’s get some background on the country and it’s politics prior to AV being implemented.

We know from our own history that times of great internal discomfort lead to higher turnouts. 1917 was a time when the war was having a huge toll on the Australian’s resolve (as it was, no doubt, everywhere), a controversial attempt was made to try and get the people to agree to conscription, and heavy economic penalties for having got involved in the war, kept turn out high, one of the highest Australia has had pre-compulsory voting.

It’s easy to compare this year for the Australian government to our own 1997 or 2010 elections where national events conspired to push the public in to action to reform it’s own government.

There was also high turn out in 1914 and 1913, however, the former “helped” by the outbreak of the first world war that would later come to hurt the Labor party, and the latter by an increase in in turnout by “Liberal” (conservative) voters in response perhaps to the biggest socialist set of reforms of Australia’s then short history in the preceding government.

Before this point turnout was low, once in the low 60%’s and otherwise in the 50%’s. This is probably more to do with the relatively new status of federal Australia and how it’s legitimacy in the eyes of the people and how well it was in itself supported...rather than an indictment of the FPTP system that was being used.

History lesson over, what about 1919 and 1922? I’ve gone through the elections from 1914 to 1922, seat by seat to work out if there is anything that can be said to be a clear indicator of a trend. Is there an apathy when asked to rank between 3 or more voters, for example, instead of two? Is there a marginality effect in 1919 that isn’t there in 1922?

Well let’s start first with the candidates. In 1914 and 1917 the FPTP system meant very few seats stood more than 2 candidates, and in 12 and 10 seats respectively they stood only 1 candidate uncontested. This fell to 2 uncontested seats in 1919 and 4 in 1922. In 1919, when the AV system was introduced there were only 27 seats contesting more than 2 candidates, and in 1922 this rose to 44 seats, not even 60% of the total number of seats.

So, for a start we know that roughly around 4% of the 12% drop in turnout was down to two uncontested seats.

Next there is the drop in turnout. From the 1919 year to 1922 there were 27 seats that can say they lost turnout after moving from staging a contest between 2 candidates to a contest between 3 or more candidates. However 29 seats lost turn out by keeping exactly the same number of candidates, while 8 lost turnout despite REDUCING the number of candidates fielded in 1922.

What’s most interesting is that of the top 5 biggest drops in turnout, all 5 either decreased the number of candidates standing or remained contesting with only 2. Turnout drops of 26%, 24%, 23%, and none of them to do with any added complication of having to choose between more than two candidates!

Of the 3 seats that can be said to have gained turnout during 1922, the only seats we can be sure of doing so (due to other 5 other seats having been abolished/reformed between the elections), 2 increased their candidate list to 3 candidates standing, and the other REMAINED on 3 candidates.

Then there is the phenomenon of vote counts actually not dropping, despite turnout doing so, suggesting that in reality a lot of these seats gained a significant amount of non-voting population between 1919 and 1922, rather than people choosing to not vote.

For example, Capricornica... an extra 10600 voters, but only an increase of 0.6% in the turnout. Wide Bay, 5400 extra voters but LOST 3.1% in turnout. Darling, increased it’s vote count by 1700 but lost a huge 12.5% of it’s turnout. Kalgoorlie remained stable on voters but lost an even bigger 20.9% of it’s turnout, similarly Batman lost only 200 voters but also a turnout share of 15.9%

The list goes on, in fact there are only 10 constituencies that have anything like a logical correlation between their turnout figure and voting total figures (comparing the drop or gain in turn out to a reasonable matching percentage... 10% of turnout equates to roughly 3000-4000 votes if the constituency size is staying roughly equal).

This isn’t to say what happened was unbelievable, just that there was clearly a population upheaval in some respect between 1919 and 1922 that caused placed to drop turnout so suddenly while increasing their vote totals

On this subject, of those places increasing their vote total (the number of ballots cast), of 17 constituencies 8 increased their number of candidates, 8 remained with the same number of candidates (2 of those with 3 candidates) and 1 had decreased their number of candidates.

On the flip side, the 17 (to be consistent) constituencies that lost the most vote totals consisted of 10 remaining on the same number of candidates (2 of those with 3 candidates), 5 increasing the number of candidates and 2 decreasing their number of candidates.

And when it comes to marginality the obvious expectation seems true. The most marginal seats in 1919 were the best at increasing vote totals, and tended to minimise the loss in turn out. in the seats where the margin was about 5.5% or lower in 1919, out of 16 seats 9 of them gained vote numbers, with an average drop of about 9% in turnout boosted in part by a few modest turnout increases in 2 areas.

Take the 16 from the side with the least marginality and that average drop in turnout goes up to 15%, no turnout increases whatsoever in any of those areas, none of them gaining higher vote totals.

Just splitting the seats in to two halves shows the half with the more marginal seats had a 3% better performance on turnout than those without marignality.

Finally there’s the issue of the longer turnout trend. 12 of the 75 seats, at least, experienced an ongoing turnout drain from 1914 all the way through to 1922. The introduction of AV didn’t alter that direction. Another 22 seats increased or maintained their turnout in 1919 compared to 1914, a good result considering that 1914 was a year of going to war and 1917 was hot off the heels of controversial conscription legislation being defeated.

Due to uncontested seats, and some seats being incomparable through boundary changes, this only leaves 19 seats that it can be said, for sure, that lost turn out after the introduction of AV despite turnout increasing in 1917. 14 of those seats didn’t contest more than 2 candidates in 1919 and 6 still didn’t contest more than 2 in 1922.

