One of the common complaints amongst the commentariat is that of the rise of the political class, Peter Oborne’s phrase; a collection of MPs who have risen through the ranks of parliamentary researcher to think tank worker before jumping into elected politics. This professionalisation of politics is portrayed as a bad thing, as though newspaper columnists would prefer politicians who are ignorant of politics to rule over them. This is equivalent to only ever hiring amateur plumbers to fix leaky pipes, and has a great deal to do with opinion-formers resenting the way in which their choice of career has ruled them out of holding real power.

However, it does contain a grain of truth, and it’s something which David Miliband’s decision to leave the people of South Shields behind in order to pursue a different career in the States illustrates: the professionalisation of politics means that it is perceived as a career ‘option’ by people leaving university rather a calling to serve the public, from which quitting half way through would be seen as churlish. It can be seen as such because it has such a clear structure for the scions of old Labour and Conservative families: after a spell in a think tank, one proves one’s worth through being a councillor, contesting an unwinnable seat, and then being landed with a plump safe seat. One can opt for this path without having to demonstrate that one actually cares about the people one represents; when you’ll win regardless of how much engagement with the public you do, as Labour does in South Shields, then one is never required to confront one’s duty to serve them.

David Miliband has realised that he is unlikely to progress further in politics, in this case thanks to the likelihood of his brother becoming Prime Minister by default. He has felt able to duck out half way through to take up another career path rather than sticking it out for a couple of years in order to do right by the people who voted him in. He’s able to do so because he’s in a safe seat: South Shields will vote Labour even if they put up the resurrected corpse of Jimmy Saville. The seat hasn’t changed hands since 1935. Any damage to his party is minimised as a result. It’s very clear that he views politics as a career in which flitting between jobs, as one could do in other walks of life, is not a bad thing. Safe seats facilitate this view; if you can get a parliamentary seat purely through moving around to the most appropriate place to get elected, then you’re never exposed to the need to fight for popular support, which is what separates MPs (theoretically) from technocrats.

If the commentariat really want to prevent the rise of career politicians, then they would do well to support electoral reform the next time it comes round. Only by requiring aspiring politicians to risk their future on the altar of the electorate do you prevent it from becoming a ‘career choice’.

Lib Dem Voice has a consultation up on the review of the AV campaign being carried out centrally. I thought I’d put my response to it up here:

1. Did you do any telephone canvassing? Did you enjoy it? If not why not? If so, how would you improve the process?

I undertook many telephone canvassing sessions. Generally, they were positive, however when the campaign decided to abandon persuasive canvassing on legal grounds, they became less so. Focusing on telephone canvassing was a strategic mistake; we should’ve been out on the doorsteps from September onwards. ‘Grassroots’ means ‘where people actually live’, which means ‘doorsteps’.

2. How would you have improved the literature?

The design was generally to a high standard, however many elements of the messaging were poor. I would in particular focus on ‘Make your MP work harder’ message, which was rather opaque. The focus groups that gave rise to this message were flawed: those groups were educated in advance about how AV works, which allowed a complex message to resonate more strongly than would otherwise have been the case. The connection wasn’t clear to someone without a fairly in-depth grasp of how electoral politics works in practice, which unfortunately is not the case for the majority of the population.

We got some fantastic leaflets towards the end, which lumped the supporters of the Yes vote against the No-supporting parties, and asked the public to decide whose side they were on. Given that the BNP was urging a ‘no’ vote, these should’ve been widely distributed in BME areas. That they weren’t was seemingly a result of what I can only describe as ‘wets’ being nervous about reverse dog-whistle politics.

3. How was your relationship with activists from other political parties?

Mixed. The local Labour Party was fiercely opposed to a Yes vote, and we only received support from individual activists – even though the head of Labour Yes was a councillor in the borough. Anecdotally she was forbidden from campaigning in Islington by her fellow councillors.

