A final plea

I could’ve posted a new reason every day for voting yes in today’s referendum on AV. First past the post is the system that brought us the Iraq War, the poll tax, Black Wednesday, the financial crisis, the winter of discontent – a litany of disasters, foisted on us by parties that six voters in 10 didn’t want in power. It’s given us BNP councillors, it would’ve given David Davies leadership of the Tories, or kept Maggie Thatcher in office even longer past her sell-by date, if they’d not been so hypocritical and used it themselves.

But one of the many hypocritical and nonsensical posters by the no camp brought to mind one of the most important arguments against AV.

It ran under the tagline ‘if the Grand National was run under AV’. It depicted a horse running in second being declared ‘ the winner under AV’

There’s every chance it would’ve been the ‘winner under FPTP’ – with devastating consequences.

It’s October, 1951. The party has increased its share of the vote on the election a year previously. It’s not far short of an outright majority of votes nationwide. So why is the party leader preparing to leave Downing Street for the last time?

Clement Attlee’s Labour had racked up huge majorities in its core seats in the north of England and Wales. But clearly those votes aren’t worth as much as those in a handful of seats that actually decides the election. The near-14 million who vote Labour counted for nothing, and Britain was in the hands of an aging Winston Churchill, eventually forced to hand over to the disaster that was Anthony Eden and pre-empting the Suez Crisis.

Fast-forward to February 1974. Ted Heath asks the question ‘who runs Britain’ – and has every right to be confused by the answer. He beats Labour in the popular vote but ends up with fewer seats and little chance of forming a government. Labour rules for six months, pushes over the line in a later election but still ends up struggling to hold the country together before letting Thatcher in.

And these anomalies aren’t confined to history – even in last year’s general election, a few hundred thousands votes going the other way would’ve given us a Tory plurality but a Labout government

First past the post was devised in the days before political parties, back when the few literate local citizens (or whoever owned the rotten borough) would get together to choose a local worthy to represent their interests before the monarch. it just about held together in the early days of party politics, but its usefulness has now ended. Today’s the day to vote yes.

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AV it!

Watching from a distance, it’s possible to view the campaign for the AV referendum with a detached amusement. But it’s becoming increasingly hard to stomach the ‘No’ brigade.

It’s perhaps not surprising that ‘No to AV’ is turning into one of the most dishonest and tendentious political campaigns in British history. For a start, it’s being engineered by the seconded chief of the Taxdodgers’ Alliance. Secondly, and more to the point, the only logical argument in favour of FPTP is that you favour a system that allows a party which 64 per cent of the population actively went out and voted against to have powers that would make a dictator blush. Not surprising, it’s an argument no one is making.

So we’re left with the smear and the half truth, both familiar to long-time observers of the Taxdodgers Alliance. The front page of the No to AV media webpage gives the game away – six smears against the Yes campaign, one ‘positive’ story – some F-list Tory sportspeople backing the no campaign (including such glittering luminaries as, err, pram-faced Fleetwood boxer Jane Couch)

They have a go at the Electoral Reform Society for, err, campaigning. In fact, our idiot boy Chancellor, Gideon Osborne, comes out with this gem

“The Electoral Reform Society – which is running some of the referendum ballots – stands to benefit if AV comes in because it could be one of the people who provide these electronic voting machines”

Erm, yes. Except we won’t need the machines because, in my experience, the bank clerks and social workers who count our elections can … err … count. And so what if the Electoral Reform Society did benefit? If its subsiduary, Electoral Reform Services, makes more money from clients (such as The Conservative Party, which runs its elections on a system that is a kissing cousin of AV) what will it do? Well, given that it is a wholely-owned subsiduary of the Electoral Reform Society, we can probably speculate that it will spend the money on … campaigning for electoral reform.

And David Cameron is equally dishonest and duplicitous, declaring falsely that under FPTP, all votes are of equal value. Are we to assume, then, that the Conservative party spends the same in marginal Morecambe as it does in safe-Labour Preston or solidly Tory Wyre? Well, fortunately, we have the figures. Wyre’s 71,612 voters had £7,179.16 spent on them by their Tory candidate (10p a head). Preston’s 61,025 voters received a lavish £725.75 (a tad over a penny apiece). For marginal Morecambe? £31,135.24 for 69,254 voters (45p). So, to David Cameron, your vote is worth at least four times as much if you live in a marginal than in a safe Tory seat. If you live in safe Labour territory? One 45th as much. The true figures, taking in cash from Central Office are, needless to say, likely to be even more damning.

It seems to Cameron, all votes are equal – but some are more equal than others.

Anyway, that’s quite enough logic and reason. Time to take a leaf from the ‘No to AV’ playbook, here’s the best negative argument yet against FPTP;

Anything that unites John Prescott, Margaret Beckett, Nick Griffin, Baroness Warsi, John Redwood and Norman Tebbit simply has to be a very, very bad thing