From all of this data we can see that marginality still has a strong pull on how turnout changes in line with the national mood, we can also see that constituencies that adopted more candidates were more likely to get more votes cast, even if this resulted in a drop in turnout due to population factors. Consequently the seats more susceptible to lower turnout were those with fewer candidates standing.

And finally we can see that out of all the seats that we have data for, only a maximum of 15 (from 75, including seats we have not enough data for) can actually be identified as having consistently lost turnout while moving towards multiple preferences.

(As a side note, it was interesting to find in my research that Australia had several seats that uses AV as a means to, essentially, run primaries during the election. Multiple candidates from the same party standing against each other, resulting in a head to head between two people from the same party in some cases...another benefit of AV that I’ve talked about in the past, actually evidenced in use!)

Of course this is just what we can measure! There are plenty of other unaccountable things that could be at play that could affect why turnout changed both from a national and a local perspective:

As with 2001 in the UK, a huge turnout drop after the 1997 high turnout, there is no reason why a stabilising country after war simply wasn’t interested in politics, especially during a time where all the parties seemed to be chopping and changing so frequently to find the right identity and level of power. Maybe people just genuinely didn’t care who was winning.

The usual local issues could have their effect...multiple candidates not different enough to warrant choosing between, poor local campaigning, lack of faith in the system from a local perspective. These feelings can change election to election.

Was centralisation of government a problem from the start in terms of endorsement? We know that turnout was in the 50% area at it’s inception, was it only war and it’s aftermath that grabbed the nation enough to be inspired to vote up to the 70% and above mark in the first place?

Did immigration play it’s part, how did the “type” of population that was arriving in it’s largest numbers since the early 1910’s in the country play it’s part in who felt the need to vote and who didn’t?

How did the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918/1919 affect the turn out, especially in Tasmania where around a third of the population were affected? (Coincidentally, perhaps, Tasmanian turnout dropped by around a third that year, unlike most other areas in Australia)

Perhaps it was to do with an aspect of the system we can’t measure...the fact that Australians have to rank every candidate standing may have felt counter productive for example. “Vote 2nd preference for the candidate I dislike?!” I can just imagine the absurdity of the notion at the time!

So...the conclusion:

We just don’t know why turn out dropped in 1922 to the level it did! The figures seem to show that if there was a problem it wasn’t in the preferential nature of the voting system not long since introduced. Voting numbers went up, yet turnout fell dramatically; voting dropped in areas where they had to choose between only two candidates just as much where they had to suddenly rank between three or more.

Population increase appears to be key, combined with a lack of will to vote, and the long studied trend of “safe seats” helps bring that turnout down lower where it’s occurring. Along with 2 more uncontested seats than in 1919 that can be seen as the cause of a 1/3rd of the drop in turnout, perhaps the mystery of where the voters went isn’t that big of a mystery at all.

The only thing we can genuinely say is that being confronted with ranking more than 2 candidates was not a key factor in a decrease in turn out, and in that sense...given how close 1919 and 1922 Federal elections were to First Past the Post in their application during those early years...I think it is highly speculative, and more than a slight stretch, to believe it was the preferential nature of the system that caused the significant proportion of the drop in turn out.

Given that it is this preferential nature that is the only thing the UK AV system would share with Australia, not the requirement to order all preferences, nor the particular style of constituencies at that time of history of only usually standing two candidates, there is no reason to believe that introducing AV would lead to a decrease in turnout here in the UK either.

But, in the interest of fairness, I should also say that if turnout does increase under an AV election in the UK it is no more a reason to claim that the voting system has enfranchised voters either. Trends are the only thing that matter in this kind of data, several elections at the very least are needed to compare to similar periods of time in history to determine any difference in voter apathy influence because of the system.

When we’re making claims, whether it’s about the cost of the voting system, how it’ll engage the apathetic, or the likely political outcomes of it’s use such as making statements about it’s coalition making powers...we need to actually base these claims on reality, measurable reality. It’s not enough to have some anecdotal evidence, such as 1922, and inflate it with your own meaningless opinions.

EDIT: Link to the data for these elections...

EDIT: Antony Green, who runs an excellent blog that gives plenty of analysis to bogus "No" campaign claims, has also put an insight up as to the lack of link between AV and fall in turnout.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

FPTP doesn't guarantee a winner has the most 1st preferences either...

Question: Do you think it’s unfair that AV takes in to account people’s second preferences to determine winners?

FACT: FPTP is no more sure of winners having the most first preferences than AV.

FPTP might only let you put one vote, but it ASSUMES that it is your first preference, and no doubt you assume they are all first preferences. This is wrong. Tactical voting is happening up and down the country, where people put a cross against someone other than their true first preference...and in some constituencies supporters don’t have their preferred MP standing at all, so have to vote for their second choice!

The reality is that a FPTP winner could win on LESS 1st preferences than the person that came second had, and further more the FPTP can easily also be disliked by over half the voters taking part in the election too! If that isn’t truly giving the gold medal to the runner up I don’t know what is!

Take this example...

Red: 40%
Blue: 60%

You’d say Blue was the winner, under AV or FPTP right? Under FPTP you may also say that Blue has the most first preferences.

How about if I told you that Blue is made up of supporters of Aquamarine (10%) Blue (30%) and Cyan (20%)? Half of the votes for Blue are second preferences, meaning Red actually has more first preferences but still lost. Red rightfully lost, of course, as it’s clear that the majority prefer a Blue of some kind.

