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Saturday, 7 May 2011

Today the Alternative Vote Campaign is in Mass Denial

Yesterday the Alternative Vote proposal was decisively rejected, by a two to one majority.

And today the supporters of the proposal are in mass denial.

Excuses are being deployed; blame is being apportioned; bad faith and knavish tricks are being alleged.

But the one reason which cannot be admitted is the rather obvious one: that people looked at the proposal and, er, did not actually want it...



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38 comments:

Sandrine Lopez said...

You're quite right. Assuming there was no trickery at the polls themselves (I'd like to think everything was above board) then people did stick with better the devil they know, and they think FPTP has got them the government they want. For now, that is.

Andy said...

The No2AV are the "mass denial" group. They've banded together to impose a "mass denial" of a fairer voting system to people with minority views. All I really wanted is a fair representation in parliament and now that will always be denied to me. The UK electoral system has now been firmly cemented back in the 19th century - a very sad reflection on so-called British fair-play...

patrickhadfield said...

I don't think we're in denial over that: no one really; positivley wanted AV - not even Nick Clegg. It was however a more fair system than FPTP. Most AV supporters, including me, saw it as a step towards a more proportional system.

PeteBlanchard said...

To a certain extent, you're right. But I think the Yes campaign lost because it was up against human nature & its instinctive resistance to change and didn't deliver. All the No folk really had to do was sit back & do nothing.

Anthony Smith said...

"But the one reason which cannot be admitted is the rather obvious one: that people looked at the proposal and, er, did not actually want it..."

That's certainly a possibility: it's possible that people genuinely understood what AV is and what difference it would make. But it's also possible that they didn't. Perhaps even likely.

John Fitzpatrick said...

Looking at the result, your claim is, erm, obvious. History will show that people voted against AV.

The fact that 58% of people didn't demonstate any choice will not be shown. That is a very significant figure in itself.

However, claims from some quarters that this was a vote against electoral reform demonstratres just as much denial. To conclude that electoral reform is not wanted or that FPTP is the preferred system is misguided. The question asked do we want to reform the system using AV, and the result was no.

I would be very interested in the result if the question was simply:

"Do you want to change our current electoral system?"

Sandrine Lopez said...

I do wonder though, how many politicians allegedly in favour of AV (like Nick Clegg and Ed Balls) will now distance themselves from the losing opinion... or just quietly hope everyone else will forget?

TK said...

I suspect people would be prepared for change if it was a good change. AV was fairer but over-complicated and poorly presented.

catdownunder said...

Consider yourselves fortunate it failed. Seriously. I have talked this over long and hard with senior members of the Australian Electoral Commission and they admit that any AV system is open to fraud.
In Australia we have a compulsory AV system. Attendance at the ballot box is compulsory. Nobody can force you to vote but, if you then choose to do, you MUST place a number in every square. If your candidate does not win your vote will flow to the candidate you have marked "2" and so on. You may totally oppose the policies of that next candidate but if you want your first vote to count you must preference that candidate.
What can then theoretically happen is that nobody's first choice gets in and the candidate nobody wanted wins.
Your proposal was not for compulsory AV but there were some equally difficult problems with it.
FPTP is flawed but better than the consequences that can flow from AV.

Al said...

I don't tend to discuss politics much with my housemates, but I did go vote with one of them on Thursday. However, whilst we discussed who we were voting for on the council (not Lib Dems- partly as they hadn't even campaigned in the ward, as far as we could tell) we didn't talk about AV.

So, fast forward to yesterday- we were both eating in the lounge. She doesn't tend to follow the news much, so hadn't seen most of the battle. The news came on the radio, and it mentioned the referendum result.

Her reaction? "Why did people vote?" She, having not seen the scaremongering campaigns, having no contact with political blogs, twitter, 24hr news etc, couldn't understand why people didn't want to change from so-called FPTP to ANYTHING else.

Anyway, I'll be interested to see how the "No to AV, Yes to PR" lot get on.

D-Notice said...

Excuses are being deployed; blame is being apportioned; bad faith and knavish tricks are being alleged.

