Facts, not fears

As regular readers of this blog know well by now, I follow politics in the UK as well as in Canada, with admittedly more interest in what’s been happening in the UK thanks to the novelty of being able to observe an actual coalition government in action. Consequently, at the moment, I am following two campaigns that will both result in votes only days apart in early May: the Canadian federal election campaign (vote on May 2) and the UK referendum on adopting the Alternative Vote campaign (vote on May 5).

Sadly, both campaigns are seeing their fair share of, to put it politely, rather mind-numbing debate.

The No2AV camp in the UK has been particularly good at turning out the most bizarre arguments against AV. I’ve blogged about a lot of them and ignored many more since they all seem to repeat the same misconceptions and dubious claims.

The Canadian election campaign, as I’ve noted in this post, is being dominated by the specter of coalition. The dubious claims about coalition mostly come from the Conservative party and their supporters. Sadly, I don’t feel that the Canadian media is doing much – certainly not enough – to counter these claims head on. It’s early days, yet, and I am still hopeful that perhaps the campaign focus might turn to actual issues and policy, but this is not a certain thing. For example, just yesterday on an edition of a Power and Politics, host Evan Solomon asked another commentator “Will these questions about coalition ever stop?” To me the answer was fairly obvious: they will if the media stops asking them and moves to ask about actual party policy and promises instead.

The anti-AV camp and the anti-coalition camp share one thing in common: they are building their opposition on fear. The anti-AV camp focuses on the fear of perpetual coalition (yes, even in the UK) and the death of majority government. The Canadian Conservatives focus on the fear of coalition – perhaps not perpetual – simply the alleged damage a “Liberal-socialist-separatist” coalition will do to the Canadian economy, and, I suppose, the country in general.

Back in the UK, a Lib Dem cabinet minister hit back at his Tory counterparts who are campaigning against AV and continuing to perpetrate many of the unfounded claims against AV. In a letter to Conservative party chair Baroness Warsi, Chris Huhne  challenged her to pull the plug on the scaremongering and misleading publicity. Huhne wrote:

When David Cameron launched his ‘no’ campaign, he said this should not be a source of tension between us or risk breaking the Coalition. It won’t, if your ‘no’ camp now withdraws these disgraceful advertisements and campaigns on facts not fears, substance not smears.

Facts not fears, substance not smears.

I like that. It would make a great slogan for the Canadian election campaign as well. Would our politician take heed?

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AV does not cause hung parliaments

While I have resisted blogging about them, I have been regularly reading a variety of columns and articles on the May referendum on the Alternative Vote. One thing in particular continues to baffle me: I simply do not understand why so many AV opponents believe that AV will lead to more hung parliaments and thus make coalition government the norm in the UK.

This “fact” is repeated almost every single time anyone posts anything against AV, and I’m including reader comments on articles in this. A recent example would be this column by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian in which he writes:

The case against AV is that it would increase the likelihood of a hung parliament and uncertain government. Voters must sit for days (or in Belgium months) and await the smoke from the party conclaves. This in itself weakens any electoral mandate and devolves power from voters to the political establishment. It is elitist. It also usually leads to unstable administrations as minority coalition partners wax and wane in support and, usually, decide to cut and run when the going gets tough. Every country is different, especially those that are complex confederacies, but many people in Germany, Italy, Belgium and Denmark scream for the clarity of a two-party system, with governments in or out.

As opponents of AV are fond of pointing out, AV is used in only 3 jurisdictions, and the only one anyone ever discusses in any detail is Australia. Yet, if one is going to use Australia as the main example of how AV works, then the argument that it leads to more hung parliaments falls apart immediately. The UK, and also Canada, have had more hung parliaments using FPTP than has Australia using AV. It’s not AV that leads to hung parliaments, but the growing breakdown of two-party politics in countries like the UK and Canada that still use FPTP.