But take a more "realistic" example if you will, North Cornwall...

Liberal Democrat 48.1%
Conservative 41.7%
UKIP 4.9%
Labour 4.2%
Mebyon Kernow 1.1%

We cannot know how people vote here, but a Labour result of 4.2% is extremely low. Could it be that Labour voters are propping up the Lib Dems to save the seat from going Tory? This is, of course, speculation (FPTP doesn't show us enough information, unlike AV), but if 7% of that Liberal Democrat vote is actually 2nd preference Labour votes, and all of the Conservative vote is 1st preference...then FPTP has failed the main test that so many of it's supporters hold up as it's main strength.

So, I repeat: FPTP does not guarantee that the winner has the most first preferences, it is an ignorant assumption to believe that it does.

All this leaves is one difference between AV and FPTP (for the purposes of how much mandate a candidate has), and that is that AV ensures that the MP elected does have the most support. Both systems can’t guarantee the winner is the one with the most first preferences, so it is common sense that we make a change that at least means that our MP is actually popular rather than unpopular in their area.

Monday, 7 March 2011

How an increase in Lib Dems could mean less coalitions

Some people are unfortunately unable to work out the maths behind why an increase in the Lib Dem seat numbers is just as likely to mean lower chances of hung parliaments as higher chances. Let's take a deeper look...

Using the UNS (you can play with an interactive version here...) we can see a likely result under FPTP if polling remained the same (and assuming that boundaries don't change) would be this..

Lib Dems: 20
Labour: 363
Tories: 242
Others: 24

This gives a Labour majority of 76 seats. Under AV the Lib Dems might pick up another 20-60 seats depending on local marginals. So, does this mean more coalitions? Well first of all the maths show in all likelihood that even if all those seats came from Labour there still wouldn't be a coalition. But what if Labour had a smaller majority? In theory the Lib Dems could force a coalition by their existence with AV where it wouldn't have happened under FPTP?

True. But it could also do the opposite. Depending on where people live and how they intend to vote (and especially considering the weakness of the Lib Dem vote) it could be that the Lib Dems win more of their seats from the Tories under AV, and on top of that the Lib Dems being a weak force could mean their supporters transferring more votes to Labour to force Labour wins where the Tories would have won with FPTP.

Far from increasing coalitions, this increase in Lib Dem seat numbers would at worse mean that there is no change in Labour's majority, and at best mean that Labour also end up increasing their majority because of the transfers and support they get.

Take 1997. Studies (flawed as they are with lack of true information) show that the Lib Dems would have picked up an extra 69 seats with AV, more than doubling their result under FPTP. Coalition causing? hardly, because the shift in mood towards Labour was so large, so popular, that Labour also would have gained an extra 26 seats, with the Tories losing 95 seats more than under FPTP. In doing this Labour's majority, already large, would have grown in 1997 under AV, a hung parliament even further from reality.

EDIT: For the hard of thinking, an increase in Lib Dem seats, if it happens, will only cause a result closer to a hung parliament than FPTP if it wins more seats off of the LEADING party than the leading party wins off of every other party. It is entirely possible for the Lib Dems to increase their seats and make no difference to the resulting majority if they win all of their seats off the second placed party (in net terms, that is, they could win seats off the leading party too, but the leading party wins just as many seats off of the second placed party too). It could still result in a result FURTHER from a hung parliament than FPTP if the separate measure of how many seats (net) that the leading party wins is increased too. An increase in one party's seats, when talking about three main parties, is only one half of the equation.

The reality is that AV promotes popular governments to be stronger than in FPTP (increasing the majority, weakening the chance of coalitions) and weakens unpopular governments (decreasing the majority, increasing the chance of coalitions). In basic terms, AV only delivers a greater chance of a hung parliament when the country as a whole isn't pulling strongly in one direction for one of the top two parties or another, when the country as a whole is saying it can't decide on one party to be an out and out winner.

The fact that Lib Dems are increasing in numbers plays a very small, tiny, part in whether a coalition is needed or a hung parliament occurs. Much more important is which way transfers go, to the Tories or Labour, this is more to do with how popular Labour is versus the Tories and vice versa.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Why hypotheticals matter

This recent poll shows a danger of First Past the Post. With just 23% of the first preference support, the far-right extremist presidential hopeful could win under a First Past the Post system.

Thankfully for France, they don't use FPTP, they use two round run-off that ensures that while the far-right candidate might be the most popular first preference, in a head to head situation the people can truly decide who's the best President out of the two most popular. It's like a cut down, less representative AV.

Of course post this on Twitter and cue the usual nonsense replies. "People could vote differently if they wanted to", "it's called democracy!", etc, etc. As if making these statements make it any better that the whole set up of an electoral system could deliver (if it were used) a far-right extremist president that over three quarters, 77% ,of the population would not want.

"@Niaccurshi @YesInMay Right, so you're talking of hypotheticals, the like of which have never occurred in our entire history of using FPTP?!"
from @Boris_backer

Yes, I am talking about hypotheticals. Why? Because they matter when what you're talking about is constructing a system that is meant to safeguard democracy. The fact that hypothetically, if enough people ran as candidates in a constituency, a BNP candidate could win a seat with 30% or even 20% of the vote while 70-80% actively hated them is a problem. A real, anti-democratic problem!

So what if it's never happened, so what if it's COULD happen, and to have a system that allows that and be happy is the same logic as building on top of a dormant volcano because it almost never erupts.

