Sunday, December 12, 2010

Incontestably contradictory

I'm slightly bemused by the insufferable Daniel Hannan's list of twelve "incontestable" reasons for voting No in the AV referendum, not least because two of them directly contradict each other. Observe...

"4. AV IS ‘EVEN LESS PROPORTIONAL’ THAN THE CURRENT SYSTEM: So concluded the independent Royal Commission chaired by the senior Liberal Democrat Roy Jenkins in 1998.

11. AV WILL MAKE POLITICIANS’ PROMISES EVEN MORE MEANINGLESS: AV is a system which will deliver more hung parliaments and therefore necessitate more coalitions. Coalitions mean political leaders picking and choosing which parts of their manifesto they seek to implement after you’ve voted for it, meaning you cannot have confidence that they will stick by any of the promises they have made if they enter government."

Simple question, Mr Hannan - how precisely will AV make hung parliaments more likely if it is EVEN LESS PROPORTIONAL than the current system? More pertinenently, if the (laudable) premise of question 4 is that too little proportionality is an inherently bad thing, how can the (bogus) prospect of greater proportionality under AV become an inherently bad thing by question 11?

The most nonsensical of all the reasons, though, are numbers 2 and 3 -

"2. AV IS UNFAIR: Supporters of fringe parties can end up having their vote counted five or six times – and potentially decide the outcome of the election – while people who backed the mainstream candidates only get one vote.

3. AV IS UNEQUAL: AV treats someone’s fifth or sixth choice as having the same importance as someone’s else’s first preference – but there is a big difference between positively wanting one candidate to win and being able to ‘put up with’ another."

Memo to Dan : many people are voting for a candidate to 'put up with' as it is. It's not as if we get to choose the shortlist, is it? In each count of an AV ballot, everyone's vote counts just ONCE - exactly as present. Indeed, votes for the 'mainstream' parties remain more meaningful, as they are successfully preventing those parties from being eliminated in the early counts. But what does change is that in the later stages, everyone has an equal chance to choose between the two leading candidates. That's not a fifth or a sixth choice - it's a first choice between the candidates remaining in contention at that point, and is therefore indistinguishable from the routine process of plumping for the best (or least worst) candidate that happens to be on offer in any election. FPTP votes are not weighted according to the enthusiasm of each elector for their choice, but if they were you'd find variations every bit as stark as anything you'd encounter under AV.

And what is Hannan's alternative? Most FPTP contests are de facto two-horse races, just like the final count of an AV ballot - the only difference being that a huge chunk of the electorate are effectively excluded from having their say on the outcome. So Hannan favours a continuation of the current tyranny of forcing supporters of smaller parties to choose between voting in the 'real election' that consists of the top two candidates, and voting honestly but disenfranching themselves in the process. The fact that the likes of Hannan and David Blunkett evidently regard that disenfranchisement as a thoroughly desirable thing is really quite startling.

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