Why I’m voting no to AV

with 62 comments

I’ve held out from writing a post about the Alternative Vote referendum for a simple reason: electoral reform bores me to the point of tears. I’m far from being alone. Outside of a bubble inhabited by politicos and hacks, very few people have any real interest in the nuts and bolts of our electoral system.

Just because an issue generates widespread apathy doesn’t mean it isn’t important, of course. But I am frustrated about this referendum because it has proved an unwelcome distraction from fighting an aggressively right-wing government determined to take the Thatcherite project to its logical conclusion. I resent the fact we are all spending so much time on a sop thrown by the Tories to the Liberal Democrats in exchange for backing almost their entire domestic policy programme.

It’s also a distraction from the absolute outrage of the Tories gerrymandering the electoral system in their favour, as Nick Brown points out. Worryingly, we all seem to have forgotten about this.

Both the No2AV and Yes2AV camps have waged diabolical campaigns that have cynically manipulated people’s resentment of the political establishment. The amount of bile thrown has been bewildering and speaks volumes about the sorts of people who think that electoral reform is the most pressing issue facing modern Britain.

There are good reasons for me to consider voting ‘Yes’. Being on the left and defending the status quo is always a funny position to find yourself in, and one to be avoided if possible. But being on the left does not – or should not – be about supporting change for the sake of it.

The other reason is far more compelling on an emotional level. The Tories are almost unanimously against the proposed change. Anti-Toryism is almost a gut instinct, inherited both from my socialist extended family and Northern upbringing. The idea of being on the same side of them on any issue makes me deeply uncomfortable, to put it mildly.

But this would be more of a concern if – like New Labour before the financial crash – I found myself on the same side as the Tories on, say, economic policies. A politically diverse range of people can always be found opposed to any given change, but for completely different reasons. Just because the BNP opposed the Iraq War, doesn’t mean I somehow found myself aligned with them.

And then there’s the criticisms of First Past The Post that it’s completely undemocratic because it allows parties elected on a minority of the vote to win a majority of the seats. They have a point: there is something manifestly undemocratic about that.

But no electoral system is truly democratic. Other systems make coalitions more likely, and I don’t think there’s anything partly democratic about them: you end up with governments no-one voted for, often cobbled together behind closed doors. Take Germany – which operates the Mixed Member Proportional Representation system. Not only does it mean that the free-market liberal Free Democrats are always likely to be in government, however low their share of the vote: it also produced the Grand Coalition of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats in 2005. Who really voted for that?

There are all sorts of good arguments against the Alternative Vote that undermine its claims to be more democratic: like the fact it can produce results that are even less proportional than First Past The Post. I agree with those criticisms, but it’s not the basis of my opposition.

Above all, I oppose the Alternative Vote because I think it will institutionalise mushy centrist politics. I think that’s exactly the aim of many of its staunchest supporters, because they are (and I hope they don’t take offence to the description) mushy centrists and want an electoral system most likely to ensure their ideology dominates. They are completely entitled to that, but given I’m not a mushy centrist – I’m an unapologetic left-winger who wants a left-wing government – I have every reason for wanting to stop them achieving their aim.

This article by academic Monica Threlfall sets out the reasons why. Above all, the Alternative Vote risks making Liberal Democrats the kingmakers of British politics. It’s not just that it will make coalitions more likely (more on that in a minute). Given both Tory and Labour voters are highly unlikely to second preference the opponents of their respective parties, it will be Liberal Democrat second preferences that everyone will be chasing. A party that – let’s face it – can probably expect to get 15% of the vote tops will become the focal point of our entire political system.

But it is the fact that it makes coalitions with Liberal Democrats so much more likely that particularly concerns me. The hardcore Blairite agenda – the so-called ‘Project’ – was to sever Labour’s union link, merge with the Liberal Democrats and form a new US Democratic-style ‘progressive’ party. Such Blairites always felt that Labour’s split from the Liberals in 1905 was a historic mistake that divided Britain’s ‘progressives’. In his ambition to further the ‘Project’, Blair wanted to bring Liberal Democrats into government after the 1997 general election. He was prevented from doing so by Labour’s landslide victory, and opposition from within the Party.

The Alternative Vote could bring this dream alive again and help cripple Labourism as a political force. A long-term political alliance with the Liberal Democrats would be a permanent counterweight to the trade union link and the party’s left. Bold left policies would be ruled as politically impossible.

It could also be true that the Tories have very little to fear from AV. Those anti-Tory voters who plumped for the Liberal Democrats because they thought Labour was too right-wing have spent the last year kicking themselves. Can anyone envisage them ever making the same mistake again? It means the remaining Liberal Democrats are disproportionately pro-Tory. According to YouGov, Tory and Lib Dem voters are likely to second preference each other as thing stand.

Yes, the Alternative Vote will make Tory majority governments less likely. That’s why the Tories are so opposed to it. But as we’ve seen, the reality is an alliance with the Lib Dems hasn’t prevented them implementing a hard right Tory agenda. The Tory wets put up more of a fight under early Thatcher than the Lib Dems have with Cameron’s lot.

Let’s be clear: the Liberal Democrats want to change the electoral system because of party advantage. The British Liberals only started talking about electoral reform when Labourism purged them as the country’s second party in the 1920s.

And I’ll be completely honest: I oppose a change in electoral system because it will make a left-wing Labour government less likely; it will make undemocratic coalitions with the Liberal Democrats more likely; and it will make Tory-led governments more likely.

