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  • Technorati: graph / links

    Lefties cutting off their noses to spite their face, part 2


    by Sunny
    2nd July, 2010 at 5:49 pm    

    I’m intensely frustrated by the attitude of many lefties on electoral reform, who are opposed to the Alternative Vote. Let me explain why.

    Late last year I posted this article by Ezra Klein at the Washington Post, who was then writing about Health Care reform. He said:

    Failure does not breed success. Obama’s defeat will not mean that more ambitious reforms have “a better chance of trying again.” It will mean that less ambitious reformers have a better chance of trying next time.

    Conversely, success does breed success. Medicare and Medicaid began as fairly limited programs. … As any scientist will tell you, it’s much easier to encourage something to evolve in a certain direction than it is to create it anew.

    As I said then, the left should not lose the stomach for revolutionary change or radical ideas. But it must also have the pragmatism to find ways to push for them, perhaps even incrementally, rather than constantly throw toys out of the pram when change does not go far enough quickly.

    We now have a situation where several lefties within the Green Party, Libdems and Labour saying that because AV does not go far enough, they will not support this change.

    It’s absurd. AV offers more choice, even if it’s not proportional. At the London Mayoral election I voted for Sian Berry as my first choice and Ken Livingstone as my second; I was able to support both without having to pick one over the other. There is no political appetite now for Proportional Representation.

    So to then say you won’t support AV because it’s not as good as PR is to misunderstand the politics of how things work - and setting back the cause of electoral reform for decades.

    And lastly, there are people who keep going on about how FPTP is great because it ensures Labour won’t need Libdems at the next election. Rubbish. This excellent article by academic John Curtice thoroughly pours cold water over that thesis; even under FPTP coalition politics is here to stay.


                  Post to del.icio.us


    Filed in: Party politics






    23 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs
    1. sunny hundal

      Blog post:: Lefties cutting off their noses to spite their face, part 2 http://bit.ly/c59p4i


    2. Chris Williams

      RT @sunny_hundal Lefties cutting off their noses to spite their face, part 2 http://bit.ly/c59p4i <agreed!


    3. sianberry

      Agree. Agree a lot. RT@sunny_hundal: Blog post: Lefties cutting off their noses to spite their face, part 2 http://bit.ly/c59p4i


    4. Tom Chance

      RT @sianberry Agree. Agree a lot: Lefties cutting off their noses to spite their face, part 2 http://bit.ly/c59p4i <- me too


    5. Lucia

      RT @sunny_hundal Blog post:: Lefties cutting off their noses to spite their face, part 2 http://bit.ly/c59p4i


    6. RupertRead

      This piece by @SunnyHundal on AV is ABSOLUTELY right: http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/9126


    7. GuyAitchison

      RT @sianberry: Agree. Agree a lot. RT@sunny_hundal: Blog post: Lefties cutting off their noses to spite their face, part 2 http://bit.ly/c59p4i


    8. noah

      RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: Lefties cutting off their noses to spite their face, part 2 http://bit.ly/c59p4i


    9. ‘AV it! « Left Outside

      [...] Sunny Hundal is right; AV is far from perfect as an electoral system but it is important leftist get involved and support it. The good is not an enemy of the perfect, its a stepping stone on the way. [...]


    10. Take That and Robbie Williams Fansite

      Mark Ronson tried to poach Robbie Williams from under Take That’s noses - Mirror.co.uk…

      I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)


    11. Dicky Moore

      @Simon_Gardner also, what do you think about this? http://bit.ly/hY4Uhy




    1. Guy Aitchison — on 2nd July, 2010 at 6:27 pm  

      Well said Sunny. The idea that a victory for AV would stop PR, rather than make it more likely, is pure fantasy. It goes against all the evidence. A vote against AV will be taken as against a vote against “electoral reform” and would kill off the argument for generations.

      In Wales, the referendum on the National Assembly in 1997 was nearly lost. Some nationalists argued against it because it wasn’t the parliament they wanted with full legislative powers. But now the Assembly exists they see it as something they can build on. They are much more likely to get a parliament today than if the referendum had been lost.

    2. boyo — on 2nd July, 2010 at 8:25 pm  

      I used to be a fan of reform because i, like many others, presumed it would ensure centre-left government, but as we have seen the Lib Dems jumped right at the first opportunity, so any reform that handed them more power i would oppose. Does this make me less “democratic”? I suppose so, but let’s face it - most people don’t know what they’re voting for, as at least half Lib Dem backers discovered.

