Why vote YES for the alternative vote?

1) Because each constituency gets the candidate that gets more that 50% of preferences expressed by the voters there.
Even though some will be “woohoo!” preferences and others “grudgingly but only because s/he is marginally better than that other bloke/ woman I really couldn’t stand to have” preferences, to have ranked the candidate indicates some sort of goodwill towards them.
NB there’s no guarantee that 50% of the votes cast is the same as 50% of those eligible to vote.  For that, you’d need to make voting compulsory.

2) Because no seat should be a safe seat – 200,000 or so voters have determine the results of several recent elections via key marginals. And what’s wrong with candidates having to seek the second preferences of a wider group of voters in a constituency?
The theory of First Past the Post is we vote for individuals not for a prime minister or party.  This is clearly not what really happens, but little energy is put into campaigning in the safe seats. There jolly well should be if our votes are meant to be equal.
The argument against is that candidates might start using more BNP-like language to seek that sort of party’s voters second preferences.
This is because if the BNP came last in a constituency, then BNP supporters’ transferred second preference votes would be the first to be transferred and could determine the outcome in specific seats as claimed by the NO2AV campaign and in a constituency split very closely between two leading candidates it may be only those of the voters that gave their first preference to the party that received the fewest first preferences.  Just a thought: would that clip have seemed as dramatic if “extremists” had been replaced throughout by “the Green Party”?
The idea seems to be to say that AV gives supporters of smaller parties more than one vote. Blogger Rupert Read explains this brilliantly.  If you go into a restaurant and you find your first choice isn’t available because it wasn’t popular enough, why shouldn’t you have the chance to opt for a second choice dish rather than go without food?

3) Because unless you are a tribalist supporter of a specific political party you probably don’t have one party that closely reflects all your views – AV allows you to rank the candidates to express this.
Or not to – you can rank as many or few as you like. Oh and you might actually want to find out what they stand for – better political engagement!

4) Because your vote is often either tactical, or if you support a small party, choosing between candidates for the least worst ones most likely to get in.
This scheme allows you to both vote for where your heart lies (say a smaller party) and then choose between the others on offer that might stand a bigger chance of getting in thereby giving a more accurate picture of political beliefs in the UK. So yes, in a way you are still voting tactically, but you are doing this visibly rather than in your head…

5) Because most of us are already voting in elections that use a system other than First Past the Post right here in the UK… Are you in Wales? Scotland?  Using STV in Northern Ireland?  Voting for the London Mayor? Or Mayors more widely – using AV itself? Or what about the European Parliament Elections – surely you vote in those?  All those elections already use a system other than FPTP, so are we REALLY going to be totally confused and unable to vote if we use something else for our General Elections?

6) Because the BNP are NOT more likely to get elected!
The BNP are campaigning against AV. But if most people in a constituency want to vote BNP we should not be looking at rigging the voting system against them as the best way to stop them getting into parliament.
For the BNP to be elected under AV, they would need more than 50% of the vote to have expressed goodwill towards them by giving them a preference.
Frankly, democracy means the power of the people, and if a majority want to vote BNP then we should let them express that, even if we find the message abhorrent.  There are better ways to confront the BNP message than to attempt to use the voting system against them.
But FPTP is the system that means more seats are gained by extremist parties. If you look at Council seats, second and third and fourth preferences of voters voting for other parties would in very many cases have transferred against the BNP in the Council seats that they have won.

7) Because it is really not that complicated…
First Past the Post predates mass literacy thus only requiring an X – but most people know how to write their numbers these days.  And to prove that the press is making a meal of it and that it is not difficult, here’s a group of school kids to explain!

8 ) Because the line from the No campaign that “it’s more difficult to predict” is actually a benefit…
It should mean less lazy journalism and pollsters in the run up to elections.

9) Because “it costs money to change” doesn’t mean it is the wrong thing to do
Here’s the Spectator on why… and a challenge on the figures (which No campaigner chair Margaret Beckett described on Radio 4 Any Questions today as having been extrapolated from the costs of introducing electronic counting machines in Scotland…).
£250 million sounds like a lot of money – but £20 million? A drop in the ocean and nothing compared with e.g. the NAO report that fraud, customer error, and DWP staff error costs £900 million per year each last year! (That’s a whole other issue that needs sorting).
And was it cost effective to extend the vote to women in 1918?  To younger voters in 1969? Would it have made it the wrong thing to do?

