11 January 2011

Fisking Chris Williamson on AV

Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for Derby North, has laid out why he is against introducing AV. Here is my response to his points:

The central plank of the ‘Yes to AV’ campaign is disingenuous because its claims about AV being fairer than ‘First Past the Post’ are based on a false premise.

AV will make no difference to a large number of constituencies where candidates secure more than 50% of the votes cast. Even in the last general election - where popular support for the parties was closer than normal - more than a third of the candidates had over 50% of the vote.

No-one is suggesting it will make a difference in the safest seats where the winning party gets ~50% or more. But the big difference will come in all the other seats, where the winner will need to get the backing of a bigger number of voters to get elected. I don't see why MPs are afraid of this: why are you scared of trying to get more people to vote for you ahead of your opponents?

In the other constituencies, introducing AV could see second or even third placed candidates ultimately winning. That is the very antithesis of democracy. Our existing system is considerably more democratic by comparison and is well understood by the electorate at large.

AV will elect the candidate with the most overall support. Some MPs came first but with more than 2 in 3 electors voting against them*. Those 2 in 3 could between them prefer someone else. Why should 1-in-3 minority voters get their way ahead of 2-in-3 majority?

How can it be right for fringe party supporters to have their vote counted several times, while those backing mainstream candidates only have one vote counted? By any measure of fairness that is just plain wrong.

Every vote is counted the same amount. The last place candidate gets knocked out, their votes redistributed, then every vote for the remaining candidates is counted again.

Furthermore, at a time when the country is facing unprecedented cuts, this whole debate and referendum is a colossal waste of time and money, particularly when very few people actually want electoral reform. I have campaigned for the Labour Party in every local, European and general election since 1976 and I can honestly say nobody has ever raised this issue on the doorstep.

If it is a waste of time and money to have a referendum on AV, why did your manifesto call for a referendum on AV? Your constituents may not have specifically mentioned electoral reform, but I bet they've mentioned MPs' expenses and expressed apathy at politics and politicians. The two are deeply interlinked. The way we do democracy in this country needs root and branch reform, so that the public no longer feel taken for granted.

The Labour Party is Britain’s best vehicle to deliver progressive change and the outcome of the last general election offers an historic opportunity to rebuild Labour’s progressive credentials. That is why I am working for a majority Labour government at the next general election by appealing to those progressives who voted for other parties. By muddying the electoral waters through the introduction of AV, the guy ropes of Labour’s progressive big tent could be cut even before it is fully erected.

I don't care what effect AV will have on any specific party. I want a system that's fair to voters, not one that puts some parties above others. You care about the effect it could have on Labour. Fine, but don't pretend you are picking the electoral system out of fairness rather than self-interest.

The Liberal Democrats, who are responsible for installing this vicious right-wing administration, hope that AV would create continuous coalition government and give them the chance to be perpetual kingmakers.

No-one really knows what effect AV will have on creating majority vs. coalition governments, but assuming your guess is right, the only reason that the Lib Dems are kingmakers is because Labour and the Conservatives belligerently refuse to work with each other. Don't blame the Lib Dems for your own belligerence.

But Liberal Democrats are not a national party and their support in a few regional enclaves is inadequate to propel them into government without doing shabby little deals behind closed doors. Their shameful pact with the Conservatives will create untold hardship to millions of citizens and is damaging our economic recovery.

Absolute tosh. The reason the Lib Dems don't get many seats is because their support is too spread across the country, with too few regional enclaves. FPTP rewards divisive parties with strong regional enclaves. That's why Labour automatically win most seats in the urban North, and the Tories win most seats in the rural South. If Labour is your idea of a national party, remind me how many seats you won in South England last year?**

I'll tell you what is a shabby deal: a single party taking the reins of the country when most people don't want them. But that's what happened in 2005, when Labour got into power despite 65% of the country voting for against you. The same thing has been happening for decades. No wonder people feel so disillusioned by politics. At least with a coalition, the majority of people voted for the a party that's in power, even if that means the parties coming to a compromise. I agree that parties should be clear about their priorities during the election so that voters know what they can expect if their preferred party goes into a coalition. (By printing their top four priorities on the front cover of their manifesto, and getting all of them into the coalition agreement, that's exactly what the Lib Dems did.)

Do we really want to increase the prospects of Liberal Democrats having influence in future governments, when under our existing system they could and should be virtually wiped out? I think not. That's why I don’t want to see them being thrown the lifeline of electoral reform.

That's nicely partisan of you, but don't forget, if we go back to two party politics, for every majority Labour government there'll be a majority Tory government waiting in the wings to have it all their way. You may feel the Lib Dems aren't dampening the excesses of the Tories enough - well that's an argument to make sure the Lib Dems get more of their fair share of influence rather than less!

AV is bad news for democracy, bad news for progressive change and bad news for the millions of people who need the return of a Labour government at the earliest opportunity.

Well at least you're being honest in the last part of that sentence - your opposition to reform is based on what's good for Labour, not what's best for the country as a whole. The majority of the country has never ever voted for Labour.*** We have never wanted you in complete control of the country, and we never will.

* Chris Williamson is one of these MPs. He got just 33.0% of the vote at the general election. His seat, Derby North, is now a three-way marginal, with the Conservatives on 31.7% and the Lib Dems on 28.0%. So in the last election, FPTP may well have allowed him to cling on to his job. I'll leave you to judge what is motivating his resistance to reform now.

** The answer: In the South of England, Labour won just 8 seats out of 139 (5.8%), or 1,124,507 votes out of 7,067,683 (15.9%).

*** To be fair, in 1945 the country came very close: 49.7% voted Labour. That's still not a majority though!


Ben Donnelly said...

Great work!

derdrie said...

Why not just state AV for what it is. You can vote for your prinicpled party, and then the system lets you give an extra vote for the LibDems.