EDIT: BTW, Norwich South was won by a Lib Dem on 29% of the vote in 2010. Hardly *too* hypothetical now, is it?

Back in 2009 I had to make a similar argument about a similar way of thinking...Labour were trying to change our Data Protection Act laws in a sly and hidden manner (along with changing coroners inquests, etc). Their intention was to allow any minister to allow anyone that they liked to completely ignore the data protection act, and for those people to then be able to continue to disregard the act (i.e. to sell our personal information) for any purposes that "secured a relevant policy objective"

When pushed on it by Lib Dems then in opposition the claim was "well it'd never be abused, don't worry about it". I mean seriously...are we honestly living in a world where what we want to do is make laws and systems with inherent flaws in them because we probably won't ever see that flaw come in to practice?

Call me old fashioned maybe, but how about we just GET RID OF THE FLAW and make sure it doesn't happen. Instead of allowing ALL ministers to abandon the DPA on a whim for any policy objective (that can be made up at a moment's notice), how about we not let any minister do it for any reason other than for national security reasons, for example?

Thankfully parliament saw sense in 2009, Labour cut out the parts about abandoning the safeguards to our private and personal data in order to get the rest of it's massive bill through. Now, in 2011 we should do the's time to cut all of the hypothetical flaws out of our system that we can, because waiting until the flaws actually get shown up in practice is leaving it too late.

Edit: The same guy has now come back with an amazing lack of understanding of the problem, with this analogy that doesn't fit...

"@Niaccurshi @YesInMay Should I throw my phone away because although it's always worked fine, I can't guarantee it won't explode one day?"

If the phone is our voting system, then the probability of it exploding is the chances of undemocratic results being made. So, essentially...if there's another phone out there that can guarantee that the chance of it exploding is reduced, then yes...we should throw our phone away and get the new, safer one. The manafacturer should indeed recall that phone to help protect the consumers using it by providing the safer "less explody" version.

Isn't that just common sense?

Repugnant views? No campaign offer more smears

It isn't often I feel the need to come to support a Tory, or a UKIP supporter for that matter...however the nasty campaign of the No camp rolls on unchecked.

Not content with lying to us about the cost of a system (while failing to provide the context of how small that cost is in the scheme of things as well), with trying to drag the debate in to short-sighted and partisan Clegg bashing, squatting on domains that should belong to the Yes camp (see, censoring comments that try to correct mistakes (or lies, as I think they can be more accurately described) and trying to emotionally blackmail us with scenes of sick babies that I guess they'd have you believe you were voting to kill by voting Yes in May; they also feel the need to try character assassination wherever possible in a feeble effort to create ammunition against the Yes campaign.

It's a text book old politics nasty campaign. It shouldn't really be a surprise either given that one of their main people is Charlotte Vere, who tried to smear her way (unsuccessfully) in to winning a seat in Parliament against the Greens. It also isn't short of hypocrisy that the head of the whole No campaign will use these tactics, of trying to tell us this money could be better spent on hospitals, after his organisation (The Taxpayers' Alliance) have spent so long trying to lobby for cutting spending on public services across the board!

But I digress, you probably already know everything you need to know about the types of characters that are organising and running the No campaign, you probably already understand it's not a recipe for a fair and honest debate.

And so earlier this week Paul Perrin made a comment that had several No commentators up in arms with their nowtrage. His comment was this:

"Ballot paper for the middle east: 1) Nuke Jews 2) Nuke Arabs 3) Negotiate --- what will it be FPTP/#No2AV or #Yes2AV"

Now I don't think there is any reasonable way you can get angry or upset about this tweet. It's poor taste perhaps, but satire tends to fly quite close to that area, that negotiation is the sensible compromise as opposed to the extremist wishes of a popular few.

@larasmallman on the other hand is either overly sensitive, or one of those gibbering idiots, as she claimed that this was "racism" and then proceeded to try and get the Yes campaign to disown him, even though he has never worked for the Yes campaign. Cue the typical action of a No campaigner to then not admit she's being stupid, but to instead downgrade her presumptions demands, this time to requiring an apology just for her...though not after trying to claim that Take Back Parliament, a pre-Yes campaign movement, publishing one of Pauls posts from his own blog is proof Paul has worked for the Yes campaign.

...Give me strength....

Thankfully Paul, with all the traits of a UKIP supporter, told her extremely kindly (or not) where to go, and much Kudos for that.

But here we are now with an article in tomorrows Guardian, and the same nowtrage flowing on Twitter, about John Strafford the head of the Tory "Yes" campaign.

Yes, I know, sounds crazy that there are Tories that are actually pro-reform, let's leave jokes about oxymorons at the door.

John, it seems, has said three "controversial" things over a period of time that appears to span 9 years. 1st, a comment in 2002 about how people would react to having gay MPs in the Tory party. 2nd a comment in 2004 about female presenters of Radio 4's Today program and finally a comment in 2006 about Israeli's bombing the hell out of Lebanon.

"In welcoming 'gays' into the party we should not ignore our existing members. Many of them will be offended, not because they are Conservative but because they are of an age that were brought up to believe that homosexuals were 'poofters'. They reflect the population at large of a similar age. We should show some understanding."

Repugnant? Hardly, it's essentially the same argument we're talking about right now with BNP supporters. "Let's be real and understand that BNP voters will be offended by immigration, and we should try to understand that"

It's not accepting their anti-gay views are acceptable, what it is saying is that these people have grown up with a prejudice their whole life. We can just try to tell them to flip their entire beliefs upside down over night, or we could try to work with them to adapt. Repugnant, please...