10) Because there isn’t going to be a referendum for AV Plus, D’Hondt, pairing or an STV system around any time soon
AV retains many of the familiar things about FPTP (ability to have landslide governments, smallish constituencies represented by one person) – whether you see those as good or bad depends on your view of FPTP and proportional representation systems. Actually, there’s not a massive difference between AV and STV if you realise that it is how STV would play out if used in a single member constituency…
But honestly, AV is the only show in town as an alternative to FPTP.  
If it’s not enough of a change for you, by all means vote no. As blogger Neil Harding points out, that’s rather like saying no to a minimum wage becasue you support a £8 level not a £5 level…
But I’d urge you to take part, and obviously – given this post – to vote yes. What have you got to lose?

They also serve… but don’t count?

Ladies and gentlemen, today’s blog is dedicated to those who cannot make a difference to the general election today.

I’m not talking about people that did not register (their fault). 
Nor those who choose not to use the vote that others fought and died for them to have (and this debt is particularly great for women – yes, I would have been a suffragette). 
I’m not even talking about those in safe seats (after all, if enough votes are there percentage-wise nationally then it should be impossible to claim a mandate that ignores popular support for voting reform). 
And I’m not going to write more than this sentence about the scandal of our service personnel overseas who accidentally found themselves disenfranchised while on active service.

Today’s post does concern people who are effectively serving the interests of their country, but who are also exercising their rights as citizens of this country.  Today there are thousands of British people abroad, in other Member States of the European Union, who, because they have been abroad for more than 5 years have lost their right to vote in UK general elections.

The official explanation is that after 5 years – and it used to be 10 years – they are not sufficiently connected to the situation in this country.  And if they are so attached to living elsewhere, they can always apply to be citizens of the country where they are resident instead.

I can see that there might be something in this argument if you have, say, moved your entire family from Luton to a small village in Pakistan (although there are of course villages there where you can spend pounds). To move back to the EU for a moment, I can see that this might apply if you are living it up in the Costa del wossit, speaking English loudly at the locals and reading the Daily Mail.

But if you are a Brit directly employed by the EU institutions, the idea that you are that disconnected is… just weird.
Don’t get me wrong – on my return from Brussels I seriously considered (for about 5 minutes) a mini-memoir on recovering from expat life to be called “saying merci to London bus drivers”.
But living in Brussels, I was still intimately connected to the UK.  I not only travelled home for work, and for family, I watched the BBC (proper British BBC channels, not BBC World and BBC Prime), listened to Radio 4 in the mornings, shopped at H&M and Zara – and some people even had Sky (shh!)
Nothing about my life there made me particularly want to stop being British to become a Belgian national.
But that’s also a very odd suggestion for people who are actually engaged in one level of the UK’s governance (note that’s governance, not government, euroconspiracy theorists), just as if they were a public servant in local government or civil servant. 
The irony is that nationals from other EU countries can actually work in the UK civil service (except the Foreign Office, where they can only really be locally engaged at post).  For them, most of their governments allow them to vote – so they are not disenfranchised by living here.
But while we pride ourselves on being the cradle of democracy it actually seems that our starting point is not being expansive with access to the vote. 
Add to this the vagueries of a First Past the Post and the lack of a written constitution (where, watching Channel 4 news last night it looks as if either Cabinet Office guidance or the visceral right wing press will decide the way in which we get a new Prime Minister in the case of a hung parliament) and you begin to understand why no politician seems to care about those being left out while undertaking a role in public service at one of the UK’s constitutional political levels. 
So many of us don’t understand our political set-up and the potential wider implications of disenfranchising the Brits within it in the EU institutions, which help give it legitimacy (because there are Brits, who know and understand the UK in each of the institutions). 
Ignoring them gives succour to the europhobic idea that such people are somehow in it for themselves or traitors.  And that sort of rubbish denies us our right to see the EU as ours, just as much as it is French, Dutch, Portuguese or Estonian.   

But don’t hold your breath for this to be resolved.  No government can be expected to be motivated to change legislation for just a few thousand people, and the fact that they work in the EU institutions is hardly likely to motivate a great degree of sympathy.  Unless those that would benefit from the re-enfranchisement of the Costa Blanca expats might change it to get that extra support.

If you can vote, I hope you did.  On the Voltaire principle of course.

Where’s the change on offer for safe seats?

 (in the interests of impartiality, I should point out that these are showjumping rosettes and are available in a wide range of colours!)

This morning at the station I received my first leaflet of the election campaign.
The leaflet was for the incumbent MP and the word that leapt out was “change”.  Everything was about change, more of the same or a change. You have a choice and a chance for change.  Yes, change is a good thing indeed.