There have been five hung parliaments in the UK since the beginning of the 20th century. There have been 12* hung parliaments at the federal level in Canada since Confederation. Australia, which introduced AV in 1919, has had two hung parliaments under AV.

The overwhelming reason why Australia has had far fewer hung parliaments is because unlike Canada and the UK, Australia really does have a strong two-party system. From 1901 to 1910, when it used FPTP, no party had a majority in the House of Representatives, as there were two competing non-Labor parties. As a result, there were frequent changes of government, several of which took place during parliamentary terms. The 1910 federal election was the first contested by the Commonwealth Liberal Party, the result of a merger between the Protectionist Party and the Free Trade Party. The new party lost to Labor, but this marked the first majority government in Australia since the inaugural federal election in 1901. If anything, AV in Australia has reinforced the two-party system, making it far more difficult for smaller parties to win seats.

Proponents of FPTP assert that its main advantage is that it returns strong, decisive election results, and Jenkins is no exception:

Because yielding a clearcut and stable administration is the dominant requirement of democratic election, I opt for the electoral system that most delivers it, which has long been first-past-the-post. In crude historical terms, it has served Britain well. It clearly leaves Liberal Democrats on the sidelines, but we are talking about choosing a government, and the Liberals have never come first or even second in popular votes since they handed the torch of leftwing representation to Labour a century ago. Votes for Liberal Democrat candidates are not “wasted”, as some claim, but failed.

However, in Canada and the UK, what has been happening, despite both countries’ use of FPTP, is the breakdown of the two-party system in favour of multi-party politics. In Canada, this is further complicated by the increasingly regional support of the main parties. This is what is causing hung parliaments to happen, despite the fact that FPTP is used. The trend away from the two traditional parties, Labour and Conservative, is expertly explained in this post by Patrick Dunleavy.

Whether AV, if adopted in the UK, will slow this trend remains to be seen. However, if hung parliaments continue to occur even with the adoption of AV, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the same results would have been returned under FPTP. It is not the voting system that is responsible for these outcomes, but the fact that multiple parties contest each election, and that increasingly, more and more voters are giving their support to these other parties.
*The 2nd Canadian Parliament was a minority for 56 days under prime minister Alexander Mackenzie after he took power from Sir John A. Macdonald following the Pacific Scandal. However, this event is generally not counted because Parliament was not in session when Mackenzie took over and he immediately called an election in which he then won a majority.

On a related note, ABC’s Antony Green addresses claims that AV leads to lower voter turnout.

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Lost in the tsunami

While the letter from the anti-AV historians garnered a fair bit of media attention last week, a second letter that appeared in the Telegraph last Friday didn’t, probably because the news cycle was overwhelmed by the earthquake and tsumani that hit Japan.

A small group of business leaders wrote in support of the Alternative Vote. You can read it here (note that it isn’t possible to link directly to the letter, you have to scroll down to find it under the header “Advantages of AV”).  For your convenience, I shall repost it here:

SIR – The May 5 referendum on whether we should replace first-past-the-post with the alternative vote will be one of the defining political events of this parliament. Writing in a personal capacity, we believe that there are three powerful reasons to vote for it.

First, AV would force politicians to work harder to achieve more than 50 per cent of the vote. The last election was decided by just 1.6 per cent of voters, in marginal constituencies, who were targeted with intense leafleting and visits by politicians. Under AV, parties would have to pay far more attention to the majority of people during election campaigns.

Secondly, AV would give greater legitimacy to MPs. At the moment, many MPs have been returned to the House of Commons with the support of just three out of 10 of their constituents. This would no longer be possible under AV.

Thirdly, AV would better reflect our country as it is today. In 1950, Labour and the Tories were the top two parties in 96 per cent of constituencies. Last May, that figure was 44 per cent. We are much less of a two-party country.

A vote for change on May 5 would be a victory for fairness and a break with a system of the past. It would be good for the country and good for business.