But the one reason which cannot be admitted is the rather obvious one: that people looked at the proposal and, er, did not actually want it...
Surely such a claim would invole looking at polls stating why people voted the way they did?

Was it that they favoured FPTP; that they wanted some for of Proportional Rpresentation instead; or voted against AV to "punish" Clegg/Lib Dems?

Ann Kittenplan said...

OK let's look at what is actually written above.

I submit that the preceding blogpost is the truth...but not the *whole* truth.

Line 1 - Yesterday the Alternative Vote proposal was decisively rejected, by a two to one majority.

Factually correct. Unarguable, really.

Line 2 - And today the supporters of the proposal are in mass denial.

This is problematic but may well be sustainable esp in conjunction with...

Line 3 - Excuses are being deployed; blame is being apportioned; bad faith and knavish tricks are being alleged.

Excuses etc *are* being deployed. Largely maybe even wholly true.

Line 4 - But the one reason which cannot be admitted is the rather obvious one: that people looked at the proposal and, er, did not actually want it...

Again maybe true, though it would be a peculiar form of masochism to proclaim your resounding defeat from the rooftops.

So why is this substantially, maybe even wholly true, blogpost problematic.

For me it's the reasons behind the No vote: the reasons "that people looked at the proposal and, er, did not actually want it."

Why did the voters reject AV?

Some Yes campaigners are alleging dirty tricks. This seems to be supported by the evidence eg the £250m cost. There are many more instances. "We want to see receipts for the baby-saving incubators."

Even w/o the dirty tricks there may have been a No vote.

Some Yes campaigners are blaming the Clegg factor and, based on a sample of the one person I know who voted No, 100% of the No voters wanted to "stick it to Clegg."

Even w/o personality politics there may have been a No vote.

I'm not sure we'll ever know for sure.

Some questions for JoK

1. Why do you think the No campaign won by such a wide margin? Were the electorate given good information on which to base a decision? Did the electorate rationally weigh the arguments on the basis of good information?

2. Was Clegg a factor (beyond the one person I know?) If so to what extent?

3. Would you prefer PR to FPTP?

4. If not are you in favour of any sort of electoral reform?

zamzara64 said...

Well I agree people didn't want it, but we will never know why. What I know is I have spent the last two weeks trying to dispel AV myths such as "under it the least popular candidate can win", as started by Hazel Blears, or "votes for the BNP are counted multiple times". Cameron attacked it as "unfair and undemocratic", having backed it as the fairest choice to offer. If you run a dishonest campaign, the result is properly in question.

I am not saying this in hindsight as I wrote about this stitch up on this blog a few weeks ago. Clegg allowed this by agreeing to compromise on AV as the choice, but allowing Cameron to pull a bait and switch and then attack it as worse than all other options. Clegg should have only accepted a compromise if both sides agreed to back it. Otherwise, it wasn't a compromise at all, but merely a rigging: the person in power can't properly limit who is allowed to run against him. Clegg should have insisted on his own preference as the option and put *that* to the vote.

DuncanM said...

It does look as if many of the above comments make Jacks point.

The result wasn't even close, it was overwhelming.

Look guys, it wasn't because we are too uneducated to understand basic maths, too short sighted to resist the chance to kick Clegg, ot to stupid to fall for the AV kills babies ad campaign.

We took a look at it and went "Err nope, doesn't do it for me" and voted no.

That's democracy for you.

Alistair said...

When a prominent campaigner in the no camp comes out and admits the no campaign lied I think the yes group have every right to speculate that the result was not an accurate reflection.

The whole campaign was a mess and those who knew little or nothing about politics and electoral systems were not getting the information they needed to reach a balanced and well reasoned conclusion.

Personally I think the question was wrong and the referendum should have been more general asking whether the FPTP system should be replaced with a system of proportional representation or not.

Tom Chiverton said...

@catdownunder: don't be ridiculous, you can always spoil your ballot.

D-Notice said...

DuncanM

Look guys, it wasn't because we are too uneducated to understand basic maths, too short sighted to resist the chance to kick Clegg, or to stupid to fall for the AV kills babies ad campaign.

We took a look at it and went "Err nope, doesn't do it for me" and voted no.