"I was half waiting for a male voice which would tell me that a serious interview was about to be conducted. Does this make me a male chauvinist pig?"

Talking about how he had Radio 4 on and only realised at the end of the Today show that he hadn't been listening. Is it sexist to claim that a male voice signified something to listen to? Absolutely. Is it evidence that John Strafford is a sexist, male chauvinist pig? Hardly. I won't condone his views here if he is trying to claim only a male voice would keep him interested, but if he truly feels that female presenters lack the gravitas to make him keep his attention then that's also not something to get too fussed about.

"Once again we have seen the shock and awe tactics of the naziraelis. How long can this go on? 500 dead, one million refugees in Lebanon. It could all have been prevented if the United States had said STOP, but they didn't. The people of the world demand an unconditional immediate ceasefire on both sides, but the bullies ignore it. The Naziraeli tanks have rolled into Lebanon. They should withdraw."

I guess what might be repugnant here is that a bunch of Tories in the No campaign can't understand why another Tory might try to describe the Israeli forces as unreasonable (and align them with the term "Nazi") in 2006. I don't think someone stating his mind that the indiscriminate and deadly tactics of the Israeli army and political rulers is not acceptable can be called repugnant. Even allying them with the "nazi" moniker, while in bad taste for sure, isn't really out of context given the sheer nature of how Israel were operating as a military force.

We'll no doubt see more of this as time goes on, we've already had to endure out of context quotes about how AV is bad compared to PR, but stated as if it's compared to FPTP, and now we'll have to endure the smears and slurs on people's character where there is the slightest hint of controversy.

It is just a shame that rather than actually be able to put forward a coherent argument about why we should keep FPTP, the No campaign as only scare tactics and nasty smears to offer.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Bristol AV debate

So I have just got back from the Bristol debate, but before I stave off my hunger and get cooking I thought I'd just put a few notes down.

1) Bristol Yes was represented very well at the debate, I'd say roughly 2/3rds of the people there were Yes sympathetic, at least.

2) Billy Bragg is, of course, a great speaker and put Tory MP Chris Skidmore on the back foot more than once (reducing Chris to having to play a game of "No, you answer MY question" childishness at one point)

3) People really do get too focused on the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg...far too much time was spent making points (rather than asking questions) about the Lib Dems. This is a reform that could stretch on for decades, the Lib Dems may not be the focus in 10 years time...let's get over this short term thinking.

4) Full respect to Labour PPC in 2010, Paul Smith, for putting the balanced and common sense case on the table for Yes, highlighting just how much of those speaking for No were relying on hyperbole and half-truths.

5) A "No" campaign weakness is certainly getting them to do as Chris Skidmore tried to do and that is explain in public how Run Off voting is so fundamentally different from AV.

6) Another "No" campaign weakness is questioning them on how they're happy to accept tactical second preferences under FPTP from BNP supporters and the like, through ignorance, but wouldn't under a more transparent system that showed them how they're really supported with AV.

7) Chris Skidmore needs to stop saying majority when he means plurality.

8) The debate, organised by "No", was actually fair and impartial so I take back any criticism of it so far (though I'm sure those in Sheffield left stiffed by poor organisation still have a legitimate concern). The only point of lack of impartiality was the "independent" chair arguing with Billy over what tactical voting actually means.

9) "No" also clearly have more money to spend on shit, at least by the show of various bits and pieces at the debate. Canvas bags with logo, filled with some things I didn't bother to try and look at, three sets of leaflets on every seat, and god knows what else. Yes by contrast gave one much less glossy leaflet, some stickers and some cardboard "Yes" cutouts to hold for the picture afterwards

10) The debates still feel somewhat pointless, with people that have already decided what they want to do telling other people that aren't going to change their minds. The only good thing will, hopefully, be a fair write up in the local press including all of the groans and dissatisfaction with weak arguments put up by the "No" speakers.

11) (Should have put this higher!) More needs to be done to shut down the ridiculous argument of AV still encouraging tactical voting. Yes, tactical voting can still take place under AV in *certain circumstances*, it can also be counter-voted with other tactics that mean it's extremely risky, leading to someone you hate being voted in...hardly something you want to try to do on a whim.

EDIT 12) I can't believe I forgot this and took so long to put it here... Chris Skidmore was also pressed on, if he's so fond of FPTP, why Cameron is leader of the Tories when he came second to David Davis on first preferences. The answer was that Mr Skidmore thinks it's clear that there are many in the Tory party unhappy with Cameron. Ouch!

Now. Time for tagliatelle.

Edit2: Tagliatelle was good, walnuts not so much.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

AV weakening the vote? A response to Spiked

I've already made it clear on this blog that the people that irk me the most are those that are pro-reform but wish to stand against AV. I think it's immature, senseless...but at least in the case of Spiked they have given some actual reasoning to this stance. As with most of these types of things though, no chance to reply other than via letters to the editor, so I'm going to just make my response here.

Spiked's main assertion is this...

moving towards an AV system would make British politics even less democratic and open than it is.

And it's one that I stand very much against. Their first mistake comes when describing the functionality of the system, stating the process the system goes through to pick a winner, ending with...

someone eventually wins, even if many of ‘his’ votes were cast very half-heartedly for him.

