Temperamentally I’m probably in favour of keeping First Past the Post. It’s straightforward, easy to administer and it’s what we do already. But one look at those sodding posters of a newborn child needing an incubator or a battle-weary veteran needing body armour and my Vote No tendency melted away. How sodding disingenuous can you be?
So. Yes it is then. Except, aaargh, no it isn’t. Not only do they have the brain-destroying tactic of persuading me to vote Yes on the grounds that Stephen Fry and Benjamin bloody Zephaniah will (I’m a Londoner so was spared the ghastly Tony Robinson) but they put all this crap in a letter marked P&C and ‘Important Documents Enclosed’.
More fundamental than all this froth, however, is the fact that almost no claim made by either side stacks up. Lets have a run through them, No first.
1. AV means that people get more than one vote
Superficially appealing this one, together with the old Churchillian line about the most worthless votes for the most worthless candidates. But it’s more a semantic point than a great point of principle. AV is an instant run-off, and in the final round of voting no-one has more than one vote.
2. AV will help the BNP
Funnily enough, I think that this argument is probably right, but for none of the reasons that people like Baroness Warsi are saying. In terms of winning seats, AV would be disastrous for the BNP – because they are, lets face it, pretty unlikely to make many peoples’ second preferences. How could it help them? By allowing people to make a token first preference vote for an unelectable candidate as a protest. Will it happen? Not to any great extent, but there it is. Partly right, but mostly wrong.
3. AV will be expensive/complicated
AV is certainly more expensive than FPTP – but that’s only because the counting process is that much longer. It doesn’t necessarily need electronic counting (Australia doesn’t), and it needn’t end the drama of election night (Australia again). It is, once again, a minor complaint masquerading as an issue of principle.
4. ‘Winners’ will lose
Well, that’s rather the point isn’t it? That someone who has ‘won’ an election with only 32% of the vote (Alan Reid up in Argyll & Bute) might actually have lost a run-off with his closest rival. This is less a criticism than a statement of the difference between the systems.
And that’s been more or less it. There have been no really positive reasons to vote No, other than the ‘it’s simpler’ one discussed above. So, it looks like a nailed on vote for Yes right? No.
1. FPTP is not proportional, and thus not fair.
Maybe not, but it’s an odd argument for an AV campaigner to make, given that AV is even less proportional.
2. An end to safe seats
You see this one a lot – but a truly safe seat is one where the MP regularly gets more than 50% of the vote. That’ll still be a safe seat under AV. For a ‘safe seat’ to be challengeable under AV the incumbent must be getting below 50% of the vote but still be comfortably ahead of any challengers. In those cases, it’s extremely unlikely that he’d fail to pick up enough second preferences from somewhere to get over the line. AV doesn’t affect safe seats, it just changes the dynamics of marginals.
3. MPs will work harder
This is linked to the safe seats point above, and is equally tendentious. The temptation for lazy MPs is in ultra safe constituencies – and they are unaffected. As a further point, I’d like to think that MPs should be kept pretty busy by Parliamentary duties – the extra work envisaged here is of the constituency social worker variety.
4. AV is an “overdue upgrade to our 19th century political system”
Well, the UK only implemented a universal FPTP system in 1950. AV was introduced in Australia in 1919. Incidentally, and in another spasm of annoyance with the No campaign, whoever persuaded Niall Ferguson and David Starkey to sign a letter saying that the UK has never in six centuries given “one person’s casting ballot greater weight than another” should be given a slap.
I actually have to stop doing this. It’s just too depressing. We have, essentially, an Iran-Iraq War scenario on our hands. I always vote, I’m too much of a geek not to, but I honestly have no idea which way I’ll go this time. If they want my vote, I’d recommend both campaigns to shut the hell up, because I suspect I’ll end up voting against whichever the last campaign I heard from.