If you want to avoid those outcomes, then I urge you to vote against AV.

Written by Owen Jones

April 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

62 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Excellently written and utterly convincing. You have more than confirmed my own views.


    April 20, 2011 at 10:25 am

  2. I have considerable sympathy for this point of view. But where’s the evidence for your assertions? What about an alternative scenario that sees the Greens (who are far to the left of Labour on many issues, as well as weirdly right wing on others) getting a large number of second preference votes?


    April 20, 2011 at 10:31 am

    • samjordison: It doesn’t much matter if the greens do get a lot of second preferences. If they don’t get enough first preferences to overtake at least one of the big three, those second preferences are unlikely to ever be counted.

      Tom W

      April 20, 2011 at 10:44 am

  3. It’s a persuasive argument but I’m not sure you too haven’t fallen into the trap of giving electoral systems more credence and power than they actually have (the common mistake of the pro-AV chinstroking liberals and constitutional nerds).

    If we want a leftwing Labour government – and I do – then it won’t be delivered by either FPTP or AV (or anything else) but by changing the political weather elsewhere – on the (metaphorical and actual) streets as it were.

    An alternative, optimistic reading, would be that the LibDems are on the way to being destroyed as a third party, as a result of their Orange Book antics with the Tories in government. Who becomes the third party after that is up for grabs: it could be UKIP, but it could be the Greens who – whatever one’s reservations about some elements of them – have more socialists and generally sound people in their ranks than anyone else. A coalition between a left-leaning Labour party and the greens would certainly be a better option than, well, what we had for much of the past 13 years – a hard-right led Labour government whose only concerns electorally were winning marginal seats under FPTP, and tacking even harder to the right as a result.

    AV is a crap system, FPTP is a crap system. I really don’t think it makes much difference either way, We change our political culture, we defeat the mushy centrists (and I share your loathing for them) elsewhere

    Tom Davies

    April 20, 2011 at 10:43 am

    • Tom, that’s all true of course, but then that opens the door to another argument for voting No – just look at the amount of hope being invested in the Yes campaign, including by some on the left who should no better. AV, we are told, will transform our political culture, making it ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’. This is a source of false hope, and a distraction from – what you correctly identify as – the real business of class politics. Best to puncture the bubble of illusion now rather than later!


      April 20, 2011 at 10:58 am

  4. First, thank you for writing a “No” argument that doesn’t make me want to scream, it’s appreciated.. I could ramble endlessly, but I want to tackle this one issue:

    Above all, the Alternative Vote risks making Liberal Democrats the kingmakers of British politics

    I’d be inclined to disagree with this. It might happen in the first iteration, but in subsequent elections I think the Liberal Democrats stand to lose out. They’ve already lost the Tuition Fees voting bloc, and AV robs them of the “X Can’t Win Here” argument too.

    I personally feel that the “X Can’t Win Here” call to vote tactically is one of the most undemocratic aspects of our current system, because it creates a barrier to entry for new ideas, and actually drives a multi-party system towards a two-party race in each constituency. A seat split 35/35/30 between Tories, Lib Dems and Labour is liable to shed Labour votes for no other reason than through anti-Tory tactical voting in favour of the Lib Dems. You end up with a split of 35/40/25, at which point out come the “Labour Can’t Win Here” leaflets, only further damaging that part of the vote.

    It’s my sincere hope that the next election, if held under AV, will be the true turning point. People’s first preferences will be for their true preferred party, and that will shatter the myth that nobody other than the two “main” parties in a constituency enjoys any significant support. In many seats that are closely contested by the Liberal Democrats they may well find that their first preferences collapse, and that they’re restricted to picking up the “anybody but X” lower priority preferences. As such, there’s a chance that in many seats, they won’t be in a position to pick up second preferences, being among the first parties to be eliminated. The 2015 election would show people what is possible, and the 2020 election would be the practical implementation of that.

    Speaking realistically, I don’t think it’ll all suddenly change in the space of one or two elections. But I think that in the longer term, the Liberal Democrats would certainly not end up kingmakers, because in the absence of tactical voting and with the betrayal of Nick Clegg, I just don’t believe their support is strong enough.

    Of course, I don’t back up any of this with stats, or evidence, and as such I don’t expect it to be a particularly convincing argument on the whole.. Just putting out there my belief (and it is just that) that actually, by breaking tactical voting, AV could signal the end of the Liberal Democrats’ current level of support at elections.


    April 20, 2011 at 10:43 am

  5. So it detracts from what should be more pertinent issues in our democratic life and at the same time it completely jeopardises our chances of another few terms of undiluted Labour (hopefully with more of the ‘Old’ thinking and a re-strengthening of unionist bonds), which is our only hope. Doesn’t that make it far more pertinent, and essential?

    Personally I am not enamoured of the back-and-forth tripartite (or two-and-a-half-party) system and believe that it has more than proven its propensity for mushy centrism (according to Blair’s model — aka The Only Way) and unaccountability, but you argue the point well enough.

    Barney Carroll

    April 20, 2011 at 10:49 am

  6. Sorry, I should clarify: when I said the Greens the Greens “had more socialists and generally sound people in their ranks than anyone else”, I mean than parties other than Labour who routinely stand in elections

    Tom Davies

    April 20, 2011 at 10:54 am

  7. Hi Owen

    I completely disagree with you on this issue.