The Greens were very supportive, and we worked well with them. I abetted this relationship by taking an ostensibly apolitical stance for the entirety of the campaign; I judged this campaign to be too important to allow any party loyalties to interfere with its delivery. Besides, following the tuition fees debacle it was reasonably easy to not feel like being a Lib Dem.

We had no idea who the local UKIP branch was at all, despite efforts to find out. This is a broader criticism of the campaign – we should’ve reached out to the only right-wing party backing a Yes vote. That we did not I lay at the feet of the trendy lefties in the centre, who did not understand how to build a political consensus.

4. Did the Yes campaign marshal activists in your area effectively? If not how could it have been improved?

I was the local organiser for the campaign, and have been relentlessly self-critical about the number of people we got out onto the streets, even though we won and had plenty of people out on the day and the weeks before. I failed to:

– Make enough phone calls to get people out for campaigning events

– Give up on street stalls and phone banking early enough in favour of door-knocking, when it became clear that the former wasn’t attracting enough support and the latter was a pointless waste of time in the absence of a proper GOTV operation.

– Bully the centre sufficiently into providing us with enough high-quality ‘out’ leaflets for doorknocking. We ran out on several occasions, which disheartened some of our activists who felt that knocking on empty houses without them was a waste of time.

– Carry out more ‘one-to-one’ briefing sessions with key activists, which I found to be a very effective way of engaging people in the campaign.

Having said that, I have one very major criticism of local activist ‘marshalling’ that had nothing to do with me. I was not allowed access to the mailing list of local people who signed up by the national website, which remained with the regional staff. This meant I was frequently unable to get emails, like event reminders, sent out to supporters because they were going out on the same day as national emails, and the centre was worried about spamming. There is no other way to describe this decision than stupid.

5. Did you find channels of communication with the Yes Campaign hierarchy open or closed?

While the regional organisers deserve to be commended for the amount of time they spent sending my complaints back to the centre, what actually happened at the centre was almost entirely opaque. Decision-making seemed largely capricious, and the final decision to focus on doorknocking I could only interpret as the centre finally catching on to their error in focusing on telecanvassing.

6. With the benefit of hindsight, how would you have liked to have seen the Yes campaignin your area run?

My ideal campaign begins in September 2010 with a relentless focus on grassroots organising, via a series of large group meetings of everyone on the various databases that became the Yes supporters database, followed up by one-to-ones with as many key activists as possible. Explanatory leaflets on AV start going out in November, with one per month till February. Doorknocking starts once-weekly in September, and moves to twice-weekly in the New Year. We develop a proper relationship with the local press in the New Year, selling in a package about why activists are devoting so much of their time to voting reform. Our leaflets contain simple messages that do not rely on an understanding of AV to be effective. We target particular groups, including BME people and students assiduously. We have a small local budget we use for our events and for particular leaflets focused on local issues. We have a proper cross-party forum for discussion of campaigning tactics.

This is all mostly textbook stuff, with the exception of the community organising elements. This is what I thought a grassroots campaign would look like. The Yes campaign did not run a grassroots campaign; they ran what people who’ve worked in NGOs their entire lives think a grassroots campaign looks like.

7. And nationally, how could the Yes campaign have been improved?

The list is too long to go into, but Andy May’s now famous document is a good start. I’d like to pick up on a few points from it:

– Actually sending out a Freepost mailing to every house in the country. The person who made the decision to not do this should never work in politics, campaigns or communications ever again. This is unforgiveable.

– Not hiring quite so many expensive consultants and managing the ones that you do hire properly.

– Reach out to all your supporters, including the ones you personally find distasteful. It’s a measure of your commitment to an issue that you’re willing to work with people you ostensibly despise in order to achieve it; the issue is more important than the fact you don’t like UKIP.

– In fact, this extends beyond UKIP. Labour Yes barely talked to the central campaign at all. All the party Yes groups should’ve been round the same table at least once a fortnight.

– Not being afraid to engage in reverse dog-whistle politics. I would’ve put up billboards with two pictures on them: Nick Clegg and Nick Griffin, and asked the public which Nick they preferred. That the Yes campaign did not do this meant the No campaign was free to use Clegg against them.