Lord Aldington
Senior adviser, Deutsche Bank
Russell Chambers
Senior adviser, Credit Suisse
Guy Dawson
Chairman, Financial Institutions, Nomura
Terry Duddy
CEO, Home Retail Group
Lord Jay of Ewelme
Director, Candover Investments
Patrick O’Sullivan
Chairman, Old Mutual
James Palumbo
Co-founder, Ministry of Sound
Vijay Patel
CEO, Waymade Healthcare
Roland Rudd
Senior partner, Finsbury
Lord Sharman of Redlynch
Chairman, Aviva
Sir Stephen Wall
Adviser, Macquarie European Infrastructure Investment Fund
London EC2

While I agree with their first two reasons for supporting AV, the third one leaves me somewhat baffled. AV won’t necessarily better reflect actual party support – it’s not a proportional system. If anything, smaller parties will have a harder time winning seats because of the need to gain over 50% of the vote. It is doubtful, for example, that Caroline Lucas, the first Green Party MP elected in May 2010, would win under AV. However, that quibble aside, it is good to see some support for AV for a change.

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Misguided historians on AV

This morning, over on ConservativeHome, I read about this sadly misguided effort by a group of prominent British historians who’ve come out against the Alternative Vote. The actual letter written by the group was published in the Times, which is behind a paywall, but ConservativeHome kindly reprinted it in full:

Dear Sir,

Our nation’s history is deeply rooted in our parliamentary democracy, a democracy in which, over centuries, men and women have fought for the right to vote.

That long fight for suffrage established the principle of one man or woman, one vote. The principle that each person’s vote is equal, regardless of wealth, gender, race, or creed, is a principle to which generations of reformers have dedicated their lives. It is a principle upon which reform of our parliamentary democracy still stands.

The referendum on 5th May which threatens to introduce a system of ‘Alternative Voting’ – a voting system which will allow MPs to be elected to Parliament even if they do not win the majority of constituents’ first preference votes – also threatens to break this principle.

For the first time since 1928 and the granting of universal suffrage, we face the possibility that one person’s casting ballot will be given greater weight than another. For the first time in centuries, we face the unfair idea that one citizen’s vote might be worth six times that of another. It will be a tragic consequence if those votes belong to supporters of extremist and non-serious parties.

Twice in our past, the nation has rejected any threat to the principle of one citizen, one vote. The last time, in 1931, Winston Churchill stood against the introduction of an Alternative Vote system. As he argued, AV would mean that elections would be determined by “the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates”. He understood that it was simply too great a risk to take.

The cause of reform, so long fought for, cannot afford to have the fundamentally fair and historic principle of majority voting cast aside; nor should we sacrifice the principle which generations of men and women have sought: that each being equal, every member of our society should cast an equal vote.

For these reasons, we urge the British people to vote “No” on May 5th.

Signed by quite a few confused historians.

Truly, I am left rather speechless by this. I am having such a difficult time understanding how anyone can argue in good faith that AV grants some people more votes. That this group of (one assumes) quite intelligent and educated individuals really believe that AV represents a “threat to the principle of one citizen, one vote” is – I have no words.

Luckily for all of us, ABC’s Antony Green is already all over this one. Allow me to share a few passages from his post, but please read it in its entirety.

In response to this passage from the letter:

For the first time since 1928 and the granting of universal suffrage, we face the possibility that one person’s casting ballot will be given greater weight than another. For the first time in centuries, we face the unfair idea that one citizen’s vote might be worth six times that of another. It will be a tragic consequence if those votes belong to supporters of extremist and non-serious parties.

Green replies:

Where has this six number come from again? Why not four, as in horses of the apocalypse, or seven as days in the week, or ten as in plagues of Egypt?

The magic number six is being tossed into the debate to suggest that some people have more votes than others. They don’t. The Alternative Vote is a way of counting numbered ballot papers in such a manner that if the count comes down to two candidates, one will have more ballot papers in their favour than the other candidate. There are no multiple votes, the number of ballot papers does not change.

