Do. Not. Understand. (anti-AV arguments)

September 1, 2010

I remain bewildered by the Right’s conviction that AV will make it more difficult to remove a government and that this somehow counts against AV. The comments on this IEA piece are rather indicative. I suspect that this is going to be the main thrust of the No2AV campaign; not least the statements from the main players about ‘accountability‘ seem to indicate this. However, on even cursory examination this makes no sense whatsoever.

Under FPTP, an MP can remain in office with only 30% of the vote – even if the remaining 70% of the electorate despise him. All it takes for this to happen is that 70% to be divided between three alternative candidates – just to show I’m unbiased, look at this example of a Lib Dem winning in Norwich South on 29.4%. Under AV, the transfer of votes from the Greens mean that Simon Wright would’ve almost certainly lost to Labour.

A more obvious example is Luton South, the former seat of Margaret Moran. There was a clear majority of anti-Labour votes based on Moran’s expenses controversies, but yet Labour got back in even with a 7.9% swing against them. This is a clear case of FPTP protecting a discredited local party from the implications of their abuses – not to even go into Mark Thompson’s analysis of expense abuses by safety of seat. AV goes a long way towards eliminating safe seats by substantially reducing the level at which a seat can be considered ‘safe’ – absolute majorities count for a lot less under AV than relative majorities. There is no way in which this cannot be considered to provide more accountability.

The other bizarre issue the Right raises is the power to reject a government. This appears to be a confusion about what a government is, or indeed a political party. Any party is a coalition of a variety of different agendas, policies and programmes, in most cases individuated down to the level of the individual themselves. A party’s manifesto is an amalgam of these; the mean of the beliefs of everyone within that party (at least theoretically). A coalition between parties is exactly the same, except with fewer formal structures.

The policy agenda delivered by a government is the result of that amalgamation. Correspondingly, voters never reject a particular government, they reject the individuals who support that particular policy agenda. AV facilitates this, as discussed above. The Right appears convinced that the rejection of sufficient numbers of individuals across a given geographic area (corresponding to the constituencies of our electoral system) is enough to justify pushing out that policy platform entirely. This misses the point that the policy platform may remain in operation if sufficient individuals have been elected who support it, even if they are wearing the wrong badge. For example, New Labour continued many of the lassez faire policies of the Tories, despite wearing different badges. The policy platform of the Tories was not rejected wholesale. The emphasis merely shifted marginally, if you looked really closely.

It needs to be said again: rejecting a party is not the same as rejecting a policy platform. British politics is not Manichean. It’s individuals that matter, and AV gives voters more power to reject – or elect – a given individual than FPTP. The Right’s arguments against AV are just plain weird. It’s almost as though they have an alternate agenda they daren’t spell out.

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