It's that age old problem with perspective, in that those who are against AV seem to have a false perspective on what is happening with AV. They get confused and thrown by the presence of preferences and decide they have the omnipotence to decide that they know everyone using preferences only "half" cares about those they are voting for after their first preference.

I invite, again, people that say this to bring forward any proof that the same situation isn't happening right now under FPTP, and that it wouldn't happen under any other single member constituency, single vote system. I invite them because it is impossible for anyone to judge or second guess how much people care about their candidates in such systems, and especially impossible to judge how much one person's "heart" is in it when they vote compared to another.

What system best encourages the creation of popular, properly representative assemblies? It categorically is not AV.

Absolutely true. But as per my previous post on how "childish" this argument is...sometimes we don't get offered the best. Sometimes we get offered "better". To do this kind of "toys out of the pram" and "side with the enemy" action because of that is immaturity at best.

Probably the best electoral system for Britain, in place of the First Past The Post system we currently have, would be some variant of proportional representation.

Spiked here now show their narrow scope on this debate. Ignoring, as many do, the forthcoming debates on Lords reform, they assume that the only answer for our WHOLE democratic system is for PR to apply to the House of Commons. Except there is one problem with this... it is clear that the one thing people don't like when it comes to electing an executive is coalitions.

Now I don't mind coalitions, I like their safety in the current system we have, but people do very much seem to want to have a clear single party government. PR systems do not achieve this under Britain's political landscape, they would produce coalitions each and every time. As I say, not a problem for me, is a problem for many other people. The idea that we're going to get a robust representative system if all we do is harp on about the House of Commons as if it's the be all and end all is self defeating.

There are strong reasons to say that the best electoral system for the House of Commons in Britain is AV. It ensures local people get an MP that is most in tune with their politics, and in turn ensures that the national government is a true popular executive. Combined with PR and a fully elected house of Lords we move the onus on representation and balanced legislature to a different house...a house that is able to act solely as a barrier between over-zealous government and us as people not being listened to fairly.

Spiked show their limitations here by simply pinning PR in the House of Commons as a panacea to our woes.

However, introducing AV in Britain would unquestionably be a change for the worse. It would make things less democratic, in two important ways:

Oh pray tell, how?

firstly through its impact on the act of voting, which would turn from being an impassioned statement into a watered-down listing of candidates you like, kind of like and dislike

Again, here's the assumption that right now people aren't forced to make a "watered-down" choice under FPTP. It's a flawed premise to start from. It is just as likely that AV will lead to more people being able to make true impassioned statements, indeed with a certain percentage already making a tactical vote under FPTP, it seems bizarre to think that AV would lessen the amount of "impassioned statements" people make.

and secondly through its impact on the act of deciding, which would more and more become a post-election, closed-off process of sifting through people’s preferences to try to decipher which candidate sort of represents the electorate’s desires.

What beautiful use of language. I could apply the exact same language to every system, and certainly more so to any PR system that Spiked would rather have. I'm absolutely at a loss as to how this is even an argument against anything other than the process of counting the votes when you could just make an educated guess instead.

AV would weaken the vote by implicitly inviting people, not to stamp their ballot paper with a heartfelt X for their party, but to scribble numbers next to various candidates, regardless of whether they feel very much for them. Voting would become less a declaration of belief and more a hedging of political bets.

If they don't feel very much for them they can always not vote for them, no-one is forced to put down a number against every candidate. Furthermore, FPTP already makes people do this kind of preferential determination, but instead of having the safety of potentially making an impact with their real first choice, as AV allows, they have to abandon it with FPTP in order to help keep a candidate they dislike out.

And let's not get this wrong...if a voter wishes to have a candidate that is someone they "half like" because they *hate* another candidate that might win, that is an entirely fair and reasonable decision for them to make in a single member constituency system. AV at least let's people vote first for their passionately loved candidate and then for a candidate that keeps a terrible one out of office, instead of forcing people to choose.

How this is a "weakened" vote I simply cannot fathom.

In keeping with our era of ideology-lite, where strong political convictions are seen as weird, voters will be tempted away from their so-called ‘tribal allegiances’ towards the expression of a more relativistic sentiment.

This statement is so ridiculous it's like it's here for comedy value. Rather than people having to come to a "best guess" consensus to abandon their political convictions, AV provides people the opportunity to really put their political convictions on show. Letting people show their full opinion isn't about limiting your expression, it's about letting your full expression flourish.

How exactly do tribal allegiances lessen under a system where you can always put your flag in the ground and let that allegiance fly, compared to a system where sometimes you have to abandon it to save yourself from a worse situation?

Which political party will risk standing a hardcore individual – a deep-blue Tory or a workerist Labourite – when it knows that if its candidate fails to secure 50 per cent of the vote in the first count then the views of other parties’ voters may become key?

Parties that understand the electorate, and that understand that under AV you need a strong initial following to have any chance of being elected. AV doesn't make politicians more middle ground, unlike FPTP which saw every politician failing to answer the question on where the defecit would be cut, all of them agreeing roughly on what would be cut, and none of them committing one way or another to issues like tax rises.

To me it's a non argument, politicians that stand out will draw votes, those that polarise will rightly not gain majorities. This is not a problem with having fair representation on a local level.

AV would implicitly encourage the homogenisation of political life.

It's hard to get more homogenised than we are now, yet interestingly AV allows these candidates of many a colour to stand against each other without harming the result.