From the letter:

Twice in our past the nation has rejected any threat to the principle of one citizen, one vote. The last time, in 1931, Winston Churchill stood against the introduction of an alternative vote (AV) system. As he argued, AV would mean that elections would be determined by “the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates”. He understood that it was simply too great a risk to take.

The cause of reform, so long fought for, cannot afford to have the fundamentally fair and historic principle of majority voting cast aside; nor should we sacrifice the principle that generations of men and women have sought: that each being equal, every member of our society should cast an equal vote.

For these reasons, we urge the British people to vote “No” on May 5.

Green’s rebuttal:

Quote Churchill, that’s obviously a clinching argument. With the greatest of respect to Mr Churchill, a quick look at Australian electoral history reveals that he may be wrong on dismissing preferences as somehow worthless.

When you trawl through Australian elections where preferences changed results, they almost always involve matters of principle, important votes not worthless votes.

Liberal and National candidates running against each other and swapping preferences aren’t involved in some worthless exchange. They were acting on matters of principle to defeat Labor candidates.

Democratic Labor Party voters and candidates, who for two decades acted to help elect Liberal and National MPs, were doing so because of those parties’ unambiguous opposition to Communism , not on some worthless whimsy.

And nor have Green voters in recent years been engaged in a worthless exercise. They have directed preferences in the hope of best achieving their party’s goals.

The major parties have acted together to defeat Pauline Hanson and One Nation candidates. The Liberal Party has begun to act to defeat Greens candidates by preferences. Whatever you think of the justice of these cases, they are not matters of worthless votes.

Green could also have quoted what Churchill had to say about FPTP: “The present system has clearly broken down. The results produced are not fair to any party, nor to any section of the community. In many cases they do not secure majority representation, nor do they secure an intelligent representation of minorities. All they secure is fluke representation, freak representation, capricious representation.”

Green concludes his post thusly:

A case built on misrepresenting how votes are counted, reciting one quote from Churchill and ignoring eight decades of Australian experience, is not a compelling argument, despite the eminence of the  accompanying historian’s names.

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More on how AV really works

ABC election blogger Antony Green is at it again, with two more posts attacking the false information being spread about AV in general and AV in Australia by the NO2AV side in the UK referendum on the issue.

In a post from March 6, Green reveals the secrets of how AV is counted in Australia. Surprise! Their “vote counting machines” look amazingly human.

It’s his second post, also from March 6, which is more interesting (to me anyway since I know Australia doesn’t use vote counting machines and so don’t need more articles proving that reality). In “How AV builds a majority for a candidate“, Green addresses one of the major failings of FPTP – that someone can be elected with less than a majority of the vote in his or her riding – sometimes much, much less than 50% of the total vote cast.  Most proponents of FPTP don’t seem to have a problem, at all, with the fact that some MPs win their seats with less than 20% of the vote. The fact that the “winning” candidate was rejected by an overwhelming majority of his or her constituents doesn’t matter. The reality of FPTP is that the “winner” needs only one vote. Not just one vote more than the 2nd place candidate – in theory, if only one vote was cast in the entire riding, the candidate who gets that vote would be declared the winner. AV addresses that problem. As Green writes:

The higher the vote of the leading candidate, the less chance that AV will change the result. But the lower the vote of the leading candidate, the better that AV is in producing a preferred candidate rather than won who just happened to finish ahead of the others.

It’s a very detailed post explaining the vote count in the riding of Wagga Wagga in the 1999 New South Wales state election (New South Wales uses the same optional preferential voting being proposed in the UK). Some might find it quite dry reading. It is, but it is definitely worth reading.

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More thoughts on AV from down under

(Note: Not the information you’re looking for? I do try to help people as much as I can and regularly monitor key word activity on this blog to see what is bringing people here. If this post doesn’t answer your questions, please consider contacting me with details regarding what information you’re looking for, including context (i.e. if it relates to something currently in the news). I might be able to answer your question(s), or at least direct you to a site that might provide more answers. I will reply to you by email, and if it’s a very interesting question, I may even write a proper blog post about it. You may also be interested in this post for a summary of the most common questions being asked about AV.)