In that case, can you - or anyone else for that matter - point me to any polls which shows people's reasons for voting how they did?

Otherwise, how can you be sure?

I am actually interested to see how it breaks down.

Similarly if there's any polls showing why people voted for AV, e.g. actually want AV; take AV but prefer some form of PR; "punish" Cameron/Tories, etc; I'd be interested in seeing them too.

For the record, my position is: take AV but prefer some form of PR.

Peter said...

The No campaign put a more convincing case. With better communication, the Yes side could have won.

DuncanS said...

I actually find *all* the second guessing a bit irritating. Anyone who says they know why people voted the way they did, including in this post, is being delusional. I suspect that every theory given is true for somebody - but I don't actually know. for all I know everyone who voted no did so because it comes before yes alphabetically. Everyone is so keen to spin it their way, but actually *any* extrapolation, INCLUDING the one in this post is basically fraudulent. 68% voted no, 32% voted yes. That is all we know.

Jules said...

catdownunder:

I must correct you and point out that a candidate who is nobody's first preference cannot possibly win under AV, as a candidate with zero first preferences will be the first to be eliminated.

As you identify that the system of AV that was proposed for the UK would involve optional rather than mandatory preferential voting, I fail to see the "equally difficult problems" created by a system where people can choose whether or not they vote in a runoff.

I am not convinced that the fact that Australians must rank all candidates is even a problem. French socialists who voted for Chirac in the 2002 runoff clearly did not like Chirac, but they happened to give their votes to a candidate who would have lost under FPTP and clearly did have a preference against Le Pen. They quite clearly felt it important that Chirac beat Le Pen and expressed a meaningful preference.

As to AV somehow being more open to fraud than FPTP, I fail to see any argument or evidence for this.

I do agree with Jack of Kent that those participating in the referendum did, for whatever reason, indicate general dislike of AV. I will go so far as to congratulate the No campaign for running a more effective campaign. Needless to say, I disagree with the No campaign and majority of the British public and hope that there is an appetite for electoral reform in the future.

As much as I would like to blame low turnout for the result, I have to say that those who failed to show up at the polls were unlikely to have strong opinions about AV, FPTP, or any particular voting system.

The reasons why voters rejected AV will certainly be studied and debated for many years to come. My suspicion is that AV was rejected because the British public is relatively conservative when it comes to matters of constitutional change.

Jules said...

catdownunder:

I must correct you and point out that a candidate who is nobody's first preference cannot possibly win under AV, as a candidate with zero first preferences will be the first to be eliminated.

As you identify that the system of AV that was proposed for the UK would involve optional rather than mandatory preferential voting, I fail to see the "equally difficult problems" created by a system where people can choose whether or not they vote in a runoff.

I am not convinced that the fact that Australians must rank all candidates is even a problem. French socialists who voted for Chirac in the 2002 runoff clearly did not like Chirac, but they happened to give their votes to a candidate who would have lost under FPTP and clearly did have a preference against Le Pen. They quite clearly felt it important that Chirac beat Le Pen and expressed a meaningful preference.

As to AV somehow being more open to fraud than FPTP, I fail to see any argument or evidence for this.

I do agree with Jack of Kent that those participating in the referendum did, for whatever reason, indicate general dislike of AV. I will go so far as to congratulate the No campaign for running a more effective campaign. Needless to say, I disagree with the No campaign and majority of the British public and hope that there is an appetite for electoral reform in the future.

As much as I would like to blame low turnout for the result, I have to say that those who failed to show up at the polls were unlikely to have strong opinions about AV, FPTP, or any particular voting system.

The reasons why voters rejected AV will certainly be studied and debated for many years to come. My suspicion is that AV was rejected because the British public is relatively conservative when it comes to matters of constitutional change.

Rob said...

What happened? You used to write insightful articles that explained complicated issues in a way everyone could understand.

But this just appears to be gloating.

You must know it's not as simple as you state. Some people do genuinely want to keep the current system, some people didn't understand what they were voting for and others were misled.

Most importantly more than half the country didn't bother to turn up which is an indication of disillusionment with politics in it's entirety than anything to do with this one issue. What can be done about that?

