alternative vote

Imagine if this was a left-wing country


The other day, David Cameron made one of his lie-filled speeches about AV, and inadvertently blurted out a truth.

No, not the truth that he thinks that you and I are too stupid to understand numbering candidates rather than dabbing a big X next to their name, although that particular vote of confidence in the intelligence of the British population is duly noted. This accidental truth was when he said “First Past The Post has served us well over the years”. He’s right: First Past The Post has served the Conservatives really, really well over the past 60 years. In fact, it has given us plenty of Conservative governments we didn’t want and couldn’t throw out.

There have been 18 general elections since the Second World War. In the majority of those elections, the Conservatives came out on top, never once with more than half of the people supporting them. In 1951, Labour won 48.8% of the vote to the Tories’ 48%. But Labour got 295 seats, the Tories 321. Labour would be out of power for 13 years and the Tories would be seen – and see themselves – as the “natural party of government” for the rest of the 20th century.

For reasons I can’t quite fathom, history records that Mrs Thatcher won a landslide in 1979. She didn’t. If Jim Callaghan had gone to the polls six months earlier, Labour would probably have been returned; Labour was not as unpopular in the late 1970s as the media now recalls. Mrs Thatcher won 43.9% of the vote in 1979 and this gave her a working majority. In the next four years, she blundered through the economy, basically destroying it. Unemployment hit 5 million – a plan her economic advisers had decided upon, not an accidental consequence of her callousness.

She went to the polls in 1983 buoyed by the Falklands War but still unpopular generally. Her share of the vote fell to 42.4% and she got a landslide majority. This landslide was the one that sold off our electricity and water to foreign buyers. She got an unstoppable majority, which gave her dictatorial powers, when 57.6% of the country voted for other parties. She would be in power until 1990, the Tories would be in government until 1997, all from what 42.4% of the vote could do. The post-war settlement, the agreement that the state would work to care for its citizens in return for their hard work, was torn up on the say-so of 42.4% of the population.

First Past The Post really served the Tories well there; but it destroyed my country and ill-served the British people. The next time someone tries to tell you that Mrs Thatcher’s reforms had the support of the vast majority of us, remind them that 42.4% is a minority.

Recently, senior Liberal Democrats seem to be regaining their sense of decency. They have publicly opposed some of the more terribly right-wing things the government is trying to do. And good on them: in other countries with a coalition system, minority partners often go on television to complain about what the other half of the government is doing; this includes cabinet ministers. Here, the LibDems have been silent for too long.

Those senior LibDems have made a very good point: this country is actually a left-of-centre country. It doesn’t feel like it, but it truly is. Put it this way: since the Second World War, the Conservatives have polled more votes than Labour and the Liberal Democrats just once – in 1955 they got 49.7% of the votes to the Left’s 49.1%. Imagine that. Imagine the second half of the 20th century effectively without the Conservatives. Imagine no Stop-Go in the 1950s. Imagine no Three Day Week in the 1970s. Imagine no Thatcherism in the 1980s. Imagine no selling off of British Rail in the 1990s.

Imagine a 20th century where the only Tory Prime Ministers were Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan, both briefly.

AV wouldn’t quite give us that, and it’s wrong to choose a voting system based on the likely outcomes being more to your liking, but still: imagine a 21st century without the Conservatives. We could get nearer to it, if we vote Yes on Thursday.


AV is really, really, really complicated


Courtesy (ie ripped without credit) of B3TA. Let’s face it: if b3tards can understand AV, so can you.

Tomorrow almost never comes

There appears to be a gob-smackingly dumb "middle way" appearing in the AV debate. It runs like this: AV isn't proportional and is a poor compromise, so let's vote "no" and campaign for a better system after. This is amazingly politically naive. In evidence, look back at the devolution vote of 1979.

People forget this event as it was a miserable failure. Labour, in government but not in power at the time, was reliant on Liberal, Plaid and SNP votes to keep it afloat against a barrage of confidence motions from the Tories.