Antony Green has written a couple more blog posts correcting some of the misinformation being spread by the No2AV side in the UK. Green, as I’ve previously mentioned, is a expert on elections and voting systems who writes for Australia’s ABC website.

In this post from February 24, Green attacks an academic paper entitled “What is Wrong with the Alternative Vote? Electoral Reform Briefing Nr. 1, August 2010″ written by Monica Thelfall and updated in November of last year, following the Australian general election. The author’s main criticism of AV seems to be focused on it taking longer to count the votes: “AV fails the test of simplicity since even the Australian government cannot execute the full count in time to announce it on the night of the poll.” Green rightly explains that this has nothing to do with AV per se, but more a reflection of the size of the country when compared to the Britain. Of special interest to Canadians, Green uses Canada as an example of a country using FPTP where final vote tallies are also delayed by a few days.

In a February 26 post, Green again looks at the anti-AV side’s claim that a majority of Australians want to get rid of AV. Green again concludes that what Australians really want is not a return to FPTP, but rather, to no longer have to rank every single candidate on their ballot paper.

In a post from March 1, Green confronts the claims that vote counting machines are used in Australia, or even necessary under AV.

And finally, this post has nothing to do with any claims made by the No2AV side, but is still interesting reading. Australian elections have one of the highest rates of spoiled ballots. Green looks at this problem and offers up some simple solutions to address it – the main one being adopting AV, optional preferential voting (what the UK is proposing). This article will appeal mostly to die-hard electoral reform fans, but Green makes these issues fully accessible to anyone.

I’d also recommend reading the comments posted by readers. Green frequently replies to questions asked by readers in their comments, so there is often more to be learned in the comments as well.

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It’s going to be a long 10 weeks

It is not my intention to write about every idiotic anti-AV column that appears during the next ten weeks leading up to the referendum vote in May. For the most part, I’ve addressed the main arguments put forward against AV in previous posts.

That said, when something particularly mind-boggling appears, I do feel a duty to comment on it. Case in point was this “debate” in the Guardian between pro-AV Conservative John Stafford and anti-AV Labour MP Margaret Beckett. Beckett’s arguments, such as they are, against AV aren’t any better than anyone else’s that have appeared in print of late, but one exchange in particular absolutely astounded me:

John Stafford: There is a balance, I accept that, between the systems. But it doesn’t seem right to say that we’ve got a representative parliament when an MP can win with 35% of the vote, while 65% voted against them. In 2005, the Labour Party got 35% of the votes, and had a 66-seat majority. In 2010 the Tories got 36% of the votes and didn’t get any majority. And twice since the war, the party that’s got the most votes in the election didn’t go on to form the government …

Margaret Beckett: I’m not quarrelling with that, but I’m just not very interested. And I don’t think the British people are. The outcome is what matters. The British people know how our system works, and they know how to use it. When they want change, they make change.

There are two points here that bother me immensely. First is that while Beckett acknowledges that FPTP can lead to extremely bizarre outcomes, such as those Stafford outlined, she dismisses those issues because she’s “just not very interested.” Sort of makes you wonder how she handled certain issues that cropped up while she was a minister in the previous Labour governments – if she wasn’t that interested in something, did she just sweep it under the rug or ignore it?

The second thing is her comment that “the outcome is what matters,” In other words, it doesn’t matter to her at all that a process might be incredibly flawed, unfair, or broken, as long as some sort of outcome still results from it? I have to disagree with that, as did many people in the read comments. If a process to get to an outcome has serious shortcomings, then it follows that the outcome that results from that process will also be flawed. I don’t think Beckett would disagree that if someone cheated during the London Marathon, perhaps by using a banned substance, should they win the race, they should be disqualified. In such an instance, it wouldn’t be the outcome that matters – even if people aren’t particularly interested in the nitty-gritty of how performance-enhancing drugs actually work. What matters would be that the race was fair to all.  Why should elections be any different?

