openDemocracyUK

The Alternative Vote: Yes and No camps go head to head at NUS conference

An early clash between the 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns as the UK heads towards a referendum on changing its voting system.
Andy May
27 October 2010

I’m on the way back from Liverpool having been invited to speak up in favour of a ‘Yes’ to the Alternative Vote in one of the first ‘Yes or No’ head to head debates on next year’s referendum. On the opposite side, advocating for a ‘No’ was Conservative campaigner and head of press for ‘No2AV’ Dylan Sharpe.

I’m sure many readers are already familiar with the arguments for a ‘Yes’ – and more detail can be found here amongst other places. However the ‘No’ arguments may be less familiar. They are also, in my view, pretty spurious, deceptive and attempt to sow confusion. So I thought I'd report on what they seem to assert and my answers to them. Here are five of the claims made which those of us who want change will need to rebut as the campaign gains public attention.

Spurious claim 1: ‘The Alternative Vote would help the BNP.’

This is untrue.  As pointed out some time ago by Peter Kellner the president of YouGov the BNP would likely lose out under the Alternative Vote as moderate voters would be able to form anti-extremist alliances using their second and third preferences.  Whether or not you think thats the best way to counter the BNP threat the premise by the ‘No’ camp is false.

Spurious claim 2: ‘Voters don’t understand the Alternative Vote its too confusing.’

The ‘No’ camp seem intent on insulting voters intelligence with this one.  The Alternative Voting system ballot paper is as easy as ranking your candidates 1, 2, 3.  Hardly rocket science.  It takes a fair bit of disdain for the electorate to think that voters simply wouldn’t understand what the change meant when they went to the polling booth.

Spurious claim 3: Voters of minor party get several votes because of the elimination process, so extremists wield more political power.

The ‘No’ representative claimed that supporters of extremist parties get more than one vote under the Alternative Vote because as their first choice candidate gets eliminated their vote is reallocated more often than a supporter of the larger parties.  To claim this puts more power into the hands of extremists is nonsense – under AV minority party voters don’t get their first choice elected and they might not even get their second or third choice elected if they keep plumping for minor parties.

Spurious claim 4: ‘The No campaign is broad based and a peoples campaign against the politicians’

The ‘No’ presentation insisted they aren’t run by the Conservative party.  If that’s the case one wonders why a) Conservative Peer Lord Leech is the chair of the ‘No’ campaign.  b) Every member of the official ‘No’ staff announced thus far is a former Conservative party staffer or candidate.  c) The only event they seem to have run thats even outside London, let alone grassroots, was an activist training event at the Conservative party conference.

Spurious claim 5: ‘The Alternative Vote is a concession to the Lib Dems and only helps Clegg

This is also untrue and actually a cynical attempt by the ‘No’ camp to manipulate Labour voters.  Voters who disagree with the coalitions programme of spending cuts are just as unlikely to give a second or third preference to the Lib Dems in the current environment than they might be under First Past the Post.  The fact is that electoral reform is more fundamental than any political party and thats why there is cross party support for change. 

One final point to illustrate just how slippery the 'No' campaigners can be  – their head of press wouldn’t even divulge which electoral system he preferred. 

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