This leaflet came in the post today regarding next week’s referendum. It was from the No2AV camp and was simply astonishing. I doubted it was possible for any leaflet to have more lies and inaccuracies than the previous one, but I was wrong.
A quick glance at it led me to identify no less than sixteen errors, lies, deceits or inaccuracies. Let me run you through them:
- “AV would lead to more hung parliaments, backroom deals and broken promises” – this is cheap scaremongering. First, there’s no evidence it would lead to more hung parliaments (see point 2); secondly, backroom deals are a feature of politics anywhere and can be good or bad things depending on their nature and your interpretation of them; and thirdly, you walk down any street in Britain today and you’ll find people who (rightly or wrongly) think politicians break their promises all the time. It’s an entirely subjective statement that is given no reinforcement or justification – just left for readers to assume it is true when it is clearly lies.
- “It will produce more coalitions. Under the Alternative Vote system we would have coalitions most of the time.” Utter rubbish. Studies have shown it would lead to coalitions no more often, and in fact in instances like 1997 and 2005 it would exaggerate the leading party’s majority even further. Australia uses AV for their parliament’s lower house and have had less coalitions than us.
- Nick Clegg would decide who gets to be Prime Minister. What balderdash. The people decide who gets to be government, and parties negotiate coalitions from there based on their strength. And since when has Nick Clegg become a timeless politican or the LibDems appointed arithmetical “kingmaker” for all eternity? AV, if introduced, will outlive all politicians alive today, including Nick Clegg who the No camp appear to think is immortal. Who’s to say it wouldn’t be someone from a different party in Nick Clegg’s position next time?
- “It is used by only three other countries”. Lies, again. Wikipedia lists 9 countries that use it. I think the leaflet is getting at it only being used in three countries’ parliaments, ignoring the fact that it is widely used here in the UK by trade unions, political parties and other organisations.
- “Australia wants to get rid of it”. Without evidence, that’s as meaningless and as throw-away a statement as you could get, and is as easy to say as “Australia wants to get rid of the monarchy” or “Australia wants to get rid of immigrants” – both entirely arguable propositions but hard to believe without evidence. And in any case, so what? Should we do what Australia does? Of course not, we should do what we think is best for us.
- “It allows the second or third placed candidate to win” – second or third placed after the first round, and only in certain circumstances where the first placed candidate after the first round doesn’t have enough votes. If we used FPTP for the X Factor, we’d have only one week of performances and voting not several (perhaps the only instance I’d be keen for FPTP’s introduction). And let’s not forget AV can allow a first placed candidate with a narrow first round win to increase their lead and thus their electoral legitimacy, thanks to transfers from others.
- “…third best candidates becoming MPs” – I think they mean third placed after the first round; but first placed after later rounds because they are more widely popular than the first placed candidate after the first round. Since when did “popular” mean “best”? If some fascist loony came third, do the No2AV folk think they’d automatically be third “best”, and by what moral criteria? Careless statements like this demonstrate either ignorance or a desire to deceive.
- “It will cost the country £250 million”. Complete lies. Utterly untrue and unfounded lies. This is based partly on electronic voting machines that nobody but the No camp have ever suggested using.
- “It means that someone else’s 5th preference is worth the same as your 1st preference”. Completely untrue. What it should say is that someone else’s 5th preference might be worth the same as someone else’s 1st preferences in the extremely unlikely event that not only does a vote goes to five rounds but also the voter in question expresses five preferences, and even then only with an extremely small number of voters for the worst-supported candidates who probably garner less than 100 votes.
- “…supporters of the BNP and other fringe candidates would decide who wins.” Rubbish – the people would decide who wins. Supporters of the BNP and other fringe candidates would only sway a vote where there wasn’t a 50% share achieved by any candidate, but even then the vote would be much more likely to be decided by the 90% or so of voters who don’t vote for fringe candidate and instead vote for the bigger parties and represent the main influence on the result.
- “That will encourage encourage other candidates to pander to the likes of the BNP.” Highly unlikely. The top handful of candidate are more likely to win by “pandering” to other big parties’ supporters, because gaining their 20-30% share of votes, say, is arithmetically more valuable than for instance the BNP’s 3%. It actually encourages candidates to “pander” to the majority view – the large mainstream will have the sway under AV, not the tiny fringe.
- “It’s not the way we vote for the Scottish Parliament”. What on God’s earth does that have to do with it? Neither’s FPTP the way we vote for the Scottish Parliament, and that doesn’t in itself make it a reason not to use it for Westminster. Maybe it makes sense to have fewer electoral systems in total, and for all elections to be held under the same system, but that doesn’t help decide which system is the best.
- “AV would be yet another system”. No, it would be a replacement for one we’d no longer use. The same number of systems would be in use in Scotland if we swapped FPTP for AV.
- “Remember the core principle of British democracy: every person gets an equal vote.” I’ve been over this before in past blog entries, but we do not have equal votes and anyone who believes this is misled or misleading. Millions of votes are wasted in our general elections, and some people’s votes are much more valuable if they are in small or marginal constituencies, and even then that depends on who you vote for. The fact that the Conservatives have brought about changes to (as much as possible) equalise the sizes of constituencies demonstrates that we do not have strictly equal votes.
- “…the candidate with the most votes wins” – as they would under AV. Indeed, they’d on the whole have even more votes, strengthening their claim to be representative.
- “Defend one person one vote” – AV will not remove this. If you vote for AV you’ll still have it.
Honestly, I’m sick and tired of the lies being thrown around in this referendum. It surprises me, to be honest, because the differences between FPTP and AV are – while very easy to express in simple ways – often quite technical and dry, and it’s perfectly possible to undertake a robust defence of FPTP using calm, rational, accurate and evidence-based reasoning. From the No2AV sides’ perspective, these lies are counter-productive because not only do they undermine the good arguments that might be used instead, but also are so much easier to tear apart than more reasoned, intelligent defences. This blog post, after all, took me just a few minutes to write.
I’d dearly, honestly, love someone from the No2AV camp, or someone who thinks that FPTP is better than AV, to deconstruct my points above and tell me where my logic is flawed.
As a final point, I was most horrified to read in this article that it turns out that there is no authority in this country that can take action against lies being told in referendum campaigns. There is for elections, but not for referendums. It’s quite conceivable that in the coming decade or so we could have elections in this country on Scottish independence, joining the euro, or even retaining our membership of the EU. We can’t have those referendums dogged by lies from either side, so the absence of a proper authority to legislate against lies and deceit is a major worry.
Please, please don’t pander to the lies of the No2AV side. Vote no if you want, but do so because you have measured the two systems and reached the conclusion that FPTP is better than AV, not because you’ve listened to the amateurish, inaccurate and misleading statements from the No2AV leaflets.