Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Plumbing new depths with the no campaign

Our existing voting system is often referred to as "first-past-the-post", but is that a fair description? A candidate can win with just 26% of the votes cast, if there are three other candidates who each get 24 or 25 percent. Should 26% be referred to as the "finishing post"? Wouldn't "the first hurdle" be a better description? In contests where there happen to be just two candidates, the "finishing post" is, quite rightly, set at just over 50% of the votes. Why should it be any less in other cases? If we could have a voting system which ensured that any winner must have the backing of at least 50% of the voters, meaning that they can legitimately claim to represent a majority, shouldn't we go for that system?

For those who say that everyone should only have one vote, AV is actually exactly equivalent to a series of runoff elections. If no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the votes in the first count, the one with the least votes is eliminated and, effectively, the remainder participate in a seond election. Your second preference expresses how you will vote in this second election, should your first preference have been eliminated in the first one. Your third preference expresses how you will vote in the third election, and so on. It's as simple as that. There's no incomprehensible mysticism or overwhelming complication behind it, as the 'no' campaign would have you believe. It is, in fact, exactly equivalent to the procedure by which David Cameron was promoted as party leader by his fellow Conservative MPs.

"Conservative research" has now come up with the truly incredible notion that candidates who came third in 137 seats at last year’s election could have ended up becoming MPs – overtaking those who came first and second – under the ‘confusing’ AV system (see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1382554/AV-referendum-David-Cameron-struggles-calm-Lib-Dem-fury-lies.html). This despite the fact that Australia has had AV since 1918, and such an outcome has never happened there, not even once. They go on to outdo themselves with the utterly ludicrous idea that an eighth-place candidate - an independent called Richard Turner-Thomas in Torfaen in Wales -could have won under AV. Words cannot even begin to describe how silly this is, and yet it isn't even the worst of the nonsense that the 'no' campaign is coming up with. But you have the chance to say what you think of all these lies and distortions.

On Thursday..

Change the voting system.

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