To keep Plaid and the SNP on side, Callaghan's government agreed to devolution (called "devo" in those devil-may-care days) against the wishes of the Labour party itself. The resulting Bill was a right dog's dinner, offering Scotland an assembly with all the power of a Metropolitan County and Wales a talking shop with all the power of a parish council.

People in favour of independence or full devo (still then often called "Home Rule") campaigned for a "no" vote – the miserable little compromise should be voted down, they said, then we can have a real debate about real Home Rule.

Wales voted it down resoundingly. Scotland voted for it, but a provision in the Bill said that people not voting were classed as voting "no" unless 40% of all voters said yes. So "yes" won a plurality of those voting, but "no" won the referendum.

Of course, the next government immediately started on a new, better devolution bill, didn't it? Er, no. The entire issue was kicked into the long grass. The people, it was said, having voted "no", had not just rejected devolution, they had endorsed the existing system. They had, in effect, voted "yes" with a song in their hearts to rule from London. It also led to the SNP being wiped out in the general election two months later, handing many SNP seats to the Tories. It would be 1997 before the people were asked again – four whole governments and a political generation later.

People who want the Single Transferrable Vote (STV), like me, are aware that AV is indeed a "miserable little compromise". It's not proportional. It doesn't end safe seats for plutocratic Tories or so-called socialists. STV provides a full choice for the voter while AV makes us choose between career hacks (and X-voting generally doesn't even let us choose in the first place). STV gives the voter real power at the ballot box and the rest of the 5-year term – you have 5 MPs and can play them off against each other, persuade one to change her mind, keep on top of another to make sure he keeps to his promises and so on. The Irish, with good reason, love and adore their STV system because it works so very well.

I want STV. Anything else is not up to the task. And to get it, I'm voting "yes" to AV. Because a win for "no" is not "no to AV", it's "yes to the current way of doing things". And the current way of doing things is very very broken. For people like Lord David Owen, clearly suffering from the early stages of dementia, it seems a good bet to kick out AV and get STV later. What he's forgetting is history: kick out AV now and the next time we'll be asked will be at least 4 parliaments away: 2031 or thereabouts. He won't live to see the consequences of this stupid idea. I'm planning to.

Personal attacks, the making and recording of


Poor Margaret Beckett. Always the horse-faced bridesmaid, never the bride.

Mrs Beckett is a big supporter of the flawed X-voting system in the UK. Well, she would be, wouldn't she: she sits for Derby South where a tremendous minority of people (43.3%) want her as MP. Yep, she's another MP, like the terrifying Esther McVey for the Tories in Wirral West, who holds a safe seat despite a large majority of her voters wanting somebody – anybody – else as MP.

La Beckett, 68, has been vocally campaigning to retain X-voting and her minority safe seat. This means getting involved in NO2AV's long, long list of outright lies about AV. Mrs Beckett has happily spouted such stuff, although she must have known it wasn't true (the alternative being that she's actually dumb enough to believe the drivel she's saying, libel lawyers of the world please note).

Now she's popped up in that well-known defender of women's rights and progressive views, the Daily Mail [istyosty link] to complain that some unofficial pro-AV group or another in one of the darker recesses of Facebook have photoshopped her head on to a dinosaur. It was, she's quoted as saying, a "nasty personal attack". Because the official NO2AV campaign would never stoop so low, would it? It would also never publish who its funders are, Margaret. Perhaps you'd like to look into that? For the record, the Yes Campaign is funded by the Electoral Reform Society, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and shaking buckets in city streets. NO2AV appears to be being funded by the same shady business people behind the so-called Taxpayers' Alliance. That should be more of a worry than a badly photoshopped dinobeckett, shouldn't it?