Personally I don't see homogonisation, I see a situation like we saw in London for the first Mayoral election. Faced with the new AV-lite Supplementary Vote system, Labour wanted a safe bet to get the position and dropped their support for Ken Livingstone. He ran as an independent. His much more left wing views went well with the public, and the supporters of Frank Dobson and others placed their second preferences for Ken knowing that they'd prefer him to a Tory mayor.

This is a working example of how preferential voting allows stand out candidates to really stand out. Homogonisation? Nah, I see many more independents standing because they haven't got the official support of their party, and forcing the debate to focus on local and key national issues that would otherwise get swept up in the three-party consensus of what is acceptable to say to the electorate.

Under AV, the emphasis will inevitably shift from politicians appealing directly to the public for their outright political support and towards candidates cosying up to each other, striking deals, saying ‘get your people to give me their second-preference votes, and I’ll get mine to give them yours…’ AV has a built-in tendency towards oligarchical relationship-building over direct, passionate, people-oriented electioneering.

So let me get this straight. Electioneering will move AWAY from appealing directly to the public by politicians trying to strike deals on preference transfers and encouraging, DIRECTLY, the public to follow their wishes. Excuse me if I think this is a logical failure on behalf of the writer.

Clearly, if the parties are trying to organise preference swaps they need to also convince the electorate of this. And with this, at the end of the day, it's still the public who decide who they want to put in each preference...they have the final say. Sorry, but this idea of politicians not having to concentrate very much on the electorate, when the percentage of swing voters changes from 5% to 25%, is rubbish.

Finally, AV would transform the traditional act of counting votes into a political form of tea-leaf-reading.

Nothing like a nice bit of hyperbole in the morning.

The people’s will would become something that is not so much clearly expressed in the election itself, in the act of voting, but rather something that is worked out after the election by officials and experts.

No, it is worked out by the mathematical construct clearly defined and re-creatable by anyone that has access to the data. The process of counting is absolutely no different to counting for FPTP, except that "mini-ballots" are taken after each round of counting to redistribute the votes for the least popular candidate.

Indeed AV is simply a round by round series of FPTP elections, where if there is no clear winner the weakest candidate is eliminated, leaving the popular candidates in, and re-testing who the most popular is. Read more on why AV is a simple and fair system here.

Politics would become less open, less forged in the public realm, and more an act of elite deciphering of what ‘the people’ seemingly prefer rather than want. We could easily end up with representatives that no one truly, passionately, wants.

Absolute bollocks.

If there are four candidates... Bob, Wendy, Jim and Carol, and under FPTP we find that Bob is the winner and Carol is the absolute loser...this to Spiked would be an "impassioned expression" for Bob. Yet we don't know that those that voted for Carol wouldn't have voted for someone else if Carol wasn't there. AV pretends Carol wasn't there, and the second round is another FPTP election between Bob, Wendy and Jim. Now, with Carol gone and people having to think about who they'd vote for without her there, Wendy wins.

If this were a FPTP result it would be "impassioned", it wouldn't be "closed" or "less forged in the public realm". These kind of descriptions are scare tactics to try and distract from the simple fact that AV, in terms of how it's working out who the winner is, is not more than a stones throw from FPTP. It's process is one that always picks the MP people truly and passionately want more than the main competition on the table, when compared head to picks the most popular MP out of the most popular MPs.

And even if we did end up with an MP that no-one did passionately want, is this a worse situation than an MP that most people passionately dislike?


I'm glad someone wrote up their thoughts on this from a pro-PR but "voting No"'s just a shame that so much of the argument is clearly subjective hyperbole that also applies to FPTP, with subjective opinion that isn't based on real life examples like the London mayoral election of 2000, and while seemingly wishing to ignore that it is always more representative, and locally fairer, for an MP to be mostly liked in their constituency than mostly hated.

Combined with a narrow view on what reform is necessary and sustainable, the whole article reads like a stance against any reform that isn't PR for the House of Commons...and as I said at the top of this article, that's simply childish.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Tactical voting under AV, where it'll work and where it won't

Tacitcal voting is lessened significantly under AV. Whereas FPTP is a system that means 25%+ of the electorate (those who voted for 3rd placed candidates or lower, plus those already voting tactically) are encouraged to vote not for who they want, but for who they think will keep their main opponent out. FPTP is, at it's very first point, a negative voting system.

However while AV solves this by allowing people complete freedom to vote honestly from the get go, there may be constituencies where it is in people's interest to still vote tactically. The reason for this is that in such constituencies there is a hidden mostly preferred candidate, a true "least unpopular" that more people might be able to get behind than the more honest "most popular" that AV can result in if everyone votes honestly.

But this type of tactical voting doesn't work everywhere, and it doesn't work in all situations. The kind of organisation required means that some constituencies are extremely unlikely to be able to organise it, and that's if the results lie in such a way that the party looking to "benefit" is likely to even pick up the preferences it needs to win. More importantly it is a way of voting that always gives a result that returns an MP with a mandate of approval.

Take Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine...

LD - 17,362 - 38.42%
C - 13,678 - 30.26%
SNP - 7,086 - 15.68%
Lab - 6,159 - 13.63%
BNP - 513 - 1.14%
UKIP - 397 - 0.88%

Assuming this is an honest FPTP result (as opposed to tactical where LDs have got SNP and Lab support to help beat the Conservatives), how would this translate under AV? Lab tend to split to Lib Dems (and maybe SNP) or not re-voting, as would the SNP, as such the Tories don't have much chance of winning here, and the Lib Dems have an almost guaranteed victory next time around with AV.