– Perhaps most importantly, celebrities are not people, they’re artificial media contrivances. Eddie Izzard was never going to change the mind of a granny who lives on an estate. Someone knocking on her door might have done. A ‘peoples’ campaign should involve as many people as possible making their own decisions about how to effectively campaign.

8. Could the Liberal Democrats have fed into the Yes campaign better?

Yes. We could’ve not put John Sharkey in charge of it. I’ve yet to see a response by him to Andy May’s allegations. Not making that response is a tacit acceptance of their truth.

9. What did the Yes campaign do well?

The elements of community organising they brought in at the start – I’d like to particularly cite George Gabriel here – were excellent and a breath of fresh air. It’s a pity they then decided to ignore them entirely in favour of the mixed bag of centralised control and cock-ups they tried next.

10. How would you fight a future referendum campaign on electoral reform differently?

I’ve covered much of this already above, but there’s one important principle I’d like to raise here. I’m in favour of electoral reform because I believe a government over which people have more real influence is a better government. Similarly, I believe a campaign for electoral reform over which all of its participants have real influence is a better campaign.

A grassroots campaign involves ceding as much power and decision-making as possible to the grassroots. Some of them might cock up. Some of them might perform brilliantly. However, they’ll demonstrate that the freedom to have influence, when distributed as widely as possible, can achieve great things.

Everyone, that is, on the Left, including socialist gnome Laurie Penny, charming greenie Adam Ramsay, and the oddballs at OpenDemocracy, have seemingly managed to convince themselves that the sudden spurt of protests that happened in Spain during their recent local elections are the prelude to a revolution.  As I write, news of the protests growing larger is trickling through the internet – my favourite source being the Something Awful Forums, who courtesy of the world-wide reach of IT spoddery have representatives on every continent.

The big problem for everyone describing this as a ‘revolution’ is that the biggest chunk of Spaniards have just voted for their version of the Conservative Party. They won 37% of the vote across the country, giving them a clear lead over the 28% garnered by the Socialists. Over half the electorate voting for the status quo in the form of the two establishment parties isn’t a recipe for immanent revolution.

This is recognised by the protesters at least, who’ve come up with a set of demands which are broadly radical but aren’t asking for ownership of the means of production or similar. There’s a collection of demands for political transparency and accountability, several requests for more transfer payments to young people, a broad commitment to better-funded public services and, of course, a Tobin Tax. Mostly these are left-wing talking points without a broader political or economic philosophy behind them beyond ‘More of nice things, please’.

However, the big push of the protest is, interestingly, against Spain’s electoral system, which manages to somehow be perhaps worse than ours. They use the d’Hondt method to elect 350 members of the national legislature in 52 relatively small constituencies, meaning each constituency has an average number of representatives of about 6. Such a small number of representatives being elected under d’Hondt means that the results will be biased towards the two largest national parties, as well as strong regional parties. Because it’s d’Hondt, you vote for parties rather than individual representatives, electing members from the party lists. Especially at the local level, being unable to vote for an individual rather than a party – in a system which allows for a significant number of political appointees – breeds corruption.

The current Socialist government has been implementing austerity measures in an attempt to reassure its creditors that Spain is not going to default, even though it’s been suggested that they probably should. When a left-wing party is implementing austerity measures, the unemployed and the young have literally no-one to vote for who will represent their economic interests – at least, anyone with a chance of getting in. They are, much like certain types of labour in the UK, subject to market forces beyond the control of their Government. And they simply can’t compete in the context of a higher cost of living than that of their peers in the developing world.

Not unreasonably, they want their point of view to have a seat at the table. If they can’t get access to the structures of power by traditional means, they’re required to put on a demonstration of force, which is what a protest has always been. Exactly the same applied to the student protests last year – having had what they believed to be their mechanism for putting their point of view to power removed by my party’s sudden conversion to the cause of tuition fees, their protest was an effort to demonstrate the power available to them and demand a say.