    The current system encourages Labour to drift way past the mushy centre and deep into the right because those who run the party chase power at all costs. They look at the fact that relatively few people vote for parties more to the left like the Greens, take the moderate left vote for granted and think that they should instead be trying to steal votes from Tories by talking tough on immigration, etc.

    (I know you don’t like the Greens because of some comments made by members in the past about unions which you mistakenly take to represent party policy on the unions. That’s another debate. I’m not trying to convince you to vote Green here.)

    AV is very far from ideal but by giving people the chance to express their real preferences rather than mess around with tactically voting, you enable people to vote left. Hopefully this will give the cynics at the helm of the Labour Party the message that there is a tactical interest in not becoming Blue Labour.

    I generally agree with much of what you say and consider you – and many of the new Labour party members like Ellie Mae – to be a hope that the party might recover its soul.

    Here, however, I totally disagree and I think you are blinded by your totally understandable dislike of the Liberal Democrats.

    The Liberal Democrats are going to be slowly absorbed into the Conservatives anyway. Do you honestly believe that anyone under, say, 25 is ever going to vote for them again after their key role in destroying education?

    You’re telling people to maintain a system that gives the Tories enormous power to do harm with a tiny fraction of the votes in the hope that Labour might get another chance to wield disproportionate power in a few years time when the pendulum of despair swings back that way.

    Labour totally abused that power last time – including failing to restore rights to unions and passing the authoritarian laws now being used against peaceful protesters – so I don’t see how things will be different the next time unless things change.

    FPTP is a disgraceful system. AV is far from perfect but to vote now means that the door will be closed for electoral reform for generations.

    You believe in the parliamentary system and therefore must believe that it is in the interests of democracy that more people vote. FPTP means most have no interest in doing so and so their voices are not heard.

    This is why I am voting yes to AV and hope you might reconsider.

    Tim Hardy

    April 20, 2011 at 10:57 am

  8. You write as if political views are static. Who is to say the Liberal Democrats will remain the third party. In the future possibly the Greens, Respect or an unknown Left party could take many first preference votes and yet enable us, the none Labour Left, to then vote Labour as our second preference to keep the Tories or Lib Dems out.
    At present in many constituencies we have to vote Labour, reluctantly, to keep the Tories out. This under estimates the support for the left of labour. With AV, although not perfect (what is) allows, as in the GLA elections a left vote without undermining Labour for whom we vote second.


    April 20, 2011 at 11:00 am

  9. Interestingly I come from the dark side of politics (sorry) and assumed AV would make Labour-led governments more likely. It would seem each of us believe the LibDems true nature to favour the other!

    Not sure I agree with your summary reason, as I don’t think we should judge an electoral system on how likely it is to benefit our own political stance, however I appreciate the honesty with regards to your gut-instinct – I have something similar! And I do agree that the end result of coalitions is no more democratic (I believe less so) than a majority afforded by FPTP.

    Phil Ruse

    April 20, 2011 at 11:01 am

  10. Owen, a good post here, but I think you are wrong on this. Yes, the two campaigns have been spectacularly childish and dirty, which is why I have been less active than I was going to be in the Yes camp. And thank God someone else has mentioned the gerrymandering issue at last! Given that the Tories and their Orange pals will skew the electoral system in their favour, voting No to the only option on the table that has any chance of ameliorating this looks like Turkeys voting for Christmas.

    Clem the Gem

    April 20, 2011 at 11:05 am

  11. Really good and therefore welcome piece Owen. I tend to agree, and I’ll also be voting No because I genuinely believe that if the Yes vote wins then any chance of further reform of the system will be off the agenda for a generation. I know the same argument could be used if AV is rejected, but I believe arguing that there is still support for a better voting system after rejecting a flawed model is a more winnable position than arguing for more change on top of change.
    I agree with Tom Davies that it’s active political engagement that drives political change, and that fits in with the view, expressed by Owen, that the whole voting system debate is a bit Westminster Village. But it’s possible to agree with that and still recognise that however much change is driven from the streets, the implementation of change still needs to be done by people who are elected and accountable. And that’s why we need a voting system that allows people to vote for who they support, and for that vote to count.
    The whole debate does raise an interesting issue for the left, because my view is that we’ve neglected really looking at the detail of how we build an accountable and democratic system of government. The ‘real change comes from the streets’ argument is correct as far as it goes, but it needs to be developed to detail how that change is implemented. What does ‘people power’ really mean? How exactly are we to seize those commanding heights.
    I know many thoughtful comrades such as Tom, who I’ve worked with for years, have ideas about this, and I’d like to see the No vote I want to happen as the catalyst for a renewed discussion and formulation of the sort of system we want and how we reconnect grass roots activism with electoral politics.


    April 20, 2011 at 11:10 am

    • I believe arguing that there is still support for a better voting system after rejecting a flawed model is a more winnable position than arguing for more change on top of change

      I agree with this with one simple condition: the narrative of the result has to be positioned as a rejection of a flawed model.

      And that’s where I think this line of reasoning falls down. Many of the issues with AV are issues with wider voting reform – PR, for example, would similarly result in coalition politics with the Liberal Democrats being in a position to have a disproportionate influence over the outcome.

      Without knowing exactly what sort of reform you’d like to see, obviously I can’t say for sure that it has similar (if different) challenges to AV, but if it does, then consider whether rejection of AV would lead to rejection of your preferred reforms. A successful No vote will be spun by the Tories (and by many in the Labour party) as a rejection of coalition politics, and as evidence of voter satisfaction with the current system. The “No, we want something even better” voices will be spun by mainstream politicians and the Murdoch press as “No, we’re happy with how things are”.

