Alternative Vote 56

I suppose I agree, rather weakly, with the proposition that it is better to elect someone with the acceptance of the majority in the constituency rather than the enthusiastic support of a minority.

But Bliar won the last general election with only 35% of the votes cast – a fact he conveniently forgets as he continually reminds us he won three elections. The AV system would probably have actually increased New Labour’s majority in parliament in 2005.

The logical contradiction of a system which at constituency level ensures majority acceptance, but at the national level would give an even bigger majority to a party supported by only 35% of those voting, is a fatal flaw in the argument.

Plainly the system needs to be changed so a dangerous fanatic like Blair cannot reach power when his party has only 35% voter support. The way to do that is by single transferable vote in multi member constituencies.

Any referendum which does not include the option for real change is pointless.

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56 thoughts on “Alternative Vote

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  • Carlyle Moulton


    There are some good things about the Australian political system, preferential voting is one of these. It is equivalent to having multiple rounds of voting condensed into one round. If I were to suggest modifications to the system I would make the preferences optional after 1 or more preferences with none of the above being a valid last preference and require that the winning candidate after distribution of preferences gets more than 50% + 1 of the votes cast. This would allow voters a plague on all your houses option to leave the seat empty.

  • John D. Monkey


    I agree that only true PR with STV in multi-member constituencies or something very similar will deliver a system much closer to true democracy than what we have now.

    Which is why there is no chance of it happening. Both Labour and Conservative parties would never agree to this, even as the price of power. They bleat on about the need for “decisive government” as if this were a good thing, not the sham of democracy which has delivered the elective dictatorship of the House of Commons.

    1st past the post in single member constituencies in some form is so central to their obsession with having a whipped “working majority” (rather than MPs voting on the basis of the case for or against any particular Bill) that they’d rather have minority party government and a series of elections until one of them got a majority, than real electoral reform which would lead to long-term coalition government.

    “If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it!”

  • Vronsky

    It doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government still gets in.

    I used to think that that was a very silly little aphorism, until I discovered that it was true. If you vote by any method, you are voting for politicians, and politicians – proxy powered hirelings – are exactly what we do not want. There is no point in electing people if we subsequently lack the resources to compete in the market place that buys them. Jack Straw would be a wonderful and humane democrat, if only we could bid higher for his services than BAE.

    Let’s stop pretending that any member of our species can be incorruptibly good, once given power. Oh shit, I’m going to bore on again about sortition. Google it for yourselves.

  • Jon

    Turns out Cameron isn’t at all interested in “crazy” voting reform – see link. Who would have thought it! ;o)

  • derek

    “Turns out Cameron isn’t at all interested in “crazy” voting reform – see link. Who would have thought it! ;o)”

    Which is of course why Brown is proposing it. He wants people to vote Labour at the election as the only way to secure a change in the voting system.

    Of course we all remember how Blair supported voting reform right up until the time he secured his majority

  • James Chater

    A House of “Lords” chosen by sortition (meaning by a lottery) – what a good idea! Giving ordinary people the power and right to throw out rubbisdhy legislation. Craig, what do you think? See wikpeeia: Sortition

  • Clark


    thank you for this article. Information on this matter seems very sparse; even the fact that there’s to be a vote on it doesn’t seem to be in the news at all, let alone what systems are to be voted on or what their respective virtues are. If you know of a good campaigning group, or any further information, please let us know.

  • Vronsky

    @James Chater

    Nothing to do with the Lords (bicameral government is another argument). The idea of sortition is that money cannot exert influence on who is elected. No-one is elected, there is no system, the public relations machine cannot function, big spending can’t skew the result, media whores cannot influence outcomes. There are 600 or so seats and everyone, including you and me, is a candidate. The lots are drawn, and if selected you turn up and chip in your tuppenceworth. Four or five years later the lots are drawn again. The chances of your being selected for a second term are vanishingly small, so there is no political class, just a species of national service which no-one is assured of avoiding and everyone is assured they cannot retain if once given it. Problem solved? Discuss.

    Mischievous link:

  • Roderick Russell

    One of the problems with the parliamentary system is that in a general election one is really voting for a government and not the particular MP for whom one casts ones vote. As a result (1) there are no checks and balances between the legislature and executive as proper democratic systems need (2) the MP selected is committed to his party and not to you, since you really voted for a Party to form a government and not for the individual (ask Craig). And lets have a well defined written constitution as well

  • writerman


    I’m close to your position on proportional representation. However, I’d just like to point out that, it too, is a system with drawbacks. For example, small parties which gain seats, have, potentially, disproportionate influence compared to their real support among the electorate, and they often hold the balance of power, enabling them to decide which of the two main blocks, “left” and “right” forms the government.

  • Roderick Russell

    If one elects the executive and legislature separately, one can have proportional representation in Parliament since a directly elected Government does not need its own party to have a parliamentary majority to function. Indeed the Government’s performance and its Bills will have much better scrutiny in a Parliament that is elected independently of government.

  • Richard Robinson

    “a species of national service which no-one is assured of avoiding and everyone is assured they cannot retain if once given it. Problem solved? Discuss.”

    Emotionally, I like the idea of helping to run things as a form of national service. Practically, if we had a system where all the visibly-democratic elements passed through too quickly to form a ‘political’ class, they’d remain as amateurs who don’t know enough about the subject ? Wouldn’t there always be a need for people who do know, for real expertise ? So, is it not likely to develop fairly quickly into even less popular involvement and more behind-the-scenes permanent staff who do know where the buttons and levers are ?

    ( Incidentally, for an alternative, _really_ daft, riff on J. Random Conscripted President, try G.K. Chesterton’s “the Napoleon of Notting Hill”. )

  • Vronsky

    “Wouldn’t there always be a need for people who do know, for real expertise ?”