I don’t find any of this immoral, I simply disagree with the temporary measures that are in the short-term economic interests of the people protesting in Spain. Protection from international competition would, in the long run, make Spain poorer. This is recognised by the originators of the document I gave above, which instead is a call for democratic reform rather than economic reform per se. They want a seat at the table, and they’re demonstrating the force that they believe entitles them to it. This is not a revolution, merely democracy carried out by other means.

One of the (few) things I remember from being a nipper at Middle School are my History lessons, largely because of my teacher, Mr Scialuga. He was a highly entertaining Spaniard whose lessons were packed with the sort of anecdotes that are highly amusing to ten-year-olds – castles taken by spies climbing up garderobes, King Harald’s victory over the Chelsea supporters at Stamford Bridge, and so on.

He also imparted one rather sage bit of wisdom, which to me explained a significant amount of our history: The British Establishment always knows when to give a little ground to avoid revolution. Indeed, compared to our colleagues on the Continent, the history of British politics over the last couple of hundred years has been one of marked stability. We’ve had no revolutions, no wholesale reorganisation of our parliament, or indeed major alterations of territory following internal wars. Except Ireland, but that’s a whole other island so doesn’t count.

This can, in large part, be attributed to the willingness of the Establishment to undertake reform when it appears necessary to avoid further unrest. The historical strategy of the top ranks of British society with regard to ensuring their grip on power has always been to invite dissenters into its midst and make them their own. This involves a certain loss of power, to be sure, but losing a slice of the pie is far preferable to losing the entire pie.

I’m bringing this up now as the decision of Cameron to come out and fight for the No2AV campaign appears to have been critical for its success. Not only that, the solid closing of Conservative and Labour ranks under that banner was, quite frankly, astonishing – the tribalists in each party seemingly able to put aside their tribalism for the sake of an electoral system that allows them to continue being, well, tribal.

This was very clearly an Establishment victory. But as an Establishment victory, it falls out of the pattern identified above, inasmuch as it appears to aim at more instability, rather than less. Let me explain.

Far from allowing a ‘progressive majority’ to triumph, which was always nonsense, AV would’ve allowed something much more important: the division of the Left. Since 1997, Labour has been unable to fully represent the economic interests of those sections of the electorate it purports to, because as consequence of globalisation, those interests have diverged. A significant section of the working population of the UK have skillsets that in the new global market are valued at less than the cost of an aspirational lifestyle in the UK. They are the losers of globalisation; the factory workers, the call-centre staff, or, perhaps the most iconic, the miners. At the same time, those slightly better off have taken advantage of the boom in cheaper consumer goods that globalisation facilitates – the near universality of mobile phones can be traced back to the comparative advantages generated by cheaper trade.

The least well off have not done well out of globalisation, but by opposing market forces Labour would’ve restricted its ability to represent those who were benefiting from the flood of cheaper goods. The consequences of this on the voting patterns of the electorate are fairly clear:

Source: ‘Trends in political participation in the UK‘.

Turnout collapsed across all social classes in 2001. While turnout amongst the better-off began to rise to pre-1997 levels in the subsequent two elections, the relative increase in turnout amongst the least well-off was tiny. Labour’s strategy of focusing on the middle classes while assuming that the lower classes had nowhere else to go paid electoral dividends, but it did so by turning off a significant chunk of those same lower classes from politics entirely. To ensure that those people didn’t start looking for other political solutions instead of not voting, Labour kept up transfer payments in the form of improved service provision, figuratively stuffing their mouths with gold, while making no moves to reform the economy along lines that would benefit them more comprehensively.

This was successful, as long as the money didn’t run out. It did, and the Labour Party is currently going through a period of introspection in an effort to resolve this internal contradiction – witness the debate between Blue Labour and Purple Labour. The result can only be a similarly unsatisfactory fudge, as long as the party continues to try to reach out to two groups with differing economic interests. My bet is that the low-skilled will be losers again, from the brutal electoral calculation that the working classes are in terminal decline.