To counterbalance the hurt that Margaret Beckett has probably caused your brain, even if you agree with her that AV is bad, I would like to share with you two columns from Antony Green’s blog. Green is the elections specialist who writes for Australia’s ABC news. Australia uses a form of AV in its federal elections. It differs from what is being proposed for the UK in one very important way – in Australia, voters have to rank every single candidate on the ballot paper (except for one – which will be assumed to be the voter’s least favourite). Failure to do so results in a rejected ballot. In the UK, voters can rank as many candidates as they want, and if they want to vote for only one person, they can do that. That said, however, many anti-AV campaigners have signalled out that Australia is one of the few countries that uses AV, and that most Australians want to get rid of it and move to FPTP.

This isn’t so, writes Green. That claim is based on the findings of one single survey conducted just after last year’s contentious general election which resulted in Australia’s first hung parliament in decades. I urge you to read the entire column, but Green concludes:

I believe the IPA survey picked-up on two moods of Australians, one an objection by some Australians to the re-election of the Gillard government, but also a more common objection to compulsory preferential voting. Voters were given two options in the survey, the existing system or first past the post, but not the Alternative Vote.

Given the survey’s options, a conclusion that Australians want to abandon the Alternative Vote for First past the Post seems a little difficult reach, because the Alternative Vote wasn’t even an option.

In this other column, “Does the Alternative Vote bring Tyranny to Australia?“, Green addresses some of the strange claims surfacing in the UK press about how AV has completely ruined democracy in Australia:

Many Australians would be amazed to read the UK press and discover the terrible iniquities heaped upon them by the Alternative Vote. Putting Ashes defeat down the the Alternative Vote has yet to be claimed, but the campaign has only just begun.

For instance, how many Australian knew it always takes six weeks to work out who’s won an election in Australia? Perhaps there was some unpunctuality in 2010, but that’s what you get with a hung parliament. The UK struck the same problem under first past the post voting in May 2010, so it’s not the voting system at fault. There was no anarchy in the UK from a few days of indeterminacy.

Again, I urge you to read the entirety of Green’s column. It is worth it. You may still end up disagreeing that AV is worth voting for, but at least you’ll be doing so based on fact and not media-created fictions.

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If FPTP is so great…

The referendum campaign on the Alternative Vote is in full swing in the UK. A recent poll showed the yes side with a 10 point lead (40% for, 30% against), but a large number of undecideds (30%) could easily nullify that.

While anyone who favours true electoral reform is bound to be less than enthusiastic about AV, given that it is not proportional and only marginally fairer than FPTP, many are still supporting it because they hope it might be a stepping stone towards true proportional representation. What is certain for many is that if the AV referendum fails, it is doubtful that another opportunity to vote on electoral reform will come by any time soon.

The Yes side is campaigning on the simple, direct slogan “Yes! to fairer votes“. The No side, sadly, but not surprisingly, is campaigning on fear, misinformation and outright lies. In recent days, many columns have appeared in various media advancing rather questionable “facts”. Topping that list is claim that switching to AV will cost British taxpayers over £250 pounds. This figure includes the cost of the referendum itself (about £90 million) and the rest coming from the cost of vote counting machines (£130 million) and voter education and awareness (£26 million). The big problem here is that there has not been any indication anywhere from any official source that the UK will start using vote counting machines if AV is adopted. The Bill does not call for the introduction of vote counting machines, nor has the government or the any other official body. Thus this purported cost is based on – what? An assumption? A wild guess? Wishful thinking?

