Yes2AV Is The Least Moronic Choice

On May 5th, the British people get a rare opportunity to vote in a referendum over the way we’re governed. The choice is to retain First Past The Post (FPTP) or switch to the Alternative Vote (AV) system. Two warring camps have emerged: Yes2AV and No2AV, each (of course) with its own Twitter hashtag.

The campaign has been messy; the better-funded and organised No2AV camp has strong financial backing from the Conservative Party, and has run a series of effective smear campaigns, including:

  • AV would require complex voting machines and cost vast amounts of money (false).
  • AV is too complex for “ordinary people” to understand (nonsense – it simply allows the voter to have multiple choices rather than one).
  • AV would benefit extremist parties (not true, the reverse in fact – which is why the BNP oppose AV).

Unfortunately the Yes2AV campaign has been diverted to responding to these attacks and has failed to make a clear case. I think the case for AV over FPTP is clear and easily argued as follows:

The Partisan Case – how will my party fare?

  • Conservative: FPTP is designed to keep the Tories in power. You should vote No.
  • Labour: likely to be more neutral, as Labour will get second-preference votes from Green and LibDem voters. Vote Yes to weaken the Tories.
  • Minority left-of-centre parties (Green, LibDem, Socialist, etc.): this will benefit you as you can now place your first choice for your party rather than vote tactically. Vote Yes.
  • Minority right-of-centre (UKIP): this will benefit you for the same reason as above. Vote Yes.
  • Far-right (BNP, English Democrat, etc.): Your best chance of coming to power is to win 30% in a FPTP challenge. Vote No.

The Objective Case – which is a better system?

  • FPTP is ancient and hugely discredited, and has been abandoned in most mature democracies. It makes voting pointless for most people in the country as most constituencies are safe seats for either Conservative or Labour. It therefore discourages participation, which weakens our democracy. A party can win with as little as 30% of the vote.
  • Other than the UK, the main user of FPTP is the United States. This system has crushed all but two parties which are both funded by the same corporate interests; this is about as undemocratic as a democracy can be.
  • AV won’t smash, but will weaken the two-party duopoly on power, giving the opportunity for the much-needed rise of new parties, which could then modify British politics in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary manner.
  • FPTP encourages the creation of broad, monolithic parties which are effectively ready-made coalitions and have no clear message; both Labour and the Tories attempt to cover very broad ranges of attitudes. This was reflected well by the Blair government, where voters voted left-of-centre but got a right-of-centre government anyway.
  • It’s true that AV represents a smaller step than many reformers would like; but its rejection on May 5th will be taken as a rejection of any change, and kill our last chance of reform, doubtless for many decades. Don’t forget that the political establishment hates the idea of any reform (as it would alter the status-quo). There is no chance that we would get asked again if the vote is No.
  • The only large political party that supports any electoral reform is the Liberal Democrat party. A No vote risks destroying the LibDems, leaving no political player that would campaign for any future reform.

It may not be ideal, but it’s the only chance we have for change. Vote YES on May 5th!

Benjamin Zephaniah and No2AV Lies

In a month’s time, the UK gets a rare opportunity to reform its voting system. We’re to be given a vote on whether to retain the existing First-Past-The-Post system (FPTP) or replace it with a somewhat more proportional system, the Alternative Vote (AV). I’m strongly in favour of changing the system – I’ll save the explanation for another post, but it’s clear that the existing power blocks are largely against changing the system, as of course you’d expect.

The No2AV campaign appears to be largely funded by the ruling Conservative party, and has regularly been accused of dishonesty and scare tactics; it is helped in disseminating these by the press, which is almost entirely opposed to AV. One of the No campaign’s smartest (and most dishonest) propaganda exercises came this week when it accused the Yes2AV of racism. The story was a well-orchestrated piece of spin: the No campaign had noticed that the Yes campaign was using an image of black poet Benjamin Zephaniah in London leaflets but not in others (see both leaflets below). The No campaign’s PR team then fabricated and issued a story that Zephaniah had been “air-brushed” from the Yes campaign’s leaflets in white areas.

The established media, which is almost entirely behind the No campaign, then amplified the story, adding embellishments – for example the Daily Mirror screamed about the fury behind the change (there was no fury to be seen other than perhaps in Britain’s newsrooms). The same Mirror article exposed the style of smear tactics being employed, with a No spokesman saying: The Yes ­campaign’s leaflet offers a chilling ­preview of politics under the Alternative Vote.

I first saw the story on Monday, and quickly tweeted as follows: Moron Paper of the day: Daily Mail for this pathetic attempt to call the campaign “racist”:

This propaganda was smart because liberal-minded Yes supporters will often be the ones most likely to believe and respond to unsupported accusations of racism. This was demonstrated in a reply to my tweet. A follower replied with: uh, no. I’m a yes supporter but that genuinely is really fkn racist. I disagreed and was quickly dragged into a discussion about “representation”.

Having finally been tracked down, Zephaniah has now stepped in to clarify matters, and as I’d originally guessed and tweeted, he confirmed that this was a non-story from the No campaign. He is quoted as saying: These allegations are preposterous. I am happy for the ‘Yes’ campaign to use my endorsement as they see fit. I am happy for them to use it in London, and as I understand it, in a nationwide letter. “Let’s talk about the real issue – how we renew our democracy. I want democratic change and that is why I am voting ‘yes’ on May 5

The original story made the prime news spot on Sunday morning, while the clarification comes on a Wednesday when it will be missed by many (assuming the press even tries to correct the misunderstanding). The No2AV campaign is making headway in confusing and weakening the issue, and is trying to rob us of our one chance to weaken the existing Tory/Labour duopoly. We have a month to fight back.