      Personally, I think the solution would be to not have this referendum. It creates a false dichotomy that excludes better alternatives, and is too charged by party politics to be a fair reflection of public opinion on how the voting system works. But since we are having the referendum, I believe that demonstrating a public appetite for reform is important. I can’t get enthused about AV itself, no matter how hard I try, but while a Yes vote might put off further reform for another generation, it genuinely scares me that a No vote might put off reform for far longer.

      If No wins, I don’t think it’s going to be spun as anything other than an emphatic victory for FPTP rather than a rejection of AV as being “not the reform we want”. And I definitely don’t want to see Cameron’s smug face if/when that happens.


      April 20, 2011 at 11:23 am

  12. Fair point James, but the establishment will spin any result how it wants and it’s up to the rest of us to challenge and rebut that. Kind of back to Tom’s point really. And as I understand it, AV is more likely to deliver centrism than alternative systems.


    April 20, 2011 at 11:31 am

  13. But in many areas Labour seem to have very little confidence in winning over voters with Left-wing ideas anyway. Besides, it’s not AV’s fault that less people identify themselves on the hard left these days, particulaly when voting in elections. If AV does indeed lead towards “mushy centerism” it will be hugely progressive compared to some of the nasty right wing Labour leaflets I’ve had through my door during elections the last few years.


    April 20, 2011 at 11:35 am

  14. Like you I will be voting no but for different reasons.

    I don’t believe AV will make a tremendous difference to the outcome of elections, although of course it will mean more LibDems.

    My objection is that the formation of the coalition was a travesty of the democratic process. Clegg abandoned his party’s most important policy (no cuts) and his most eye catching policy in pursuit of AV and a ministerial Jag.

    An electoral system is only democratic if parties do what they promised in their manifesto, and this is the danger of rewarding Clegg for his mendacity, it will encourage politicians to make popular promises they have no intention of keeping.

    Andrew Baisley

    April 20, 2011 at 11:36 am

  15. I think this notion of greater centralism with AV is nonsense. The greens and ukip firmly back it because if the central parties pander to each-other in order to pick up their respective second prefs beyond a point they will lose their first prefs to the less central parties. AV also stops the ‘spoiler effect’ (tactical voting), which makes the potential for a radical left wing alternative to labour espousing radical ideas on a parliamentary platform much greater.

    James Coles

    April 20, 2011 at 11:41 am

  16. [...] Vote is that it entrenches centrism and ‘mushy politics’. Libcon regular Owen Jones advances that argument today on his [...]

  17. Your claim about mushy centrist politics is why the Left needs to up its game, not why we should vote against electoral reform.

    If you’re against undemocratic electoral systems (yes, all electoral systems are in some way undemocratic, but there is a scale of measurement we can apply here, and FTPT is more undemocratic than say PR) then why would you vote no to AV, since a no vote is unfortunately a yes vote for FPTP, where currently a candidate with under 50% of the popular vote can take office.


    April 20, 2011 at 12:28 pm

  18. The best thing about this is that you don’t pretend to care about the minutiae of different consequences. You actually admit that your decision rests on political self-interest.

    I’m voting for AV because I think it is a slightly fairer way of doing things. A case of putting the polity before the party perhaps.

    Jonathan Tanner

    April 20, 2011 at 12:53 pm

  19. I think the best thing that could happen is a ridiculously low turnout that makes it clear that no-one is excited about the utterly anti-democratic sham that this referendum has turned out to be.


    April 20, 2011 at 1:54 pm

  20. Dire post, Owen – easily your worst. Though it does provide a near perfect text-book example of economism.

    Eddie Ford

    April 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm

  21. An excellently written piece Owen with which I totally agree. Those who want wish-washy politics that tries to be all things to all people should of course vote for AV, but those of us who want to see a genuine socialist alternative will stick with the imperfect voting system that we have while striving to win support for that radical, socialist alternative.

    Walkers Rambles

    April 20, 2011 at 2:51 pm

  22. A lot of your arguments make sense, but ultimately, voting no is less likely to get you the left-wing government you want.

    You say that AV “will make Tory majority governments less likely.”

    If you think that, surely voting no would make a Tory majority government more likely.

    And if voting no would make a Tory majority government more likely, then surely that means it would make a left-wing government even less likely than AV would.

    I understand: things change. In future decades the Lib Dems orientation might change, and so might popular opinion. I also know really that my argument here misses the point – you’re making a heart decision and not a head decision. Fair enough.

    But still, I don’t see how you get out of the fact that voting no is less likely to get you what you want.

    Asher Dresner

    April 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm

  23. One other thing. Owen rightly flags up the forgotten, and disgraceful, issue of the Tories’ seat-reduction gerrymandering, but on a practical level 600 seats and FPTP is likely to be worse for the left than 600 seats and AV

    Tom Davies

    April 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm

  24. I am always bemused when I hear folks on the left talking about how the present Government is acting in a way that defines them as being ‘hard right’. I’ve yet to see any evidence that the Conservative Party is still even remotely conservative, let alone that it’s acting in a ‘hard right’ fashion.


    April 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm

  25. FPTP only makes a Socialist government more likely if you believe the left can recapture the Labour party. Given that Mcdonnell can’t even get on a leadership ballot i think this is highly unlikely. So instead voting No means the best we can hope for is some right wing Labour government. However AV ends tactical voting and allows a growth of votes to Labour’s Left and a growth a votes away from the Mainstream. Votes for all three major parties will collapse under the new system. Trying to apply current polling to what would happen under AV is wrong headed.