Case in point is this blog post by the president of the No to AV campaign, Matthew Elliot, which appeared in the Spectator. Elliot writes “Likewise, electronic vote-counting machines are whenever AV is used in the US – As the head of the American pro-AV group, FairVote.org, admitted: “the use of machines is just a given” in the USA and ‘special software is required’.” Sadly for Elliot, the head of the American pro-AV group, Rob Ritchie addresses this point in the comments section:

Matthew Elliott utterly distorts what I said in my talk in London last month about the rise of the Alternative Vote in the United States. No American jurisdictions has gone from a hand-tally to machines because of AV. I said that “machines are assumed in the United States” because we already use voting machines for nearly all our elections, most of which use first-past-the-post.

What I also said very clearly is that one of the issues that has slowed the rise of AV in the United States is that many current machines can’t do it — but that this would not be an issue in the UK because you do hand tallies and it’s quite easy to do AV tallies by hand.

Another favoured argument against is that AV isn’t used anywhere but Australia, Fiji and Papua-New Guinea and that two of those places, one being Australia, want to get rid of it. This too is incorrect. There was a report commissioned in Australia reviewing the voting system and it found that there was significant support for a more proportional voting system – but no one wanted to ditch AV for FPTP.

An equally ridiculous op-ed piece by Simon Heffer in the Telegraph barely merits consideration. Heffer’s main argument against AV is that it is a “recipe for coalitions”, which is completely unsubstantiated. Heffer comments on the poll findings showing a 10-point lead for the pro-AV side and notes “The poll findings are a paradox, since the Coalition itself is increasingly unpopular.” In other words, how could people support switching to AV, which Heffer claims will lead to perpetual coalitions, when the coalition itself is increasingly unpopular? Perhaps someone should point out to Mr. Heffer that it’s the coalition’s policies that are unpopular, not the idea of coalition per se. Even a Tory (or Labour) majority government that was introducing the types of cuts the coalition has would find itself losing popular support.

Heffer also writes “AV could have the perverse effect of securing a landslide for one of the two main parties, with the damaging effects on the parliamentary process that we saw between 1997 and 2005.” Granted, this is true – AV isn’t proportional, and so it won’t address one of the key problems of FPTP – parties winning a huge majority without majority support. But it certainly won’t make this problem any worse than it already is, and might, in fact, improve things marginally since candidates will have to secure 50% of the vote to win their seats. Many commenters on various articles like to point out this ingrained unfairness of FPTP – parties winning a majority of seats with sometimes less than 40% of the popular vote. Defenders of FPTP dismiss this by saying “they got the most votes, therefore it’s fair”. However, FPTP can lead to even more perverse outcomes. At least twice in Canada, at the provincial level, a party has finished second in total votes cast, yet won more seats than the party that finished first in terms of popular vote (Quebec 1998, New Brunswick 2006). In another instance, again in New Brunswick, one party did win a majority of the popular vote, 60%, but also won every single seat in the legislature. How is that fair? There have been many other instances at the provincial level of one party winning a grossly disproportionate number of seats, with the opposition parties reduced to sometimes only one seat.

ConservativeHome has an article about the launch of the anti-AV campaign’s posters and leaflets. I am quite heartened that many of the readers are thoroughly blasting the mistruths and fear-mongering depicted in the No campaign’s media. This is also true of the commenters on the Matthew Elliot piece on the Spectator site. I’ve not bothered to read through the 350+ comments on Heffer’s piece in the Telegraph to see how they swing.

It’s also heartening to frequently read many comments by readers stating that the fear-mongering and lies being spread by the anti-AV side are pushing them to vote Yes. There are still several weeks to go in this campaign assuming the government can get it passed by the required deadline – the Lords are still playing hardball with some amendments. I expect the No side to further ramp up its rather ludicrous claims.

I could go on picking holes in the anti-AV arguments, but I think what is most striking is that I’ve yet to see one single column or op ed piece simply extolling the virtues of FPTP. If FPTP is that great, tell people why. Defend it against the various studies and arguments pointing out how unfair it is. Campaign in favour of your voting system of choice, not by spreading half-truths and outright lies about AV. If the No to AV side can’t properly defend FPTP, why should anyone else?

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