Sunday, April 3, 2011

One for the connoisseurs...

Yesterday's Daily Mail editorial on the AV referendum was one for the true connoisseurs of that newspaper's idiocy, because virtually every substantive point it made was the polar opposite of the truth. For example -

"It [AV] is also so fiendishly complicated that even its articulate proponents struggle to explain how it works."

Each voter lists the candidates in order of preference. The first preference votes are counted, and if any candidate has more than 50% of them, they have won the election. If not, the lowest-placed candidate is eliminated and each of his/her votes is redistributed to the voter's next-preferred candidate. If any candidate has more than 50% of the vote at that stage, they have won the election - if not, the process continues in the same way until someone does have more than 50%.

That took me all of 86 words. Fiendishly complicated? As has been so often pointed out, AV is considerably simpler than the voting systems for Dancing on Ice or Strictly Come Dancing, and people somehow seem to get their heads round those.

"It is no exaggeration to say that a Yes vote could condemn this country to permanent coalition politics which would allow political elites to stay in power indefinitely."

If you replace the word 'no' in that sentence with the word 'an', it suddenly becomes strikingly accurate. As it is...not so much. AV doesn't conceptually make balanced parliaments (and by extension coalitions) any more or less likely. In the specific circumstances of the UK, where there is a medium-sized third party perceived to be ideologically in between the two larger ones, it's true it might in practice make balanced parliaments very marginally more likely because the third party will be well-placed to pick up second preferences. But the idea that 10-20 extra Lib Dem seats would be sufficient to bring about "permanent coalition politics" (especially when that party's support is currently dropping like a stone) is utterly risible. For the avoidance of doubt, that is a Bad Thing and not a Good Thing.

"Yes means that leaders like Margaret Thatcher would probably never have been elected"

This, believe it or not, is one of the examples the Mail puts forward to support its proposition that "Britain is sleepwalking into a historic disaster". What a pity it isn't true. Mrs Thatcher would have had more than sufficient support to claim outright victory under a majoritarian system like AV. That, again, is a thoroughly Bad Thing. The good news is that by having to cast the net wider to seek second preferences from centrist voters, she might have had to moderate her policies slightly. It probably would have been only very slightly, but that's still better than nothing.

"it is utterly deplorable that he [Cameron] was blackmailed by the Liberal Democrats into accepting the referendum could be passed with less than a 40 per cent turnout. On such stitch-ups the wheel of history turns."

So, on Planet Mail, a situation where the No side won't be able to claim victory if they receive fewer votes than the Yes side is a "stitch-up". Oh-kaaay...

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