This week, the No2AV campaign shifted its attention to a new theme – ‘One person, one vote’ .
This comes after 25 leading historians, including David Starkey and CPS board member Niall Ferguson, wrote to The Times claiming that a move to the AV system would mean that elections would be determined by
'the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates'.
The debate around whether AV shifts away from the principle of one person, one vote is set to become one of the key issues in the campaign. No campaigners claim that it allows some individuals to have their votes counted up to six times. The Yes brigade state that individuals will still have one vote, but represented by a set of preferences.
The key underlying assumption made by supporters of AV in dismissing the multiple votes claim is that we should think of the AV process in rounds or run-offs.
If no one candidate gets support of 50% of the electorate, then the candidate with the least first preferences is eliminated and the outcome put to a second round. The second round is then carried out by redistributing the eliminated candidate’s second preferences – which now become first preferences. The assumption is therefore made that people who voted for candidates still in the contest would not change their remaining preference set.
Yet there are two big problems with these assumptions.
Firstly, people vote according to who is in the contest. If the BNP were thought to be a threat to your seat, then you might put Labour as your first or second choice (even though you are an ardent Tory) as a means of keeping them out. But if you had the knowledge that they were eliminated in the first/second round, then you might want ANYONE BUT Labour. It is erroneous to assume that the order of preferences remain the same going forward. And if they don’t, then what is the point of listing them at the start?
Secondly, it seems to me that AV would work OK so long as nobody voted tactically. Indeed, the Yes campaigners have said that the system reduces the need for tactical voting. But are we really to believe that those engaging in the dark art of politics are not going to play the system and actively encourage us to vote for a preference set to maximise their own chance of return? You can imagine situations with local candidates on your door-step pleading for your second preference. Or even, bizarrely, telling you not to vote for them: see here.
The thought of reducing our democratic process like this… to what is effectively a spread bet… fills me with dread. It reminds me of football World Cups, when you always get a friend who suggests making your sweepstake more complicated to ‘maintain interest’.
Yes, first-past-the-post is not perfect. But AV isn’t an improvement. Do we really want more tactical local politics and the likelihood of more national policies decided behind closed doors? Will it really increase the legitimacy of the elected and stimulate interest in the political system? Is riding in on the wave of third preferences the same thing as having ‘support’?
As Thatcher famously once said: “No! No! No!”