At no point can the Tories game the system to promote themselves to a win...what they can do though is help another party to win.

Around half of their voters would need to vote SNP (or Labour, for the lulz), moving them to second place, which would allow the remaining half of conservative voters to place their second preferences for the SNP and promote them to a victory.

Obviously the co-ordinated effort required for this is huge, some 7k voters need to be convinced to not vote for the party they want to win, with the explicit knowledge it means that they cannot get a Tory win by doing so. Then the remaining voters, at least 80-90% of them, need to give second preferences to the same party to help beat the Lib Dems.

This begs the question...would the appetite be there for it to occur? Probably not. The fact remains that a party that would honestly get second place in AV cannot use tactical voting to gain a win, but they can change the party that does doing so the party that wins changes from one (LDs) with a majority share to one with a different majority share (SNP, in this example). In both cases the party that wins has a mandate of sorts, the electorate as a whole hasn't lost out.

How about another constituency, one more finely balanced perhaps? Bristol North West...

C - 19,115 - 37.97%
LD - 15,841 - 31%
Lab - 13,059 - 25.94%
UKIP - 1,175 - 2.33%
Eng Dem - 635 - 1.26%
Green - 511 - 1.02%

Here we have a situation where the Tories would probably lose under AV to the Lib Dems, who would pick up Labour votes. Can the Tories game a win here?

In theory the Tories would need to convince about 3000 of their 1st preference supporters to vote Labour. In doing so they create a situation where it is Lib Dem second preferences that matter, not Labour. We know from studies that Lib Dems split fairly evenly between both Labour and Tories, so the Tories would likely pick up the win by doing this.

Unfair? Not exactly, in this constituency obviously lives the dichotomy of Lib Dems and Tories being supported individually by over half the electorate, while Labour are not. Both Lib Dem and Tory wins are good democratic results, though the type of MP received changes from honestly most popular to least unpopular.

But even this is able to be countered. Labour could see this coming and decide they don't want a Tory win, and could put more of their votes on the table to the Lib Dems, further pushing themselves back in to third and once again elevating the Lib Dems to the win. This situation, whereby tactical voting can be cancelled out, makes it extremely dangerous for parties to engage in it. If the Tories engage in tactical voting and so do Labour then not only do the Tories lose, but they appear to not be wanted in the constituency, hampering future funding and perhaps where the Lib Dem MP takes their policy direction from. If Labour engages in it but Tories don't then they can suffer the same situation of appearing weaker than they are.

This kind of counter-tactic doesn't work with FPTP, Labour can vote tactically for the Lib Dems to help them win, but the Tories can't counter it, their only way to win is to gain more votes from someone else. In this sense at least AV provides the opportunity to strategically "block" tactical voting.

There are also constituencies that would benefit from AV without any realistic possibility of tactical voting taking place. Take Stockton South where there are only about 300 votes in it.

C - 19,577 - 38.93%
Lab - 19,245 - 38.27%
LD - 7,600 - 15%
BNP - 1,553 - 3.09%
UKIP - 1,471 - 2.93%
Ind - 536 - 1.07%
Ch P - 302 - 0.6%

For tactical voting to take place, in order to prevent Labour moving in to first on transfers, the conservatives would have to abandon a full 12000 votes, around 60% of it's first preferences...and in doing so moving itself in to distant third position and being utterly unable to win. In these constituencies, if the mood really is for a Liberal-Left MP, then the Tories are simply not going to win (nor should they), while under FPTP vote splitting allows them to do so against the wider wishes of the constituency.

What it comes down to is this...

There are a lot of if's, a lot of buts, and ultimately no guarantees for your tactical voting to make the difference you intend under AV, if it makes a difference at all.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Yes 2 AV and privacy/mailing lists.

Some people are getting, with fair reason, concerned about their data privacy with the Yes campaign's mailing list. For the second time now we have received emails from the Labour Yes campaign, affiliated obviously with the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign but not necessarily an organisation we have signed up to receive information from.

Or have we?

Take a look at their privacy policy on the Yes to Fairer Votes website...

4. Marketing

If you have consented to receive marketing, we will use your information to send you marketing communications relating to Yes in May 2011 and carefully selected third party supporters, which we think may be of interest to you. We will only send marketing information by email or other electronic means where you have specifically agreed that we may do so.

You have a right to request that we stop contacting you for marketing purposes at any time. If you no longer wish to be contacted for marketing purposes, you can unsubscribe from Yes in May 2011at or by emailing ‪

What is happening here is that Labour Yes are a third party supporter. What is not happening is your emails being given to Labour Yes. Labour Yes are providing an email to the Yes to Fairer Votes team to be distributed through the Yes to Fairer Votes marketing mailing list, as we've signed up to, ensuring that data protection is paramount.

Your email is never transferred to others, instead their email content is transferred to those you've given permission to use your email address for marketing purposes. Just because the "from" address says that it's from Labour Yes doesn't mean that individual has seen all of your email addresses. Nor does it mean they can email you for anything other than related purposes to the central Yes campaign.

It is irksome, of course, I'm not a Labour supporter and I dislike receiving Labour based messaging. Much more intelligent would be for Yes to Fairer Votes to have asked us what our party preference was when we signed up for marketing and to segment who gets sent emails. Even more "standard" would be for us to be able to opt in to the third party elements of marketing, such as the Labour Yes emails.

However the privacy policy is there, there are no data protection problems with it as it stands as your email is not provided to external bodies. And...relax.