AV would have allowed a better solution – a division of the party into a formal electoral pact between an offering to those whose economic interests are best served by protectionism and nationalisation, and those whose economic interests lie with globalisation. Both would be united by a shared commitment to the provision of public services by the State. The model would be similar to the pact between the Liberal and National parties in Australia, and would enable the least well-off to have their interests represented in Parliament.

My fellow admirers of the free market will at this point be asking why on earth I would want parliamentarians committed to protectionism and nationalisation to have any space in the national debate. The answer is that voting reform has been a long time passion of Liberals for multiple reasons, the relevant one here being stability. If you give everyone an opportunity to have an input into the political process, then you reduce the incentive for civil unrest, because everyone has a stake in society. If there’s one thing the free market requires, it’s stability. The Establishment has moved to ensure that a significant chunk of the electorate will not have the chance to sit at the political table. This, I would aver, is a serious strategic mistake.

I’m not saying that the outcome of the referendum will indirectly lead to riots, merely that it makes civil unrest amongst those whose voices aren’t being heard more likely. Labour avoided this by effectively paying off the losers of globalisation; the Conservative approach has always been to hope that economic growth will be sufficient to somehow buy them off. This is something of a gamble, but it may yet work. I would’ve preferred the Liberal approach of redistributing power rather than money, but the electorate has spoken. It wants money instead. Pity we don’t have any.

AV Post-Mortems

May 9, 2011

A selection of interesting links on the failure of the Yes campaign:

Conservative Home’s Story of the AV Campaign

A fascinating study of how the No campaign developed over time. It confirms that Cameron’s whole-hearted support was crucial in their success, and that much of their messaging was formed by the work of Lynton Crosby, he of ‘dog whistle’ fame.

Liberal Vision’s ‘The humiliation of the Yes campaign’

A broadly correct analysis of the Yes campaign’s failings. I would like to highlight how it focuses on the way in which the campaign was run by luvvies for luvvies.

James Graham’s ‘Crawling from the Wreckage’

I am disappointed that James didn’t take the opportunity to have a proper go at the campaign, but I am somewhat heartened by his optimism that it’s not game over for supporters of electoral reform – a conclusion I would supprt.

Rupert Read’s post-mortem on LibCon

While a lot of this is typical Rupert, he does point out that one of the most egregious errors of the Yes campaign was to not do a full Freepost to everyone in the country. I have to admit, as someone who’s done these before, I smacked myself about the face a bit when I heard this. This isn’t a tactical error, it’s a colossal fucking mistake that someone should be shot for.

I’ll be putting up my own analysis sometime this week, but in the interim I’d like to highlight one particular fact. If you ran a campaign in a local borough, you weren’t allowed access to the email addresses of people from your borough who’d signed up from the main website. Emails to these people could only be sent out by the central campaign. And these emails could only go out on days on which a national email wasn’t being sent. I lost count of the number of events I couldn’t publicise because e-petition no. #3412 just had to be sent to the great British public.

This was a grassroots campaign in which grassroots campaigners weren’t allowed to talk to each other. I would attribute our success in Islington in part to my taking email addresses from volunteers so I could contact them directly, and browbeating the regional staff into sending out emails in any available slot. I would imagine this holds true for Hackney as well, who had a very well developed local communications network.

Electoral Anger

April 19, 2011

An interesting post from Chris Dillow on Cameron’s ‘gut feelings’ around the AV referendum. Interesting indeed, because towards the end of the post he appears to be moving towards a similar ‘gut feeling’ about the lack of justice inherent in the power structures Cameron is seeking to defend.

He is right to do so; one of the features of this referendum has been the very clear dividing line between those who are seeking to defend our current structures of power and those who are seeking to overturn them, however slightly. At the gut level, liberalism is about power – not legalistic theories or shopping lists of rights. It’s about feeling – and I do mean feeling – that the concentration of power in the hands of any one individual or group is an abomination. If necessary, that power must be wrested from them and distributed as widely as possible.