Like everybody who lives in a safe seat for whichever party I have no say in the running of this country. After twenty five years of that why should I bother voting? This would have been a small step towards a fairer system but now I might as well give up.

I can look after myself and my own under any government or system. But clearly I read too many Biggles books as a child and developed unrealistic hopes for a fairer society.

DuncanM said...

@D-Notice.

"In that case, can you - or anyone else for that matter - point me to any polls which shows people's reasons for voting how they did?"

No of course I can't, but then by the same argument neither can those yes campaigners who are currently crying foul show that the vote was somehow stolen from them by the no campaigns allegedly unfair tactics.

I'm suggesting that the electorate is a little bit more savvy and smart than some people here are giving them credit for.

When a vote is close I can see the argument that disingenuous conduct by one side or the other can swing it.

But in this case the result was so clear cut that, as per Occam, the simplest explanation is probably the right one. People looked at the AV proposal and didn't believe that it would create a better, fairer voting system.

I'm understand it might be difficult for the committed AV supporter to accept the result as fair, and downright impossible to accept that the voters could have got it right. Nevertheless that is what the sizable majority of those of us who put our mark on the paper on Thursday are telling you. And we can't all be easily misled fools or knaves.

Elrik Merlin said...

Hmmm. I don't think it's quite as simple as that. I think Tom Clark's article in the Guardianpretty well covered it all.

Frankly, it rather looks as if the Scottish system of FPTP for MPs and then regional lists to make up proportionality would be rather a good idea. Of course we aren't going to get a chance to ask for that.

Polleetickle said...

I didnt need convincing about supporting NO2AV - AV is utterly flawed on many points.

OK, FPTP isnt perfect, but its basis for democracy is.

Had the proposal been for multi-FPTP / TRS or another evolution of FPTP, then I would have voted for it.

catdownunder said...

Yes Tom, a lot of people do spoil their ballot papers in Australia. Some do it deliberately, others do it unintentionally. There is the "donkey" vote where people just write "1" in the top box and then continue to the bottom without even thinking about what they are doing.
Jules, a candidate with zero first preferences would immediately be eliminated but that is unlikely isn't it? (Most candidates would at least vote for themselves!) But, do the maths, and you will find it is possible for a candidate with very few first round votes to win on compulsory preferences.

Cosmic Navel Lint said...

Amongst all the deliberately dissembling claims as to why the 'Yes to AV' camp lost is the corker that "people didn't understand mechanisms of AV - it's too complex...", when in reality, as the author states, the AV proposal was rejected simply because people did not want it. And like the Birthers in the US, there are still those in the 'Yes to AV' camp who will never, under any circumstances, believe or accept that.

Lloyd Jenkins said...

@DuncanM
"But in this case the result was so clear cut that, as per Occam, the simplest explanation is probably the right one. People looked at the AV proposal and didn't believe that it would create a better, fairer voting system."

How is the electorate receiving information, cutting out the false claims and then weighing the arguments on both sides the simplest solution? Personality politics is pretty simple and it fits with the current trend for attacking the Lib Dems/Nick Clegg rather than the coalition as a whole. If Occam is the right method then I don't think that 'intelligent, well informed electorate' is the obvious solution.

Cosmic Navel Lint said...

John Fitzpatrick wrote:

"Looking at the result, your claim is, erm, obvious. History will show that people voted against AV.

The fact that 58% of people didn't demonstate any choice will not be shown. That is a very significant figure in itself."


Perhaps the fact that the other 58% of voters who didn't turn out to vote on such an 'important' issue might instruct you as to how and what they felt about any form of change to the current voting system?

Indeed, had they deemed it such a 'constitutional imperative' to vote for change, then surely they'd have turned out in their battalions to vote for that change. And yet they clearly didn't. Nigh-on 60% of the voting public deemed this such a non-issue that they couldn't, in the vernacular, be arsed.

And I think we can agree that at no time in the 'No to AV' camp's campaign (regardless of their other questionable practices) did they advocate a mass stay-at-home on the issue.

"However, claims from some quarters that this was a vote against electoral reform demonstratres just as much denial."

