Eastleigh by-election, 2013 Tactical Voting Crib Sheet

Long ago (2011), some concerned citizens got together and tried to change the way we elect our politicians here in the UK. We wanted to switch from the fatally flawed First Past The Post to a more healthy Alternative Vote system in which voters would be free to vote for the candidate that best represented their beliefs.

Alas, it was not to be. So rather than voting because of agreeing with candidates, the voters of Eastleigh will once again be voting based upon whom they hate the most. So, to aid in their bile, I have put together a simple voting crib sheet to help them work out how to really stick it to Miliband/Cameron/Clegg.

Hate: Liberal Democrats (Nick Clegg)
Vote: Labour (John O’Farrell)

Why: Eastleigh is a Lib Dem/Conservative marginal. This means that other parties are unlikely to win and thus the electorate should tactically vote depending upon who they dislike the most out of these two candidates. Voting for Labour would drain the Liberal Democrat vote, sending a message to Nick Clegg that his party has been rejected by the left. Don’t fear, the conservative vote will hold up and the liberal democrats will lose, hitting those pesky lib dems with a double whammy – they lose the seat, and face a resurgent labour party. Clegg will be crying in his soup before the day is out.

Hate: Labour (Ed Miliband)
Vote: Conservative (Maria Hutchings)

Why: If Labour can’t make inroads in the south (even with a charismatic candidate like John O’Farrell), then they have no hope of winning the general election. A victorious conservative party would prove that the electorate was supporting the austerity cuts and all of Ed Balls’ whining was pure poppycock. Osborne would be able to stand up in the commons and say, “Hey, turns out people LOVE cuts. Eat that, Miliband!” Ed will be crying in his porridge before the day is out.

Hate: Conservatives (David Cameron)
Vote: Liberal Democrat (Mike Thornton)

Why: The conservative party have managed to convince themselves that the reason for their poor poll ratings is that they are being watered down by those pesky liberals. When people say, “Boo! No to cuts!” What those Tory back-benchers hear is, “Boo! No to weak-and-restricted- not-going-far-enough cuts!” A victory to their coalition partner (and arch-nemesis) would shut them up good and proper. Why vote Lib Dem rather than Labour? A victory/swing to the Labour party will be dismissed as merely the natural process of a by-election. The Labour party is bound to harvest votes as it is in opposition. Voting Lib Dem sends a strong message it is Conservatives, not government, that is being rejected. Cameron will be sneezing on his eggs benedict before the day is done.

So there you have it, tactical voting in a nutshell. Cynical? That’s First Past The Post for you.

The Case For AV Part 3: Cost and Impact

A central plank of the ‘No To AV Campaign is that AV is an expensive system to implement. A figure of 250 million pounds was concocted based upon the referendum itself, educational leaflets and vote counting machines. These sums were hotly denied by the Yes To AV camp, so which side is correct?

In other areas of the UK where popular elections have been switched to AV it is true that vote counting machines have been employed. But these were during a time when money was not so tight and the relatively small cost of the machines was easy to bear. There is no reason why AV cannot function without machines, Australia has managed quite well without them for years.

As you’d expect the true answer can be found in the treasury, after all it is this department that allocates public spending. Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, stated, “the Government has no plans to reopen departmental spending review settlements as a consequence of a Yes vote in the referendum on AV.” In other words, the funds allocated to hold the next general election will be exactly the same regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

But other than the ‘cost’ of implementing AV, what would the impact be upon our electoral system? Analysis of previous elections is shaky, as it is difficult to determine how voters would behave if tactical voting and negative campaigning were eliminated. Studies do suggest however a generally more proportional result with landslide elections being slightly more dramatic.

In the short term the results wouldn’t be overly dissimilar. Political parties would still run campaigns as they have always done and would get similar results. The shift would take place over the course of several elections, the results gradually favouring the party that indulges in the least negative campaigning. A boost would also be given to smaller parties that have always struggled to demonstrate their level of public support, strengthening their hand in influencing the larger parties.

The doom-sayers would have us believe that AV would destroy certain principles that we hold dear, but in truth it is a small, yet significant step in the right direction. Those who fear change need not fear AV, it is an improvement, not a replacement.

The Case For AV Part 2: AV Around The World

The Alternative Vote was designed in 1871 by William Robert Ware, though similar electoral systems had been suggested throughout the 1800’s. The first recorded use of such a system was in Queensland, Australia in 1893, and was adopted nationally in 1918 in response to the conservative vote being split between two parties, giving significant wins to the less popular Labour.

Today, AV serves as a go-between the archaic First Past The Post and Proportional Systems, it maintains the link between MP and constituency, whilst striving to secure an MP that best represents the whole of the voters.

Globally, AV is used in the general elections of Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea (Papua New Guinea notoriously switching to AV after a disastrous experiment with First Past The Post). However, AV is not limited to just these countries; it is used in the electoral systems of Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, devolved parliaments in the UK, party leadership elections in the UK, and the United States.

Throughout the world, where AV has been introduced negative campaigning has been reduced. As John Russo, Oakland City Attorney, argued about the introduction of AV in San Francisco, “[AV] is an antidote to the disease of negative campaigning..”