I’ve already pointed out the nonsense of the leaders debates as I have no option of voting for the leader o f a political party, merely for a constituency member of parliament.  So my choice is not going to be the sort of choice the press seem keen to portray.
But there’s an additional issue that affects the choice I actually get at the general election…
I live in a constituency where you can pretty much weigh the vote for one party. 
That party (once boundary issues have been taken into account) has about 54% of the popular vote in this constituency.  
So I guess I live in one of the 382 constituencies that the Electoral Reform Society has described as so safe that the election is over already.

So effectively my MP, expenses allowing, has a job for life.  As did his predecessor, and the one before that too. Regardless of competence, because of the party that they belong to.
In our first-past-the-post electoral system, that’s effectively it. 
This area becomes one for rookie parliamentary candidates to cut their teeth, and I don’t expect to be doorstepped.  Much. (Actually the house is new to the area too so surely someone should call and canvas if they want our votes?)

Democracy may well be the least worst alternative, but if I didn’t want to vote for the incumbent and to stand a chance to get the candidate of my choice elected, my only choice would be to move to an area which was more marginal and where there would be a real contest, or by choosing to live in an area where my party of choice always won the safe seats. 
But isn’t moving house rather a drastic way of getting to express oneself democratically? 

According to the Electoral Reform Society, first-past-the-post is also damaging for the prospect of getting more women into politics:

First-Past-the-Post lets down female candidates with the huge advantages it hands to incumbents, and by affording so few opportunities to break into national politics. It lets down women voters and constituents by limiting their choices and fostering a negative, aggressive political culture.

But while first-past-the-post is the “normal” system for Westminster elections, it is not the only voting system that voters are used to across the UK.  While STV is in use in Northern Ireland (and for local elections in Scotland but there’s a right old mix of systems in use in Wales and Scotland), Londoners use the Supplementary Vote system to choose the mayor, and we all use the Closed list Proportional Representation system for European elections which means that voters do not have any say over the individual candidates they helped to elect for each party. 

This proliferation of systems is confusing to say the least.  But it does prove that it is not beyond the wit of the British electorate to do sometihng more than mark an X in a box next to the logo of the party they want to elect.

There are two systems up for discussion in this election look to be Alternative vote plus (AV+) and the Single Transferable Vote (STV).  Politicians like to say that they keep a link between voter and representative at a constituency level (which is great if you live in an area where you actually have a choice for a change).  AV+ fulfills that by offering the chance for county-level top-up seats on top of the local area MPs – but does that create two tiers of MPs? 
In any case, multi-member constituencies can still offer that link and also, as AV+ does, give voters in an area more chance of having someone of their political views representing them in parliament.  And as the Electoral Reform Society points out, sophisticated proportional representation systems like STV offer us the choice of voting for the people we want and not just the parties (and that can matter – there’s a massive difference between a vote for John Redwood and a vote for Damian Green, or a vote for David Miliband and one for Dennis Skinner – sometimes its good to remember that most parties are themselves coalitions).

But ultimately, I’m not particularly bothered about which alternative system is used, and I’m not espousing one or another personally as it’s fast becoming party political and at the moment that is something that I do not do publically.

Essentially, if I have no intention of moving house any time soon, on the basis of voting trends in this area, if I were not to vote for the incumbent MP, I could potentially spend the rest of my adult life without ever getting someone I voted for as my representative in my national parliament.   I realise there are thousands and thousands of voters out there for whom that has been the case.  Doesn’t that seem a waste?   
A voting system that removes the concept of the safe seat, and requires everyone competing in an election, and crucially valued the votes of every voter more than first-past-the-post… is that too much to ask? 
Or is that one change too far for the candidates in this constituency?

Turning Japanese

A while back I decided I wanted to learn Japanese (and you can tell how long ago ago it was by the fact that I bought a cassette).
But I never really took to it and the only words I can remember were “arigato” for thank you and “pikkuniccu” for picnic.  So I could thank someone for giving me food.  That’s probably ok – politeness is terribly important there.

But we have Japanese friends here in London, someone I know is working out there at the moment and – once some of our close relatives emigrate down under in the next few months – flying far enough round the world to actually consider stopping in Japan without it feeling like a huge extravagance to go there is now a reality.  My husband went to Japan nearly a decade ago and still talks about the extrordinary feeling of otherness, and identification with Lost in Translation (although the expereince was a much more positive one for him).

And as a political junkie, today’s election result is something to draw me in, to get me even more interested in the place.  I’ve always wanted to see both Tokyo and the older, cherry blossom Japan, but now I’m fascinated to see a country with a culture so generally different to my own, and which for the first time in 50 years is now experiencing a change of government.

Watch this space to see if we get there!