    Jamie Barnes

    April 20, 2011 at 8:28 pm

  26. Unfortunately your statement that “The idea of being on the same side of them on any issue makes me deeply uncomfortable, to put it mildly” sums up the real reason why democracy will never work. People are often opposed to parties purely due to factors such as family (“socialist extended family”) and geography (“Northern upbringing”) and not due to their policies. People vote against parties rather than for parties.

    And the AV is a point in proof. People are not voting for AV on the grounds that it might be a better system, closer to the dream of democracy, they are voting for/against because of the way it will affect their “natural” party.

    Until people break down the barriers of Tory, Labour and Lib Dem, until people vote for their beliefs rather than their geography, democracy doesn’t stand a chance


    April 20, 2011 at 8:51 pm

  27. Nice piece but there is only one principle at stake in this referendum for the working class and it is nothing to do with so-called electoral reform. It is to inflict a major political defeat on this illegitimate Coalition by turning this referendum into a vote of confidence on it. Vote No and give this Coalition a kicking. AV is after all a miserable little compromise.

    David Ellis

    April 20, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    • I’m all for giving the coalition a bloody nose, but I think that’s best achieved by hurting the Tories, not the Lib Dems. The look on Cameron’s face if No win will make it hard to imagine that a blow has been struck against the people responsible for dismantling the state..


      April 20, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    • The best way you could help working class people is to vote Yes, firstly to give them more power and secondly to strike a blow on the enemy of the working people – the Tory party.

      Dicky Moore

      April 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm

  28. Yeah these tactical considerations are based on the false assumption that the Lib Dems are the weakest, most rebellious link in the coalition. They’re not. They’re going to cling, limpet-like, to government because that’s all they’ve got now they’ve trashed their own reputation as the ‘nice outsiders’ party (though anyone who’s followed them in local government down the years will know that reputation has always been undeserved).

    The people inside the coalition most likely to kick off against it are the reactionary Tory right, who hate the idea of coalition, hate the fact that Cameron failed to deliver them victory, and are probably far more ruthless in taking on their party leaderships than most Lib Dem and Labour MPs ever are. If Cameron loses the AV vote, expect ructions inside the Tory ranks that could weaken the government more than a success for the no campaign would

    Tom Davies

    April 21, 2011 at 9:31 am

  29. I’m a bit confused by your comments on German politics. It’s true that the FDP used to be kingmakers, but it’s now a 5-party system. The Grand Coalition was above all a result of the success of the new Left party, and actually the coalition was reasonably popular/effective. Certainly compared to the current CDU/FDP government – which, contrary to your claim that the FDP always hold the balance of power, has seen the FDP plunging below the 5% threshold in polls (which would mean they would have no seats at all!).


    April 21, 2011 at 9:40 am

  30. Well argued Owen. I completely agree with you and will be voting no.

    By the way, 9th parapgraph 2nd sentence – typo alert – I think you meant to say “there’s anything particularly democratic about them”.


    April 22, 2011 at 11:20 am

  31. We need to get rid of FPTP. Preferentialism is the only system which can lead Labour to feeling real pressure from the left, and in core locations.

    Tom Miller

    April 23, 2011 at 7:14 pm

  32. Can’t agree with this. How can you make all these assertions about what the outcomes are going to be in the future or did I miss the part where you bought a working crystal ball? You can’t predict how the public will vote at an election in the future.


    April 24, 2011 at 9:46 am

  33. What are these left wing Labour governments of which you write? I’ll tell you. They’re a fantasy. Moreover, they are a fantasy that has as little likelihood of appearing under FPTP as they have of appearing under AV. Democracy does not lend itself to left wing socialism because it relies on persuasion as the primary means of obtaining the support of the people. While the forces of the establishment own or control the media we will never persuade the people of the merits of left wing socialism. To believe otherwise is naive. Our only hope of shifting opinion is if we manage to wrest the primary means of persuasion away from the mainstream media. That means that we must focus on blogs and establishing a news media outside of the right’s control. Then and only then will we be able to expose the reality of the sophisticated control mechanisms that keep the people in their place. Once that has taken place, the tide of anger will be so fierce the voting system will matter little.

    Meanwhile, any voting system that blunts the Tory attack will be a good thing. AV is such a system. Neither will it hand disproportionate power to the Libs. As we have seen, their desperation is such that they are prepared to throw out any policy to be the leading party’s partner in government. This will apply equally to Labour and the Tories. They have, however, now learned that throwing in the lot with the Tories has dented their popularity to a far greater extent than an alliance with Labour would. With AV we can have progression AND an end to Tory majority rule. With FPTP, we get a right wing agenda even though the Tories cannot command a majority.

    Our first duty is to protect the vulnerable. Only then can we think about undermining the establishment. It’s a priority that marks us out from other left wing socialists, who care little about anything outside of their own narrow dogma. And it is a priority we would do well not to forget. That alone makes the case for AV.

    Martyn Winters

    April 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    • I agree with a lot of what you say but how do we “wrest” the media and persuade my Sun and Mirror reading neighbours to start reading left wing and socialist blogs? Only during their own strikes and similar struggles are ordinary people open to socialist ideas; if they offer a clear alternative to the media distortions which become clear during their own experiences. Unfortunately Owen Jones will have a long wait for a mass working class readship if he is relying of me persuading my neighbours to read his blog.