    3. Peter Garbutt — on 2nd July, 2010 at 8:40 pm  

      @ boyo
      You’re right about many voters being poorly informed as to who to vote for, but that isn’t, largely, their fault. The media is hugely right-wing, and fails dismally, time and again, to report politics either accurately or, indeed fully.
      With a real democratic media, voting reform would work well.

    4. loota — on 2nd July, 2010 at 9:46 pm  

      While I think AV is probably better than First Past the Post, I’m not convinced that supporting the combined proposal of AV and redrawing constituencies.

      The redrawn constituencies are very obviously a gerrymander for the Tories. And we really shouldn’t support that.

      So the combined package is more difficult to support than a referendum on AV alone.

    5. Jim Jepps — on 2nd July, 2010 at 10:50 pm  

      Well I’m for proportional representation. AV is no more proportional than FPTP so it isn’t that the reform doesn’t go far enough it actually does *nothing* to address the fact that millions of people go unrepresented or massively under represented.

      It’s not too small a reform, it’s an irrelevant reform designed to head off the possibility of PR for a generation.

      Right now nothing has gone through Parliament and I think we should keep pressing to get the possibility of PR into the referendum. Loads of pro-PR people have given up trying for that. That’s their choice.

      However, once the people have decided that they ‘want’ AV no one is going to change the system again a few years later. The same is probably true if the referendu is lost.

      Therefore the referendum itself - if it does not include the option of PR (which is how it was done in New Zealand) means whichever way it goes that’s the end of the hopes for having a system where millions of votes are thrown in the bin.

      It’s not about purism - it’s about how do we get a proportional system.

    6. Sunny — on 3rd July, 2010 at 12:40 am  

      It’s not too small a reform, it’s an irrelevant reform designed to head off the possibility of PR for a generation.

      Jim - if there was a serious drive and momentum towards PR then I’d say, yes you’re probably right let’s hold out for something better.

      There isn’t. If AV doesn’t happen you think PR will come about in the next 5-10 years? It won’t.

      The fact is that the polls show that people want the constituency link with their MPs. That means full PR is NOT going to happen for a generation or so anyway. Which is why I think you’re being incredibly unrealistic.

      It’s more unlikely further electoral reform would take place if this referendum is lost.

    7. boyo — on 3rd July, 2010 at 7:47 am  

      As Ken Livingstone said - if voting changed anything, they’d ban it.

      I take your point Peter G but no party is ever going to introduce the kind of reforms that would enable balanced debate - the media barons have them by the short and curlys…

      I fear with further voting reform the kind of government we will get is much the same as we have now - more Clamercleggs looking like retail managers but actually the product of an Establishment that has it increasingly sown up. Blair, of course, is their template.

      I digress, but what chance have working class politicians (from any party) got against this mob, educated at the highest expense without any of the doubts that spring from knowing your one pay packet away from ruin?

      It feels as if we are back to the future - back because really we’ve returned to the old days of Whigs and Tories - the future because there feels something truly sinister about these blank-faced avatars of a ruling clique spouting platitudes to the masses while working for the benefit of their class.

      I see little prospect of any change any time soon, and I doubt voting reform will help.

    8. cim — on 3rd July, 2010 at 8:34 am  

      loota: But the combined package is not what will be voted on. It’s not a referendum on “boundary reform and AV” (which I would have greater difficulty deciding on), it’s “boundary reform” and “a referendum on AV”, at which point no matter what happens we’re better off with the referendum having passed.

    9. Tony Dean — on 3rd July, 2010 at 5:46 pm  

      Do we want to have a general election every six months because we create ‘hung’ parliaments? Or do we stick with the system we know ?

    10. Michael Godfrey — on 4th July, 2010 at 1:35 am  

      Well… I’m a lefty who won’t be voting either way in this referendum - because I believe that FPTP and AV are equally bad, though in slightly different ways.

      In theory, it’s true, AV is a fairer way of deciding the result in a single constituency (except in close multi-way races, where it can produce arbitrary results, with the winner depending on which candidates get eliminated first). But at a national level, it may well be less fair. Studies suggest that in the last four elections, AV would have produced an even less proportional result than FPTP.