See my comments above. If the actual vote had resulted in a marginal call, then there might have been some credence in the above assertion - as the call was nothing like equivocal or marginal, there isn't.

"To conclude that electoral reform is not wanted or that FPTP is the preferred system is misguided. The question asked do we want to reform the system using AV, and the result was no."

When in reality, the LibDems and the other Yes camp followers knew that AV was merely a halfway house and a sop to their political base (and a manifesto policy); and that had they pushed for full PR, they'd now be staring down the barrel of an even larger national spanking than they actually received on the question of AV.

"I would be very interested in the result if the question was simply:

"Do you want to change our current electoral system?"


Err... Change it to what? You can't leave an open-ended question like that and expect anything like a meaningful answer. The army have a maxim for this: aim at nothing and you're bound to hit it. 'Let the dice fall where they may' is not a strategy.

If you want a recent working example of just badly these types of meaningless questions can come back to bite you squarely on the backside, then I give you the Tories, "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" which saw them get taken to the cleaners at that election.

Steve said...

Before asserting that the Yes campaign is engaged in denial, I would want to know whether it is the stated opinion of (members of) the Yes campaign that they lost *because of* dirty tricks by No. If so, who has said this?

Chris Huhne for example has gained a lot of publicity before and after the vote by stating his opinion that No2AV campaigners lied. David Blunkett, who was on the No side, has stated his opinion (only after the vote, as far as I know) that No2AV campaigners "made up numbers" (that is to say, they lied). Has either of them said that this is the reason No won?

Several Yes campaigners have said exactly the thing that this article states that they have not. The live BBC coverage of the count had on it a parade of Lib Dems offering various platitudes along the lines of "well, the electorate has said it doesn't want AV, so that's the verdict". To accuse them of failing to admit this is either absurd or grossly ignorant.

Yes campaigners can believe that No campaigners lied, without necessarily believing that those apparent lies were responsible for as much as a 20% swing, the distance between the actual result and a Yes win.

Given the actual result, it seems unlikely to me that very much the campaigns could have done differently, would have resulted in a "Yes" win. This doesn't mean it doesn't matter whether the campaigns were conducted honestly. There are a few senior Conservatives in particular who I feel didn't cover themselves in glory in this campaign (starting but not ending with Baroness Warsi), and I think that it's right they should be held to account for that, and pay in terms of their personal credibility.

With reference to the earlier torture/bin Laden debate, perhaps this is one of those situations in which they felt that the ends justified corrupt means. In my opinion the irony is that they needn't have bothered, they could have run an honest campaign and won.

Steve said...

Cosmic Navel Lint: the proposition that "people wouldn't understand AV" isn't one invented by the Yes campaign, it was a plank of No2AV's case. I received leaflets through my door, telling me that I should reject AV because it is too complicated, and embrace FPTP because it is simple. I had discussions with friends who expressed the intention to vote no, and listed among their reasons that AV is "too complicated".

I would challenge anyone who endorsed the No2AV campaign to stand on a voter's doorstop and say not, "AV is too complicated", but "AV is too complicated *for you*". It's very easy to insinuate that "people" are stupid, rather more difficult to indicate which people one is actually talking about. But No2AV ran an effective "throw everything and see what sticks" campaign, and Yes never really made them pay for any parts that didn't stick, or shouldn't have stuck.

If Yes campaigners are saying that people voted No because they were unaware of the benefits of AV, then that's a failure of the Yes campaign to communicate those benefits. Whether that speculation is true or not, it's in no way inconsistent with the reality that the No vote won.

Thomas Dent said...

It would take at least two years time and a serious, intense campaign of public meetings and debates to make a proper case for AV, or any electoral reform. If Clegg had realized that he wouldn't be in the pickle he is.

The effort required to achieve change is not surprising given that most people are unlikely to change their minds about the electoral systems based on a couple of leaflets and a handful of celebrity endorsements. Which is what the Yes campaign amounted to.

I, and most of my university-educated peers, voted Yes to AV, probably because we were able to see past the crappiness of the campaign to realize that AV is actually a better system if there are more than 2 parties.