    I rather anticipated that question, so I’ve got the links ready. You mean experts like these?

    But your point stands – need to do something with the civil service too. However I do believe that a random selection of 600 or so people would very likely be better than the those appointed by the present machinery, simply because we would have removed the mechanism of self-selection. It must be possible to put a number on that probability, but I’m off for a beer.

  • resistor

    Hi Craig

    you can’t assume the 2005 voting patterns would have been the same under AV. I believe third parties would have been given first preferences that otherwise went to Labour – for fear of letting the Tories in. AV or runoffs give power to the voters – PR gives power to the political class.

  • Brennig

    If a political party in a middle-eastern country was elected *against the wishes* of 65% of the electorate, would we say that was democracy in action, or the result of a fundamentally flawed system?

  • ingo

    very good point Brennig, the alternative vote still allows parties who are elected due to a small turnout to run away with the prize and claim a mandate from the people.

    Av and AV plus are not reaslly proportional, AV plus adds an excuse of proportion but the only systems which are really proportrional are STV and AMS.

    Its good enough and understandable by Irish voters, but ‘too complicated’ for us to use in election.

    This whole debate about voting reform, at the back end of a noLabour Government is shallow and not understood by so many, because they do not want us to understand and like it best as it comes.

    I have given up on voting reform it will never happen, whatever the EU requires or the Lib dems say, they seem to be happy with the AV imposition, whilst cameron is blubbering on about ‘giving power back to the locals’ utter shite and bluster from the lot of them.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    Agree completely Craig and Ingo – the Alternative Vote would just throw away 49% of the votes in most constituencies unrepresented rather than 60%. Bringing it in would make almost no difference and would discredit electoral reform in the eyes of most of the electorate once they realised it made no difference.

    STV or some other multi-member constituency system is the only way to get really representative and proportional governments.

  • Clark

    This is getting confusing. Looking at Resistor’s comment re: AV versus PR, I think some of us may understand different things by different names. What is AMS?

    Does anyone know of a list / description of the various systems please?

  • Richard Robinson

    “If a political party in a middle-eastern country was elected *against the wishes* of 65% of the electorate, would we say that was democracy in action, or the result of a fundamentally flawed system?”

    a) It depends which country ?

    b) “We”, paleface ?

    “Middle-eastern” having been specified, I shall restrain myself from noticing recent-ish elections in either Iran or Afghanistan, or any difference in “our” attitudes towards them …

    Well, I almost managed it.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    Hi Clark – there’s an explanation of all the systems of voting at the Electoral Reform Society website on this link

    I think AMS is the ‘Additional Member System’, like the one used for Scottish Parliament elections. Each voter gets two votes. The first is a ‘first past the post’ one in their constituency. The second vote allows them to rank candidates on a regional or national Proportional representation list by order of preference.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    In any system it is important to ensure the results are fully representative of voters intentions.

    Following the successful e-voting scheme used for the electronic counting of ballot papers from the 2008 London Mayoral elections it is possible that the system may be expanded to count completed ballot papers for the forthcoming UK General elections.

    I believe before the system can be used nationwide to count the results of ‘marks’ on ballot papers, certain security checks recommended by the Open Rights Group, especially source code verification and false counting analysis should be performed. We are all aware of the ?’s resulting from the 2004 Presidential elections in America.

  • Anonymous

    Way to go House of ‘Lords’

    I like you definition of ‘second home’?

    Here we go again…..

  • Anonymous

    Great idea for some tea shirts.

    Use all the pictures of the dead soldiers and use to create one of those montages which ultimately shows a Blair image

  • Abe Rene

    Political systems are only as good as the people who use them. Weimar Germany had PR, and they got Hitler. Israel has PR, and without it maybe we wouldn’t have religious fundamentalists influencing the Knesset as much. PR might enable extremists to get into Westminster – it’s already happened in the European parliament. So I’m not for changing things myself.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    Abe I agree PR can’t solve all problems and that if you have a fundamentally dysfunctional society it will spill over into any electoral system. However PR is the most democratic electoral system there is and the most representative and the only one likely to get people interested in politics again because they can vote for the policies they want, not the ones they dislike slightly less.

    PR was not the cause of Hitler getting into power though Abe – the extremely harsh Treaty of Versailles which put the entire cost of the war on Germany and ended up with many Germans searching through rubbish for food was the cause.

    PR isn’t the cause of extremism in Israel either – Israel having been formed as a colonial outpost in the middle east and its continued expansion by force – and the inevitable reaction of some Palestinians using force too – are the causes of that. (I’m not by the way saying Israel has no right to exist – it does – within it’s pre-1967 war borders)

  • Duncan McFarlane

    Resistor – you say “PR gives power to the political class”. That’s not true at all.

    Within parties the problem with candidate selection by the party leadership exists under any electoral system, including the current one – and can only be changed by a law or a codified written constitution requiring candidates to be chosen by the majority of members in a constituency (whether single or multi-member).

    Outside of the parties independent candidates have a far better chance under PR than they do under FPTP or AV (which is just a minor variant of FPTP).

    How can that possibly increase the influence of ‘the political class’ (by which i assume you must mean the senior ranks of the big parties)

    Small parties also have a much better chance of getting both more votes (as people won’t think their vote is wasted under PR if they vote for a small party) and the votes they get will actually result in representation rather than being binned (FPTP) or either binned or re-assigned to a big party candidate (AV).

    Having one faction of one party running the country – the result you get under first past the post or AV – is the system that results in rule by ‘the political class’ because power swings back and forth between two or three big parties with everyone else excluded or their votes ignored.

  • Clark

    Duncan McFarlane,

    you’ve obviously looked into this and understand it. Thanks for explaining and directing me to the Electoral Reform Society, which I think I’ll join.

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