      April 24, 2011 at 5:11 pm

  34. [...] Vote is that it entrenches centrism and ‘mushy politics’. Libcon regular Owen Jones makes that argument today on his [...]

  35. This referendum is in all our interests. As you say, First Past the Post is incredibly undemocratic, and it’s incredibly important that we reject this completely out-of-date electoral system, come the referendum next month.

    “A sop thrown to the Liberal Democrats”: Please remember that a referendum on the Alternative Vote is something that was legislated by Gordon Brown’s Labour government in February 2010. The Liberal Democrats ensured that this legislation was continued rather than scrapped by the Tory-led coalition. So it’s quite unfair to dismiss this referendum in such a way.

    Gerrymandering: The gerrymandering will go ahead regardless of the referendum result. An AV Yes result is likely to counter some of the effect of this gerrymandering. Many Labour supporters I’ve spoken to are planning to vote No in the mistaken belief it will stop this gerrymandering. It will not, and it’s a real shame that it has further muddied and already muddy debate.

    Hung parliaments: You think that AV will result in more hung parliaments and therefore coalitions. I take issue with this on a number of levels:
    In the 100 years that Australia has used AV they have had 2 hung parliaments, whereas under the same period FPTP has given us 6.Recent studies have shown that AV would have given changed the outcome of the last 30 years of general elections. It would have delivered Labour an even bigger majority in 1997 and put the liberal democrats as the official opposition party. “Strong governments” are not a good thing, and are just as likely to break promises as coalitions, and can push through widely unpopular policies such as the Iraq War and the Poll tax, which was only defeated by mass action and rioting. In 2005 Labour ran a “strong” majority government on only 35% support of the electorate. How could they ethically have the mandate to push through whatever policies they chose?

    Centrism: You would prefer extremism? Some would argue that if Labour tacked towards the centre, they would actually be heading to the left. (See later point)

    Labourism crippled as a political force: Do you think a party which represents a third of the vote could really be so crippled? You think the 15% of Lib-Dem
    supporters will dilute it that much? Do you think that a government has a right to represent only 1 in 3 voters without any need to reach out to unrepresented minorities?

    Liberal Democrats as Kingmakers: There are other political viewpoints that will be better represented under AV, such the Green party and the radical left parties. Of the 23% of those who voted for the liberal democrats at the last election, over half of which have deserted. But where have they gone? Many won’t go back to labour. I know many people who are Green party supporters but voted LD as they were the Greenest of the main parties. Their change from the Lib Dems to the Greens makes a Labour government LESS likely under our current voting system, due to a split in the progressive vote, but under AV, their 2nd preferences would help Labour. This is the progressive majority that Ed Milliband talks about. Also, I have had conversations with many in the Liberal Democrats who are sick of being in coalition with the Tories and are full of hatred for the right wing agenda, but are sticking with it out of party loyalty, but keen to dispose of Clegg and focus on a left-wing realignment as soon as they can. If you want proof of this look at the overwhelming response to the NHS reforms.

    “The Alternative Vote will make Tory majority governments less likely”. Please can you spend some time thinking about that? Are you really going to vote against that, if that’s what you believe? Can you imagine what this Tory government would look like if they had won the extra 160,000 votes they needed to form a majority? The scrapping of the Human Rights Act. The clawing back of powers from Europe. At least in Coalition with the Lib-Dems (even a perversely unbalanced one – see next point) we have seen some Tory policies scrapped, and have seem some good Lib-Dem ones, such as raising the income tax threshold, something that looks like it will actually help my own family avoid financial disaster. We might even see a fully elected house of lords! Labour had thirteen years to achieve this kind of reform, and yet we’re set to see it carried out by a Tory-led coalition! 92% of Tory supporters think that there have been too many concessions to the Lib Dems.

    The Right Wing Agenda: The reason that this coalition has such a right-wing Tory agenda is because FPTP gave such a perverse outcome. the Liberal Democrats got 1 in 4 votes at the general election, yet only 1 in 10 seats. They have hardly any bargaining power against the massive Tory representation in parliament.

    The likelihood of a left-wing Labour government: You think we are ever going to get a left-wing labour majority government? Our current voting system, in conjunction with the overwhelmingly right-wing press forces Labour to the right. You worry about centrism, but our current system shifts politics rightwards.

    Hung parliaments: We are going to get hung parliaments as a matter of course. It’s the way people vote that causes hung parliaments, not the system. And our current system ensures that parliaments can be hung in a perverse way, meaning that any coalition we end up with doesn’t represent the breadth of the views held by those who voted for the parties.

    Party advantage: Of course the political parties act out of self interests. They’re representing the will of the people who voted for them. That’s how representative democracy works. But the system has been skewed in favour of the Labour and Tory parties and therefore against all other parties. Labour and Tory votes make up 6 out of 10 of all votes cast. That’s a lot of people who are often getting no representation at all, and that is very unfair. Very undemocratic. A progressive party like Labour should do something about this, and that’s why I applaud Ed Milliband and his support for AV.

    Dicky Moore

    April 26, 2011 at 10:51 am

  36. Excellent article once again Owen, certainly the most honest thing I have read from either side of the debate on AV and one that is difficult to disagree with, but I will try.

    I have lived for most of my life in South Devon, its where I was born and where I have returned to after moving away for work. I was lucky enough to be brought up by politically aware parents and as a result I find myself aligning myself with the left in the Labour party.