AV accomplishes that in a minor way by permitting preferential voting, handing voters the power to express their democratic preferences outwith the framework of the main parties without simultaneously losing their influence. It is bad for the sort of American-style tribal politics which keeps the electorate locked up in two boxes, never allowing a diversity of opinion to flourish. To oppose it is revealing – it implies that you prefer to restrain public opinion, lest it become too diverse and your interests become threatened. It is this, therefore, which lies at the root of the opposition of rightwing libertarians; to them, freedom is only something that is acceptable inasmuch as it does not threaten the interests of capital. That is not liberalism, and is indeed a long way from it.

So therefore, my fellow campaigners, I would urge you to get angry. The polls aren’t looking good for us, and the only thing that might save the campaign right now is reaching out at the gut level to our latent supporters – who are everyone whose interests do not lie in the current structures of power.

Something’s bothering me about one of the arguments used by the NO2AV campaign:

1) AV benefits the least unpopular party

2) AV will benefit the Lib Dems

3) You should vote against AV because the Lib Dems are unpopular.

Bit of a big assumption there, wouldn’t you say?

I’m currently reading The Sublime Object of Ideology by left-wing darling Zizek. I’m not particularly impressed thus far – it appears to be largely the sort of intellectual dandyism beloved by the continentals; relatively simplistic concepts with minor variations hidden behind a veneer of excessive nomenclature. However, he has reminded me of an interesting philosophical trend which has bearing upon the current debate.

Let’s look at the phrase ‘ontological priority’. This is a fancy way of saying that something has to be the case for something else to be the case. Zizek uses it with reference to Marxists who think we need to overthrow the current economic order in order to sort out all of society’s ills. This ontological prioricity is also applied by other non-economic fundamentalists; people who believe that sorting out our ecological impacts will solve everything else, people who believe that sorting out the imbalance in male/female power will solve everything else, and of course people who believe that the imposition of Sharia will solve everything else.

It’s not really clear that anyone really holds such a simplistic viewpoint (although it is clear that some people genuinely believe that eco-damage is a consequence of capitalism and would never happen in a socialist utopia), but it is clear that people have a tendency to cluster around totemic explanations of the world, the answers to which will improve all aspects of society. You have the people who believe that society should aim towards incoherent concepts like ‘fairness’ or ‘progressivism’, those who believe society should aim towards some kind of classical liberalism, and those who apparently believe that if only we could improve everyone’s ‘capabilities’ society would advance.

My own totem, of course, is that society would be improved across the board if everyone focused more on cultivating their judgement, but it’s important to recognise that there are plenty of totems about. Most people have some kind of ontological priority – however weak – that informs their political judgements. Ask yourself how you would modify our contemporary society in order to begin to elucidate yours.

‘Moving society forward’ is something that is done by society; by the aggregate of all our judgements, not by the imposition of one priority or another. In order to give enough space to competing explanations of the world, we need a pluralistic system of dividing power. In this sense, the opposition of many of the Labour old guard to electoral reform is telling: they are reluctant to give this space to alternate understandings of ontological priority, as their priority is, well, their priority. However – and this is where the debate comes in – anti-essentialists would argue that there is no such thing as an ontological priority with respect to society, and all views must have the opportunity to be represented with society’s power structures.

AV, inasmuch as it provides smaller parties with a better understanding of their support, is a move towards this. It will necessarily be opposed by individuals with an investment in a particular explanation of society’s ills, which may explain why it’s being opposed by many libertarians. My advice to them would be to ditch their ontological priorities and come and join us in the glorious liberal opinion-melange.

Benedict Brogan of the Telegraph is convinced that the date of the Royal wedding is a gift to the AV campaign. Quite apart from the pathetic tabloidism inherent in trying to force any story at all through the prism of the forthcoming monarchical nuptials, this is so obviously stupid I find it difficult to believe that Mr Brogan is allowed to write in a grown-up newspaper.

