Someone else will come along and move it

Ten reasons why the AV referendum was lost, courtesy of Tom Clark (via).

1. Some of the Labour Party was against it.

2. All of the Tory Party was against it.

3. The Yes campaign said things that weren’t entirely true, and people didn’t believe them.

4. The No campaign told outright lies, but people did believe them, which isn’t fair.

5. The Electoral Commission said things about AV that were true, but made it seem unattractive. This was also unfair, because if you can’t say something nice about a voting system, you shouldn’t say anything at all.

6. People don’t like coalitions, and they thought AV would make coalition governments more likely (which it probably would).

7. People don’t like the Lib Dems, and the No campaign said that AV would put them in power permanently. (Which, again, it probably would, but that’s not the point.)

8. People don’t like David Cameron either, and the Yes campaign didn’t say that AV would keep him out of power. (Which it wouldn’t, necessarily, but it would have been a good thing to campaign on.)

9. People don’t prefer AV to the status quo.

10. People don’t want AV.

I’ve renumbered Clark’s points and edited them down a bit, but I think I’ve got the gist.

I was particularly struck by Clark’s point 9:

the alternative vote system itself posed particular problems. Infamously dismissed by Nick Clegg as “a miserable little compromise”, it is loved by no one, with most of the yes camp hankering for reform that links a party’s tally of votes to its tally of seats, something AV fails to deliver. Few Labourites, and no Lib Dems, regard AV as an end itself. It scarcely mattered that from the reformist point of view it is unambiguously better than the system we start out with. What did matter was that the reformists could not muster the energy to market something that they did not truly believe in.

Clark stops berating the stupid British public for rejecting a kind of platonic Plea For Electoral Reform, for just long enough to acknowledge that the form it took on the physical plane was a question about an electoral system that nobody actually wants – not Ed Miliband, not Nick Clegg, not Caroline Lucas, not Nigel Farage. (Although apparently Eddie Izzard does prefer AV to PR, and I suspect Stephen Fry may do as well.) This isn’t metropolitan elitism – just well-intentioned self-delusion.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted 8 May 2011 at 01:02 | Permalink | Reply

    Some of those points are true. But three are dubious, and two are complete nonsense. In the dubious camp are 5, 9 and 10.

    5. because I’m not entirely sure that “the Electoral Commission” swayed all that many voters whatever they said… though I could be wrong, hence why it’s in the ‘dubious’ rather than ‘nonsense’ category.

    And both 9 and 10 are dubious because if you accept that 4 is true – i.e. that enough people to affect the outcome voted with a false view of AV based on lies, then you can’t make any reliable statement about whether or not people actually want AV. I happen to think that 3 and 4 are true (that a lot of people believed lies about AV and as a result weren’t casting an informed vote). And I also think that 10 is probably true (people probably want a fairer system than FPTP but don’t actually want AV). But to assert 3 & 4 means you can’t really assert 9 & 10 with any confidence.

    As for the nonsense…

    7. The claim that AV would (probably) put the Lib Dems into power permanently is utter tosh. Of we’ won’t know one way or the other now, but I’d put money on the Lib Dems suffering a similar fate to the Irish Greens as a result of being the junior partner in a deeply unpopular coalition… complete annihilation at the next election… whatever the electoral system.

    8. The “Yes” vote failed because the main guy behind the “No” campaign is so unpopular? That’s twisted logic if ever I heard it. Especially since the FPTP system is heavily stacked in his favour. So the failure to campaign on AV’s anti-tory bias somehow convinced people that it is more pro-tory than FPTP…? If there’s even a shred of evidence to back that up, I’d love to see it.

    Anyway, I believe an opportunity was missed in the referendum to actually place electoral reform on the agenda (I know you disagree). I have serious doubts that there’ll be another vote on the issue in my lifetime. As someone who suggested that a “Yes” vote would take full PR off the agenda, would you care to predict when the full-PR referendum will be? I’ll happily eat my words on this if it’s in the next 30 years.

    • Posted 8 May 2011 at 01:04 | Permalink | Reply

      “Of we’ won’t know” = “Of course we won’t know”

    • Phil
      Posted 8 May 2011 at 13:13 | Permalink | Reply

      Jim – I’ve changed the numbering, but my points are based quite closely on Tom Clark’s CiF post (and he’s pro-AV). His list of problems with the Yes campaign includes people not preferring AV to the status quo (my 9, his 10); people not supporting AV (my 10, his 9, quoted above); and people being dissuaded by true statements about AV from the Electoral Commission (my 5, his 8). In Clark’s words, “The commissioners included entirely superfluous information, such as the fact that the lack of an obligation to rank all of the candidates means an election can, in certain circumstances, be won with less than half the total votes.”

      As for the Lib Dem and Tory points (my points 7 and 8, Clark’s 1 and 2), Clark says that “the lack of a hate figure was the gaping hole for the yes side”: they should have turned the referendum into a campaign against David Cameron, not because AV would necessarily harm the Tories but because it would have been a good tactic (“There’s no easier enthusiasm to whip up than the enthusiasm of hatred”). On Clegg, Clark says “the noes [warned] that ‘President Clegg’ would be kept forever in power by everybody’s second preferences” and then does nothing to counter that suggestion. You may be right about the LDs being annihilated next time round under any electoral system, although I think AV would have given them a lifeline in the form of weakly-held second preferences. My point in this post was just to point at the weakness of the arguments of one AV supporter.

      I believe an opportunity was missed in the referendum to actually place electoral reform on the agenda

      I believe an opportunity was missed in the referendum campaign to place electoral reform on the agenda – if anyone, from Ed Miliband down to Caroline Lucas, had actually said “AV is just the beginning, we’ll move towards PR as soon as we can” it would have been a very different campaign. But the terms of the LDs’ compromise with the Tories precluded that.

  2. Posted 8 May 2011 at 07:15 | Permalink | Reply

    from the reformist point of view it is unambiguously better than the system we start out with.

    I am struggling to work out what this means.

  3. Posted 8 May 2011 at 18:51 | Permalink | Reply

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