The problem with taking a stand on something is finding who you are standing next to. I was instantly and irrevocably against the immoral and illegal war against Iraq. That meant that I had to stand next to the prize foaming loon that is George Galloway. The ball-and-chain was pro-war, not believing that politicians would go to war on such an obvious, outright lie. That put him uncomfortably stood with the king of the thick, George W Bush.

So far, however, as a "Yes!" supporter, I'm not stood next to anybody demented or actively undermining the state. It's quite nice. What lefty and progressive "No" people think of standing next to the Beckosaurus, Billyboy Hague, the self-styled Taxpayers' Alliance, Nick Griffin(!!) and the Daily Express is, so far, unrecorded.

Selfish reasons for voting "yes"


In my Westminster constituency, Wirral West, we’re stuck with a truly awful MP.

When the boundaries were redrawn before the last election, a seat that Labour had held quite well as a marginal became a Tory seat. It’s not the safest seat in the world, but barring a 1945 or 1997-style landslide (and they don’t come very often) it’s almost impossible to remove the person the Tories chose to be our local MP.

Esther McVey is a horrible person. Well, maybe her family tolerate her, I don’t know. But as an MP, she’s a Gilbert and Sullivan character, Sir Joseph Porter: “I always voted at my party’s call / And I never thought of thinking for myself at all”. According to TheyWorkForYou, she has never once rebelled over anything. In fact, I’m pretty sure she’s never once had a single original thought in her head.

I’ve twice written to her to voice my opinions (having previously lived in actual marginal constituencies, it was always a good thing to do, provoking honest, thoughtful replies and once actually changing my then-MP’s mind). The first time, the letter I got back, eventually, was copied word-for-word from the Tory manifesto with the addition of a paragraph that told me, with good grace, to keep my Commie views to myself in future and fuck off out of it (I paraphrase, but I’ve never been so politely told to get lost before). The second time I wrote, on a different matter, she didn’t even bother to reply.

I think I can safely say that Esther McVey is a party droid, elected to represent the Tories in Wirral West, not the people of Wirral West in Westminster. And she’s permanent. Under the current voting system, she cannot be removed.

And yet, only 42% of the people voting in 2010 wanted her as our MP. 58% of people wanted someone – anyone – else. But our “winner takes all” X-voting isn’t interested in what the majority want. It wants to pick an MP from the largest block, and with Wirral West drawn to contain some very posh areas of Meols and Heswall, the largest block is the Conservative party.

With the Alternative Vote, the 58% of people – the majority – who didn’t vote for Esther McVey suddenly get a choice. People like me, for instance. No longer would this be a safe enough seat that she could fuck me off if I write to her. Oh no: she’d have to at least pretend to listen. She’d have to vote against the government now and again, lest she looked like a party stooge and found that people, handed the power in her seat at last, chose to turf her out.

On the face of it, she still might have won in 2010. She got 42.5%. Labour got 36.3%. The LibDems got 16.8%. The other three (UKIP, ‘Common Sense’ that wasn’t and an independent) hoovered up the remaining 4.4%.

We can probably assume that the right-wing nutjobs who wasted their X-votes on the bottom three would have given their second (or later) preferences to la McVey rather than Labour or the LibDems. So lets be generous and do that transfer now: C:46.9%, L: 36.3%, LD: 16.8%.

Next to be knocked out would be the LibDems. Now, remember this is before the LibDems went all more-Tory-than-the-Tories Orange Book on us. Their transfers would be vital, and this is where it gets interesting. The local LibDems by and large loathe the Tories more than they dislike Labour. Most of their transfers would thus go to Labour… and we wouldn’t have la McVey lording it over her Rotten Borough. If we did, it would be on a very thin majority from transfers and she’d need to be a lot more responsive because this seat would be a lot more valuable to her.

And this is why I’ll be voting “Yes!” with a song in my heart on 5 May. It might not mean the end of having a Tory MP locally, but a yes vote means the end of having a remote, uncaring Tory MP here. I can settle for that.