After reading this article in the Guardian, Will anyone vote for AV in the electoral reform referendum?, I started to read the reader comments. After wading through too many “I’m voting No to punish Nick Clegg” comments, I came across a lengthy contribution by a reader using the pseudonym “tingedfringe”. Their comment was so lengthy, he or she had to split it up into two separate comments. I think it’s one of the better reader comments I’ve read on the AV debate on any site, and I thought I would share it with you. I’ve formatted the spacing and line breaks to make it a bit more readable, but that is the only change I’ve made to tingedfringe’s comment, which you can read on the Guardian site here and here:
On May 5th we are being given a choice between two single member constituency systems. One is better than the other, in single-member systems, at determining which candidate is closest to the general will.
That system is the Alternative Vote. It is not the best single-member system, but the other single-member systems are either hideously long-winded (huge ballot papers) or hideously mathematically complicated.
(For those who don’t get the reference of ‘the general will’, the general will is the average of all the wills of the individual voters – read Rousseau’s The Social Contract, for more information)
The problem with the Alternative Vote vs FPTP argument is ultimately how the argument is framed. Framing is very important in political psychology, because political arguments are largely moral. Moral arguments are largely emotional. Our largely emotionally framed absurd beliefs lead us to equally absurd conclusions. Examine your tautologies.
So, let me first try to deal with the absurd framing of the debate first. Elections Are Not About Winners And Losers. Elections are not a horse race. Elections are not about your team winning. Elections are not about one party passing the post first.
Elections Are About Consent. That may be a simple point to make. But it is the whole argument for the Alternative Vote. And it is what destroys so many of the myths. If a candidate does not have the consent of the majority of voters to represent their constituency, then they have no right to represent them.
So, the alternative vote asks you to rank your preferences in order. If your first preference is eliminated in the first round, then your second preference will count as your choice for who you consent to represent you. It will not be your first choice, but it will be your first choice out of those who are left.
Nobody gets a ‘second vote’, people’s second preferences do count as much as someone else’s first preference because elections are about consent.
I will give a simple example -
There are 9 people in a family deciding where to go on holiday together.
4 choose Iraq.
3 choose Spain.
2 choose France.
Under the absurd rules of FPTP, Iraq ‘wins’. But we can see how absurd the idea that you would have a ‘winner’ when it comes to consenting to where to go on holiday.
Under AV, those who chose France have a second preference of Spain. They compromise on their choice and therefore the result is this -
5 choose Spain.
4 choose Iraq.
Because voting is about consent.
A better solution would be PR. All people would go on holiday where they wish. But that isn’t on the tables.
So PR > AV > FPTP.
In fact, we could show how a referendum with PR as an option would work.
49% vote FPTP
48% vote PR
3% vote for AV
The three percent who vote for AV have PR as their second preference. If the referendum were held under FPTP then FPTP would ‘win’. But elections are not about winners. Elections are about consent.
So although the pro-AV crowd do not get their first choice, they do not consent to FPTP but would be happier to consent to PR instead.
Once you dispel the idea that elections are a race, in which there are winners and losers, the whole idea of FPTP becomes absurd. Because FPTP is the worst democratic system for determining consent. Now, although AV is not PR, it is a superior system to FPTP in determining consent in a single-member elections.
Ultimately, this debate has separated us in to three categories – Partisans, Idealists and Democrats (Pro-Democracy, not the party).
Partisans are arguing for FPTP because they want to see their party rule. They want to deny the ability of consent to ‘fringe’ parties (like the BNP or NF), because they do not want to have to gain followers on the force of their arguments. They want to look at the voting systems and decide which voting system to vote for based on party advantage. They want to give Clegg a good kicking. Or they want to prevent the LibDems from having representatives in seats because they do not like the LibDems. They want non-coalition governments because they believe in one solution – their solution.
Partisanship is the road to dictatorship. Ultimately this is what partisans want. They want to force the system to be set up so that it is them that rule. They want to deny the voice to anybody who disagrees with them. And they want clear ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ because they want to rule, not by consent, but by political force.
There is not much I can say to partisans. All I can say is this -
Please stop trying to pretend that you are interested in democracy.
Please be honest about the fact that you’re going to vote based upon partisan interest.
This is what I like about honest anarcho-capitalists. They may ultimately believe in a sociopathic socio-political system. But at least they’re honest about it. They don’t have to wrap up their arguments in nonsense. They don’t have to argue for ‘trickle-down’ or for how capitalism makes everybody better off. They say ‘I am the Ubermensch. I am for me and me alone’.
So please, I just ask you this, cut out the nonsense. Just be honest and say ‘I am voting for this because I don’t believe in democracy, I just want to hurt the LibDems’ or ‘I want to make sure that Labour win parliamentary majorities next time’ or ‘I want the Tories to rule based on a minority political ideology’.
Idealists are those who do not want AV because it is either not the most perfect single-member political system or because it is not PR.
Idealists are the marxists who refuse to work with social democrats. Or anarchists who refuse to work with libertarians. Simply put, idealists are those who refuse evolutionary progress because it is not revolutionary progress.
But I’d say to them this – if you are against single-member systems (ultimately, you have to be, if you’re for PR), then please do not vote No, as you’ll be voting for a single-member system. You cannot ‘win’ because you’re voting for single-member systems either way. No single-member system is proportional. All single-member systems can be more or less proportional as each other, it is regional politics which affects single-member proportionality.
Politicians will kick PR to the long-grass whichever way we vote in the referendum. Politicians are the master of tautological political myth making.
If it is a Yes, they’ll say we’re happy with AV. If it’s a No, they’ll say we’re happy with no reform.
I’ll only argue this -
Please don’t stand in the way of progress because it is not revolutionary progress.
And finally democrats -
Those who believe in choosing the most democratic system – not because it is to the advantage of their political ideology but because it is the system which is based upon consent.
It would be absurd for me to expand on the final group. It is self-explanatory.
And there are my thoughts.
But ultimately – Be honest.
You don’t need political myth-making (otherwise known as spin) if your arguments hold merit.
(Note: If tingedfringe reads this and would like to take proper credit for the above, please contact me using the form on the Contact page.)