It helps to be sceptical on the AV debate

The referendum on the alternative vote is an issue of high constitutional importance and passions run high one way or another among political commentators.

On the other hand, the technical differences between voting systems are often lost on members of the public who may not have time to research the subject in depth.

To give an anecdotal example, I asked my Mother, a Technical Director for a multi – national shipping firm, which way she would vote. She said she would support the Alternative Vote system (AV) because it allows for proportional representation (PR). It does not. That’s why before the election, the Liberal Democrats were in favour of a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, which is a PR system, instead of AV.

The general public confusion allows commentators to be somewhat economical with the truth. That’s why it helps to be sceptical when reading the claims of both sides.

Blogging in the Telegraph, journalist and Tory MEP Daniel Hannan lists the following as the third reason (of ten) not to support AV:

‘Supporters of fringe parties can end up having their vote counted five or six times – and potentially decide the outcome of the election – while people who backed the mainstream candidates only get one vote.’

This claim is patently untrue as Andrew Rawnsley, Chief Political Commentator for the Observer explains, in any recount the supporters of the mainstream parties get their votes recounted too.

‘Mr Grey, Mrs Purple and Miss White stand for election. In the first round, if one of them attracts the support of more than half of the voters, that person is elected. Each voter has voted once. If none of the contenders can command majority backing first time around, the candidate with the least support drops out and there is a second round. Let us say that Mr Grey – not a popular chap – is the candidate eliminated. The second preferences of his supporters are now redistributed between Mrs Purple and Miss White.’

So ‘yes, you can say that Mr Grey’s supporters have voted again. But, crucially, so too have the original supporters of Mrs Purple and Miss White.’

That quote is from a pro AV piece by Mr Rawnsley, one which contains its own potentially misleading comment.

A key criticism of AV (that Hannan hints at) is that it benefits small extremist parties such as the BNP. Rawnsley retorts ‘Yet if AV really would be such a boost to fascists you’d expect the BNP to be enthusiasts for it. They are actually campaigning on the No side’

Rawnsley fails to mention that the BNP are not supporters of the current system First Past the Post (FPTP). Quite the contrary, they oppose AV because they would much prefer a ‘party List proportional Representation (PLPR)’ system. So it could well be that AV is a boost to the fascists but that they prefer an even bigger boost from greater proportional representation.

*To be fair to Rawnsley, the BNP do describe the AV method as ‘even more unfair [to smaller parties]’ then FPTP in that article but they give no clear reason why apart from saying ‘[our] votes will be redistributed to other parties’ in case of a recount. It is unclear how that is ‘worse’ than such votes being ignored as under FPTP or why anyone would expect a logically coherent article on their website.


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