    The area in which I live has been dominated for as long as I can remember by the Conservatives and LibDems. The local LibDems always beat the same ‘Labour cant win here’ slogan down everyone’s throats at every election – to such an extent that its become ingrained in the local culture, people don’t vote for Labour here because people here never have. That wouldn’t be a problem in itself except that I know a lot of families that have moved here from the north of the country who are die hard Labour supporters, when asked how they vote they will proudly tell you they vote LibDem to keep the Tories out!

    I am ashamed to admit that myself and my family do the above, we are all die hard Labour supporters who always vote tactically so our vote isn’t entirely wasted. Our only chance of escaping from this fate is to be offered a system where we can rank our choice, such as AV. AV is far from perfect, but I am convinced it could be the turning point for the Labour movement.

    One question I do have that I cant see a direct answer to is: will a No vote prevent the carve up of the current constituencies and will a Yes vote guarantee that it would happen?


    April 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    • I see Dicky Moore above answered my question about Gerrymandering. Serves me right for not refreshing the page before posting :)


      April 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm

      • Hi there. It is of the opinion of many bloggers I’ve read and myself that the only way to protect labour against losing the majority of these 50 seats is to vote Yes.

        I’ve heard situations similar to yours so many times. We don’t know how many people are actually doing this, giving their votes to Lib Dems to keep the Tories out. I think it’s a lot of people. And come the next general election, many of these people may be so sick of the Lib Dems that they instead give their votes back to Labour, which could let in more Tory MPs. Without AV, we could lose these tactical voters and give the Tories a massive majority. *shudders*

        Dicky Moore

        April 26, 2011 at 1:37 pm

  37. Having been engaged by Owen’s argument, it’s only fair for me to draw attention to this link
    It’s possible to take much from both views when weighing up a decision.


    April 26, 2011 at 1:32 pm

  38. Too many people are thinking short term in how to punish the Lib/Dems or how the voting will pan out if an election was held now.
    These views are irrelevant in deciding on an electoral system that might be with us for years. If seen as a first step towards PR it is better to vote Yes than No.It also gives us the chance to vote Left as 1st preference yet still back Labour to keep the Tories out, so increasing the credibility of socialist views and not just the Labour Partys short term electoral advantage. The constituency rigging is another matter and should be fought.
    A similar debate was held with the suffragettes. The reactionaries in the TUC, amongst others, refused to argue for votes on the same basis as men because that was not universal suffrage (a reactionary excuse), yet all progressives and socialists did vote in favour and continued the fight until women did get the vote on an equal basis.
    It seems a bit reactionary for Socialist to be lining up with the Tories,BNP and right wing Labour to preserve the status quo when we could take the first step towards wider electoral change which could see the creation of a genuine left presence in Parliament which could back up the wider struggle outside in the real world.


    April 26, 2011 at 6:36 pm

  39. Vote No and increase the tension in the Coalition over NHS privatisation. Deprive the Coalition of this phony war over electoral reform, whatever that is, and force the Lib Dems to differentiate themselves in a meaningful way over things that actually matter to real people as opposed to political fakes. It might also put a stop the Tories actual campaign for electoral `reform’, that is a major attack on democracy, by reducing the number of constituencies to 600.

    Don’t listen to Machiavellian Mandy as a Yes vote will go a long way to guaranteeing this Coalition a full term and the realisation of its programme which will mark a big defeat for the labour movement. Mandy may believe that letting the Tories make their cuts and cosying up to Clegg will give the New Labour clones a shoe-in victory in four years time and they won’t have to make unpopular cuts to services that no longer exist but he is deliberately deluding. In four years time there may be no Labour Party its purpose and base having been thoroughly defeated by a government more radically right wing than anything ever seen in the UK previously.

    There is only one real principle in this referendum for working people and that is to defeat the Coalition.

    David Ellis

    April 27, 2011 at 7:55 am

  40. Peckhampulse: Comparing AV to votes for women is pathetic and demonstrates the dis-ingenuousness of the Yes campaign. What `reform’ does AV represent. It is no more that a method of gerrymandering the vote. It is the opposite of a reform and in actual fact an attack on the democratic process which is part of this Coalition’s broader attack on democracy from making votes of confidence impossible to reducing the number of constituencies.

    David Ellis

    April 27, 2011 at 7:59 am

    • AV and the gerrymandering issue are entirely distinct. Even if it was an attempt to engineer a more favourable result for the Lib Dems, it’s no more than they would deserve considering the disparity between their national level of support and the number of seats they hold.

      And AV in itself is certainly not an attack on the democratic process – the fact that in my constituency I’m forced to choose between voting for the party that I actually support, or voting for the least bad party out of the two that stand any chance of winning – now that is an attack on democracy.


      April 27, 2011 at 8:05 am

    • David Ellis. Dont use me to criticise the “dis-ingeniousness of the Yes campaign”. I write purely as an individual who is suspicious of those who say they will vote against AV because they are really in favour of PR. As I wrote the gerrymandering issue is entirely separate.
      I used the example of the sufferagettes to show the hypocracy of those claiming to be more democratic in rejecting a partial reform but are in fact more reactionary in using it as an excuse the reject any reform.
      I dont understand how you can claim it is gerrymandering when under AV I can vote for a revolutionary socialist first and then Labour to keep the Tory/Libdem out.