      Introducing AV would leave all the worst features of FPTP intact - safe seats, for example. My own constituency would be just as safe under AV as it is at present - the Tories always get 50% here anyway.

      You say that “AV offers more choice, even if it’s not proportional.” AV offers the appearance of greater choice - that’s all. As a lefty, under AV - if I lived in a marginal - I could cast my first-preference vote for the Greens without worrying about letting in the Tories. But Green candidates would stand no more chance of actually winning seats than they do under FPTP. In practice, AV functions mainly as a device for transferring votes from the smaller parties to the larger parties.

      What supporters of PR should be doing is organising a campaign for people to write “STV” on their ballot papers. I’m very pessimistic about ever getting PR in Britain, whatever the result of this referendum - both major parties will do almost anything to avoid introducing it - but a big spoiled-ballot campaign would at least show that there are some people in Britain who do care about these things.

      Oh, and one other thing - I’m not sure that “even under FPTP coalition politics is here to stay”. The Curtice article is interesting, but in seeking to show that a hung parliament is likely at the next election, he makes a lot of very questionable assumptions (eg no boundary changes, Liberal Democrat support remaining at 2010 levels).

    11. MaidMarian — on 4th July, 2010 at 2:14 pm  

      Sunny - A thought, with all respect.

      Do you not think it is possible that some (not all) are opposed to AV as a matter of principle rather than political expediencey?

      I like FPTP because I prefer candidates to be directly, rather than proportionally, elected. I know that many disagree and respect that. It’s not about coalition politics or keeping people out.

      How about you just respect the arguments at face value, rather than looking for the agenda?

    12. cim — on 7th July, 2010 at 1:10 pm  

      If you want STV (and I do), I think you have to vote ‘Yes’ to AV. Some reasons:
      - it gets people used to preferential voting, which after a few years would completely destroy the “too complex” argument used against STV.
      - it could be easily extended to local elections, some of which are multi-member wards, so you could get to try out STV at some level as well.
      - if “No” win, that’s going to be interpreted as “no-one wants any electoral reform of any sort”, even if among the millions of ballots cast there are a few thousand spoilt ballots saying “STV”

      I agree it’s not a major improvement on FPTP, but if single seat constituencies are being kept - and with the Conservatives in government there is absolutely no chance of that changing in this Parliament - AV is about as good as it gets.

      Studies suggest that in the last four elections, AV would have produced an even less proportional result than FPTP.

      Really? That certainly doesn’t seem likely for 2010 (all the indications are that it would have increased LD and decreased Lab, Con). Furthermore, those studies all assume that both campaigning and first preference voting would be identical under AV to the current FPTP, which is so clearly false it makes the rest of the studies worthless.

      Anyway, proportionality is not the sole important property of a voting system. Vote From Hat is considerably more proportional than either FPTP or AV, but I’ve not seen anyone campaigning for it on those grounds. FPTP and AV will give different national results, some of which will be coincidentally more proportional than others, but I doubt it’ll make much difference in practice.

      But Green candidates would stand no more chance of actually winning seats than they do under FPTP. In practice, AV functions mainly as a device for transferring votes from the smaller parties to the larger parties.

      Again, that’s only true if you assume that people are generally casting “honest” rather than “tactical” first preferences at the moment, and the chance at getting a better result won’t motivate the minor parties into campaigning harder. Certainly, all it really does in practice is act as an automatic tactical voter, but that can still be important at the constituency level for making sure that votes against a broadly unpopular incumbent don’t end up split, and for changing the nature of campaigning (look up Papua New Guinea’s experiments with AV and FPTP).

      What supporters of PR should be doing is organising a campaign for people to write “STV” on their ballot papers.

      Quick question - I often hear “If you don’t want to vote for any of the candidates, spoil your ballot paper to send a message”. How many spoilt ballot papers were cast in your Parliamentary constituency in the 2010 election? I don’t know, for mine, and it’s the sort of thing I’d find interesting. It’s not even usually a reported figure in the announcements.

      No-one is going to centrally count up these ballot papers. Returning Officers and counters will see them, but it’s not like they’ll be in a position to do anything with them.

      The Curtice article is interesting, but in seeking to show that a hung parliament is likely at the next election, he makes a lot of very questionable assumptions

      Agreed. On the other hand, if you take away those assumptions, AV isn’t likely to give a hung parliament either, so that’s not really a point of difference.

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