The thing that will decide the AV referendum next year will be turnout. A low turnout means that we’re more likely to win, a high turnout means we’re more likely to lose. This is because people are much more likely to turn out to vote on AV alone if they understand the issues involved, and if they understand the issues involved, they’re much more likely to vote Yes. Much as I respect the effort put into the AV campaign, we are never going to have the opportunity to fully explain the workings of AV to a majority of the population in time for the election. Our best chance of success is if those who simply don’t know enough about the issue to be fully engaged stay at home – and a Royal Wedding makes it much more likely that this will happen. This is also why it’s been said that the higher turnout that will be a consequence of holding the referendum on the same day as local elections and elections to the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament is bad news for the Yes campaign. It doesn’t work both ways – either a high turnout is good for us, or a low turnout is.

I’ve been doing my best to give myself an education in economics recently by reading anything I can on the subject, and am currently ploughing my way through Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, although ‘ploughing’ implies faster progress than has actually been the case. One of Schumpeter’s arguments – or, perhaps, talking points – about democracy focuses around the relative mental effort expended by the demos on those things over which they have little influence, and hence little responsibility.

This is broadly accurate, as anyone who’s ever tried organising anything by committee can tell you. People expend far less effort on anything for which responsibility is shared. The best way of making sure that something is done is by making it someone’s responsibility; depending on the reliability of that person, of course. Schumpeter seems to claim that something similar applies to democracy: because the relative responsibility of the individual with regard to society is very low, the individual spends relatively little of their mental energies on learning about politics and politicians, allowing themselves to be guided far more by emotion and intuition than in other areas of life. This is an astonishing insight, given that the psychological research that actually proved this point didn’t happen for another 60 years.

Schumpeter provides an explanatory framework for those results – one which is intuitively plausible. We can cash this out as the proposition that the greater the responsibility one has for a given outcome, the greater the level of mental effort one is likely to expend on affecting it.

It should be relatively obvious as to how this relates to electoral reform, but I’ll map it out with an example just in case. I’ll use the 2010 result from Islington South & Finsbury:

Labour Emily Thornberry 18,407
Liberal Democrat Bridget Fox 14,838
Conservative Antonia Cox 8,449
Green James Humphreys 710
UKIP Rose-Marie McDonald 701
English Democrats John Dodds 301
Animals Count Richard Deboo 149

It’s clear that there were only two parties whose results are relevant; other votes had no chance to affect the outcome. The total votes cast were 43,555. Of these, 33,245 were ‘relevant’ in this sense. If someone had voted at random in this election, it would’ve had a 0.763 chance of affecting the outcome. Or, a 0.237 chance of being irrelevant.

It’s a bit presumptuous to assume that everyone voting under AV will use all their preferences when they vote. To be conservative about this, let’s assume that only half the voters for each eliminated candidate did so, and distribute them evenly between the two candidates.

Round 1:

Animals Count (149) eliminated. Lab 18444, LD 14875.

Round 2:

English Democrats (301) eliminated. Lab 18519, LD 14950.

Round 3:

UKIP eliminated (701). Lab 18694, LD 15125.

Round 4:

Greens eliminated (710). Lab 18871, LD 15302.

Round 5:

Conservatives eliminated (8449). Lab 20893, LD 17414. Lab wins.

In this version of the contest, 38307 votes were ‘relevant’, meaning that a person voting randomly would’ve had a 0.88 chance of affecting the outcome – an increase of 0.117. Even under very conservative assumptions, AV produced an increase in the probability of any given individual voter affecting the outcome of 12%. This is a direct increase of the influence of an individual over the outcome of the election; in essence, increasing their power over the process of electing a representative.

And, as Peter Parker nearly knows, with greater power comes greater responsibility. AV will produce an increase in political engagement across the population, because it will give everyone greater responsibility for the outcome. This increase will be probabilistic in nature and is based on the assumptions given above, but nonetheless is intuitively plausible. It takes a (slightly) greater mental effort to rank candidates in order than it does to put a cross in a box.