The worldwide use of AV doesn’t end there, as a variant of AV called “The Two Round System” is used to elect the presidents of many countries including France, Poland, Portugal, Finland and Austria.

The “No To AV” campaign would have us believe that AV is a peculiar oddity ignored by most of the world, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is ‘First Past The Post’, initially exported by colonialism that is now being rejected for its obvious flaws and polarising effect.

AV has been tested internationally and found to have a beneficial effect upon the electoral system, especially in those dogged by negative and confrontational politics. It is these detrimental attributes that plague our system, and make it a prime candidate for reform and a reform long overdue.

The Case For AV Part 1: Removing the Rot

Imagine the scene: ten friends gather together for a game of cards, one suggests that they get some cheese and biscuits. After some initial discussion (and much agreement that the idea is splendid) they put it to a vote. Mary and George vote for Goats Cheese, Sabine and Harold vote for Cheddar, Betty and Barry vote for Applewood, Margaret votes for Brie, whilst Terry, Gordon and Samantha aren’t hungry and vote for no food at all.

The results are as follows:

Goats Cheese: 2
Chedder: 2
Applewood: 2
Brie: 1
Nothing: 3

If this were a general election in the UK, the vote for ‘nothing’ would win. First past the post is a one-round election which gives victory to whichever candidate receives the most votes. Sounds fair, right?

Wrong. Take a look at the results above. Another way of displaying the results could be thus:

Cheese and biscuits: 7
Nothing: 3

The overwhelming majority wanted cheese and biscuits, the problem was that their vote was split when it came to the fine details. Quite understandably they had opinions more complex than simply wanting cheese, they had preferences for specific cultivations, but through the distortions of the voting system, the majority was denied their consensus (cheese) simply because they wanted to express their precise opinion.

This is the problem the Alternative Vote system tries to address. It is not a proportional system, such grand reforms are beyond us for they would surely destroy the grip of the two main parties (you can’t get turkeys to vote for Christmas), but AV is a much better system than first past the post,

Nothing corrupts democracy more than a first past the post electoral system. This is because it erodes the point of elections: a moment in time when the people express their will on how they should be governed. This no longer happens in the UK. Instead, once every four years or so, the British public turn out to vote AGAINST policies, rather than for them. Doubt it? Take a look at any campaign literature in the run up to a General Election: ‘Only Labour can defeat the Tories here!’ ‘The Tories don’t have a chance, only the Liberal Democrats can stop Labour!’ and the such.

Our elections have become riddled with tactical voting as voters no longer believe in voting for the party they’d like, only to stop the party they despise. This approach soon infects the whole way they approach politics, always believing the worst and focusing on negative opposition.

And thus we find ourselves in the cynical mess we’re in today.

Tactical voting is not going to disappear in any non-proportional system, but AV gives the voter a chance to express a positive before they resort to the negative. This simple expression may not change who gets elected, but it does change the way we interact with politics. When entering a polling booth, the voter should think about what they WANT, not just what they hate, and AV would facilitate this.

Labour and the Conservative party fear such a change. They have thrived on nothing more than not being the other, encouraging hatred of their opposition, whilst bringing policies to within a wafer of each other to fight for those few voters disinterested enough not to buy into the hatred.

This homogenising of politics only reinforces apathy and negative voting. The only way to break it, is to change the system, and this is our only chance. In this series of articles I will look at the various aspects of the Alternative Vote, from cost to impact upon our parliament.

In Part 2, ‘AV around the world: A Tried and Tested System’.

The Fight Begins

The political scrap over the AV referendum began today with the ‘no’ campaign being launched in London. The government is confident that the bill will be passed in time for the deadline, so it looks like in May we will vote on whether or not to switch to the tragically flawed ‘Alternative Vote’ system of elections or stick with the outright corrupt ‘First Past The Post’. Already the two campaigns are growling at each other, and it’s going to be a hell of a dirty fight.

I looks like the ‘no’ campaign is going to be driven by labeling a ‘yes’ vote as a vote for Nick Clegg. The Deputy Prime Minister is the most unpopular man in British politics (God knows why, did I miss a week in the news when he raped a puppy in Trafalgar Square?) and the enemies of reform are going to exploit this to their advantage. Expect hundreds of rabid students turning out to vote alongside Murdoch on this one. How utterly bizarre.

The big question seems to be what will Cameron do? This campaign is going to be one long smear against Clegg, so can Cameron afford to be seen endorsing it? Probably not, but if he doesn’t turn out to campaign against AV then his own back-benchers may well turn the cannons on him too.

The biggest problem the ‘Yes’ campaign faces is getting its supporters excited enough to turn out. Those who care enough to want the voting system changed generally want PR, recognising that while AV is better than FPTP, it is still unrepresentative. The campaign needs to convince these people that to fail on this hurdle out of some idealistic protest will not help them get PR. In fact, the opposite will happen – FPTP will be enshrined in our political system for another generation.

A lot of nonsense is going to be thrown around over the next few months. Expect more disinformation similar to tuition fees, selling of forests and NHS reform. Will the British public fuck themselves over one more? It would be funny if not so horribly tragic.