      April 27, 2011 at 8:43 am

  41. `I dont understand how you can claim it is gerrymandering when under AV I can vote for a revolutionary socialist first and then Labour to keep the Tory/Libdem out.’

    So you have a purely sectarian interest in voting Yes. I think you should start from what is in the interests of the labour movement as a whole. I think the combinded votes of the Libs and Tories in a tacit electoral pact would defeat a Labour candidate relying on second preference votes from the WRP. At the moment priority one for the labour movement is to impose a political defeat on the Coaltion, not the tories or the Lib Dems but the Coalition, to move towards a general election at the earliest we can force one and then use the opportunity to argue for a socialist programme.

    David Ellis

    April 27, 2011 at 9:57 am

    • So you have a purely sectarian interest in voting No.I dont actually believe that but then neither do I have a sectarian interest in voting for AV. Stop making assumptions about other contributors. Your WRP comment is beyond me unless it is another of your assumptions to make it easier to knock down my position. I would probably vote, in my area, for TUSC or Respect, but never WRP,unless we had a revolutionary socialist with local credibility.
      It is on the interest of the labour movement to have a more democratic election system as well as inflicting a defeat on the coalition. A vote against AV is a victory for the Tories amongst other not a defeat.
      There is no guarantee that a victory against AV will bring about a general election but it could put back electoral reform of any kind for many years. It is short term opportunism to use the AV vote as a way of getting at the LidDems. We can vote for AV as a step towards PR and fight to bring down the coalition on political grounds over the cuts etc.


      April 27, 2011 at 10:16 am

  42. Anyone suggesting that either a vote Yes or a vote No will bring about a General Election is fooling themselves.

    The Tories and the LibDems have too much to lose by having a GE at the moment and will keep the coalition going as long as they can.

    A win by either the Yes or No camps will cause great conflict within the ranks of each party but the coalition will be here for the majority of its 5 year term, neither have anything to gain by going to the country now.

    Voting Yes or No just to hurt Cameron or Clegg is stupid and as said before will only give us a short term joy – I am all for giving either or both of those gits a good (metaphorical) kicking but let’s not get personal about something that could effect generations to come.


    April 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm

  43. [...] [...]

  44. [...] people disagree with? That point was one of a number made by Owen Jones in his well-argued ‘Why I’m voting No to AV post. I contributed to the discussion on that thread, arguing that a vote for another bad system [...]

  45. We agree on many other issues, but clearly differ on voting reform.

    You obviously have your own well thought out opinions on why you will be voting No, and I’m not going to waste time opposing them here. I just wanted to take issue with one sentence:

    “The amount of bile thrown has been bewildering and speaks volumes about the sorts of people who think that electoral reform is the most pressing issue facing modern Britain.”

    Just because it is not the single most important subject doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be having the debate. If we had to wait until absolutely nothing else was more important than voting reform to debate it I’m not sure it would ever happen. The populus are more than capable of handling more than one issue at once.

    Second, don’t confuse the people running the campaigns with the people supporting the campaigns. There is necessarily a structure to the campaigns where money is being aimed, but man grassroots campaigners, like myself, feel horrified by the ‘official’ lines put out by the campaigns.

    Indeed, many of the arguments I use myself in favour of AV along non-partisan lines which seem to get the best reception amongst wavering voters have been completely ignored by the Yes campaign in favour of a more fractional and divisive image.

    As for the No campaign, I can only hope that most people voting No do so for the reasons you outline rather than the sick campaigning by the official organisation.

    In essence, my whole reply can be boiled down to this. Don’t tar us all with the same brush.

    Chris Wallace

    May 1, 2011 at 11:08 pm

  46. Sorry, but this is premised on an incredibly juvenile understanding of politics, which sees the whole thing as The Left vs The Right and then worries about ‘mushy centrists’.

    I can agree with Labour on one issue, the Tories on another, and the Lib Dems on another, and the Greens on yet another without being a ‘mushy centrist’. Why? Because those four issues might have absolutely nothing in common with one another.

    If I think that Labour are right to protect employment levels but wrong to abrogate so much power to professional managers, for example, I am not a ‘mushy centrist’.

    Politics is not about big overarching ideologies.

    Jonathan Webber

    May 3, 2011 at 10:53 am

  47. [...] centrist politics is already woven into the political landscape today, and future coalition-based governments could have more to do with the dissatisfaction of the major [...]

  48. Has the entire UK left capitulated to parliamentarianism? Electoral reform makes no difference to rule by the standing civil service on behalf of the moneybags. Friday’s royal bride purchase was deeply salutary in the naked triumphalism of the ruling class welded together by the state religion and the armed forces. We should be looking for political practices that turns Westminster into William Morris’s midden. Cockshott & Cottrell’s “Towards a New Socialism” is a great starting point but it will upset those wedded to leftist sectlets.

    Red Rackham

    May 3, 2011 at 11:19 pm

  49. Thanks Owen, I am finally off the fence on this one. I see all the “Yes” arguments as short-termist, coalition bashing – by using the very tool which will create further coalitions.

    It’s a NO.


    May 4, 2011 at 12:03 pm

  50. AV is a terrible system, clearly favouring the liberals’ agendar of permanently saying in power. I think the tories and labour party, should each breakup into 3 parties called Conservative 1, Conservative 2, and Conservative 3/ Labour 1, Labour 2, Labour 3. This would shock those mushy liberals, and end their future political dictatorship.


    May 5, 2011 at 9:27 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,253 other followers

%d bloggers like this: