While the No Campaign have been trying to confuse and mislead the public by painting elections as a literal race and ensuring voters that they’re far too stupid to understand the Alternative Vote system even though they have no problem voting on the X Factor every week, the Yes campaign has had 1 clear message: “Yes to Fairer Votes”. They say that AV will give voters more power, and make peoples’ votes worth more. Given that this in the only point they’re arguing on, you’d hope that they’re correct.
Voter Power Index was set up before last year’s general election to show people what their vote was “worth”, i.e. how much their vote counted towards the overall decision of who governs. Under a pure system of Proportional Representation, everybody’s vote would be worth 1. Due to the nuances of our current system (such as the sizes and demographics of each consistency creating “safe” and “marginal” seats), votes in each constituency will have a different effect on the overall result. For example, I live in Southampton Test, a Labour safe seat, so my vote is worth just 0.128 by Voter Power Index’s calculations. In a highly marginal seat where no party has particular loyal support, their votes may be worth more than 1.
Voter Power Index’s site has just been updated to take the Alternative Vote system into account. The Yes campaign claim that AV will increase the power of each vote, since the ability to rank candidates in order of preference gives you more of a say in the outcome.
Voter Power Index agrees. Their findings:
Analysis from [the new economics foundation] suggests that switching from First Past the Post to the Alternative Vote would have the following effects across the UK:
- An increase in the average power of UK voters from 0.285 of a vote to 0.352 of a vote (where a score of 1 is a fair vote).
- An increase in the number of very marginal seats from 81 to 125, an increase of 44 seats.
- A reduction in the number of very-safe seats from 331 to 271 a reduction of 60 seats.
- A small reduction of inequality in the power of votes with the most powerful fifth of electors going from having 21 times the power of the least powerful fifth down to 18 times.
That gives an average increase of 24% to the power of the vote. In my constituency, it increases 31% to 0.168. So the Yes campaign, if nothing else, is absolutely correct.
But wait a minute, my vote will still be worth less than 1/5 of a vote under AV? Unfortunately, Yes. AV is still a majoritarian system, so it wont bring about the equality of votes that Proportional Representation would. However, it does make votes fairer, and is a step in the right direction. Even if you don’t think PR is a good idea, it’s hard to argue that we should keep a less fair majoriatian system over a fairer one.
On the 5th of May there’s a referendum. The question posed is thus:
At present, the UK uses the “first past the post” system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the “alternative vote” system be used instead?
The campaigns for and against are currently in full swing, and there’s something quite striking about the “No” campaign: it’s saying No to the wrong question. The question is answers is this:
Is the Alternative Vote the best system we could have to elect MPs to the House of Commons.
The answer to that is clearly No. The Alternative vote isn’t a great system at all. It has it’s merits, but it’s certainly not a a good example of Proportional Representation. Even Nick Clegg called it “a miserable little compromise” and he’s the one pushing the damn thing. The No campaign has focused on this and are demonising AV like it’ll herald the end of democracy, while neglecting to defend the system they’re trying to make us stick with for all eternity.
However, read the question being posed again. It’s not “Should we use the Alternative Vote?”, it’s “Should we use the Alternative vote instead of First Past The Post?”. Both systems are, broadly speaking, majoritarian systems (that is, they’re designed to give the winning party a significant majority). Neither system is ideal when you’re considering fair representation of the people’s views across the whole country, but in a >2 party system (like we have in the UK), First Past the Post (FPTP from now on) simply doesn’t make sense.
The key difference between to 2 systems is this: Under FPTP, a candidate can win without the support of the majority of voters in their constituency. In fact, the more candidates who stand, the less support they need to win due to the vote being split (see, the BNP winning council seats, which is why they’re against the change). Under AV, 50% of voters must vote for a candidate in some capacity for them to win. With only 2 parties, FPTP is fine as one candidate will always have a majority (unless its a dead heat). With more than 2, AV is the clear choice to keep voting fair and results meaningful.
Until a better option comes along, let’s snap it up. Vote yes.
So, this was going to be my blog post to promote OggCamp and tell everyone to come. However, just 5 days after the event was announced, the 200 tickets have sold out.
So what the hell is OggCamp?
OggCamp is an annual celebration of Open Technology, including Creative Commons music, art, literature, Open Source software, open data, and anything else that’s generally geeky and hackable. It’s organised by The Ubuntu UK Podcast and Linux Outlaws. This year will be the third that the event has run, and the first one I’m involved in organising, and it looks like it’s going to be a blast.
When/Where is it?
The event’s being held at the Farnham Maltings in Farnham, Surrey on the 13th and 14th of August. The “official” hotel is the Aldershot Premier Inn, which is a short drive, train ride or a very long drunken stumble away.
It sounds amazing, but I don’t have a ticket! What do I do now?
As I mentioned, the event is now sold out. All ticket registrations are handled through EventBrite. I’d suggest watching the page like a hawk for any cancellations, and snap up the tickets. Did I mention that the event is free for all attendees?