Anti-AVers riddle me this: Why did the universities and parts of London vote so overwhelmingly more positively than any other parts of the country? The only reason that makes any sense is that people with a degree are that much more open to new ideas and able to evaluate them fairly and independently by critical thinking.

JoK's apparent premise is that most voters paid attention to well-presented and accurate cases from both the Yes and No camps and then thought carefully before making up their minds. I think that is a pure fantasy. I think that most voters read the No leaflets and repeated their mendacious talking points to each other without much critical reflection. That's the sad reality of what we call political debate in this country.

Am I calling people stupid? No. But I am saying that the great majority of voters probably never took or had the time to think critically about whether what the campaigns were telling them was true.

Cosmic Navel Lint said...

Thomas Dent wrote:

"I, and most of my university-educated peers, voted Yes to AV, probably because we were able to see past the crappiness of the campaign to realize that AV is actually a better system if there are more than 2 parties.

Anti-AVers riddle me this: Why did the universities and parts of London vote so overwhelmingly more positively than any other parts of the country? The only reason that makes any sense is that people with a degree are that much more open to new ideas and able to evaluate them fairly and independently by critical thinking.


So, finally, we get the bottom of it: in other words, "the rest of you plebs and non-sophisticates just aren't intelligent enough to understand AV or PR, it's best left to us, your betters and superiors.

Just priceless. Epoch-redefining condescension.

Steve said...

@Thomas:

"The only reason that makes any sense is that people with a degree are that much more open to new ideas and able to evaluate them fairly and independently by critical thinking."

I'm pro, but I can riddle that. People who've been through university (and seen student politics) or who live in London and made a second-preference for mayor, are more likely to have *already considered* various voting systems in the past, and therefore to be able to make an informed choice on AV without the benefit of two years of public meetings or an effective Yes campaign.

Doesn't necessarily mean we're more open to new ideas, just that between us we've had a lot more opportunities to mull this one over. People who've never even considered AV or electoral reform before are (I suspect) far more likely to abstain or else vote No from a conservative precautionary principle, than people who have. This doesn't make those newcomers less open to new ideas, it makes them less familiar with *this* new idea.

A.J. Wimble said...

I supported the chaneg to Av and if the referenum had been lost by a narrow margin I may have argued that the result was caused by one of many factors and suggest that a new referendum should be held in the future.

That was not the case forever. The result was a pretty decisive rejection of a change to AV. Some people objected because they felt FPTP was a better system, many objected because they did not see the point of a change which even the yes campaign was saying would not actually make much different. Either way the rejection was clear and I think rules out any use of AV for electing MPs for many years to come.

Personally I think that after this result, those of us who are in favour of constitutional reform should concentrate on getting an elected house of lords and gettin the relationship between the commons and the lords right.

Nick Evans said...

Jack's different options aren't mutually exclusive, of course. It's quite possible that the No campaign was dastardly, and people didn't want the change.

Thomas Dent said...

Well, what is Navel Lint's explanation for why precisely the ancient universities and central London voted for AV?

Does he or she believe that higher education teaches nothing at all?

Navel Lint seems to be in denial about the fact that some people are more educated than others, and that this could confer some benefit on them. Hating the educated and the institutions of higher education is nothing new in British politics or culture.

Cosmic Navel Lint said...

Thomas Dent wrote: "Well, what is Navel Lint's explanation for why precisely the ancient universities and central London voted for AV?"

It could be a myriad reasons - but I doubt, as you would have it, that it's simply because "they're more educated" than the plebeian hordes outside of Oxbridge and the metropolis, you pompous ass.

"Does he or she believe that higher education teaches nothing at all?"

You do seem to specialise in the grasping-at-straws non sequitur, don't you, Thomas.

"Navel Lint seems to be in denial about the fact that some people are more educated than others, and that this could confer some benefit on them. Hating the educated and the institutions of higher education is nothing new in British politics or culture."

And the fact that you've just made up the above sweeping and unsubstantiated assertion, and that you've actually no idea where I went to university [or what I studied], doesn't dent (no pun intended) your ardour, any?

Prognosticating poltroons have never persuaded me as to their cause - usually because they insist on dealing in nothing more than bait-n-switch, bumper-sticker rhetoric; as exampled by your posts in this thread.