It turns out I do have something to get strident about on the internet, and I should have known really, this close to only the second referendum to cover the whole UK in the history of our parliament, that AV would be a topic I would have something to say about.
It is mostly settled that the majority of citizens of the UK view our society as a democracy, and wish for it to remain as one. If we want to be a democracy, it seems likely that we want to be the best democracy we can be, so the question up for debate here is which out of AV and FPTP is the most democratic? Before we can get into that, it seems we have to define “democracy” as both campaigns have warped it almost to breaking point to fit their rhetoric, so here’s the answer from Google’s dictionary:
1. A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives
2. A state governed in such a way
3. Control of an organization or group by the majority of its members
4. The practice or principles of social equality
I’ll refine that for this discussion into “control of the state by the majority of its members, via elected representatives”.
But now we need another definition, because it seems that, although both camps largely agree over my definition of “democracy”, we have a problem when it comes to the word “majority”. Again, from Google:
noun /məˈjôrətē/ /-ˈjär-/
1. The greater number
2. The number by which votes for one candidate in an election are more than those for all other candidates combined
3. The number by which the votes for one party or candidate exceed those of the next in rank
4. A party or group receiving the greater number of votes
5. The age when a person is legally considered a full adult, in most contexts either 18 or 21
6. The rank or office of a major
The problem here lies with which definition you take; proponents of AV choose definition 2, but those who favour FPTP choose 1. This seems like a semantic debate, but it is fundamental to the whole question. All the other nitpicking, all the lies and misinformation, the rhetoric and the hyperbole, all of it is irrelevant until you have figured out which of these is the best definition for majority.
For me, the answer is definition 2. Going back to our Google definitions for democracy, social equality and giving a voice to the whole population are important factors. A voting system isn’t democratic if you pick a definition for “majority” that actually leaves most people with a representative they don’t want.
If you have two similar choices then, under FPTP, the vote can be split, allowing a third quite different and less favoured option to win. Think Kittens vs Cadbury’s vs Galaxy with the score 44% vs 37% vs 19% – it looks like a stonking victory for Kittens (as indeed it was when Maggie Thatcher got in with those numbers in 1979), but actually, the votes for chocolate (or, in our real world example, left leaning parties), are greater and the majority of voters are left disenfranchised. In 1979, given the extreme nature of many of her policies, it’s quite likely that majority (definition 1) of voters were actually quite strongly opposed to having Thatcher as PM, but because of the greater choice, they split and were silenced.
There is, and has been for a long time, a strong liberal/left lean in the British political landscape but, because of FPTP, the power has stayed mostly with conservatives. This is compounded because liberal policies tend to encourage free thought and rebellion, where conservative ones tend toward uniformity – the clue is in the name. It is demonstrable that innovative free thinking and choice are better for society in the long term, but by their very nature they are fluid and fall into factions, leaving them vulnerable to the more disciplined right. The solution to this problem is to let people transfer their vote to a lower choice party for whom they have some sympathy if their first choice is knocked out.
I’m going to tackle the lies and misinformation coming from both campaigns in a later post, but let’s get this straight once and for all, right here right now: this is NOT a second vote.
If you order Heineken and it’s off and so you choose Carling instead, you don’t have two pints in front of you at the end and you aren’t delighted that you got to have two goes at picking; nor are those around you who got their first choice jealous of your success. You will be happier than if you hadn’t got a beer at all, but that’s as far as it goes.
The only people for whom voting no on May 5th is the rational choice are Conservative voters who, and this is important, will vote Conservative at every opportunity for the rest of their lives, and parties with minority view-points who can scrape in with a very small proportion of the vote under FPTP.
Here’s this post in easily digestible form:
- A lot more than half of the people of the UK wish to live in a democracy
- It is highly likely that more than half of those people wish their democracy to be the best possible
- Democracy is “control of the state by the majority of its members, via elected representatives”
- Equality and a voice for every member are important factors in a functioning democracy
- Majority can mean either “the greater number” or “the number by which votes for one candidate in an election are more than those for all other candidates combined”.
- If the former definition is chosen, this often suppresses the voice of more than half the population
- Any voting system that suppresses the voice of its voters is less democratic than one that does not
- Therefor, FPTP is less democratic than AV
Here’s a chart to help you decide how to vote. This is all you really need to think about, the rest is peripheral noise:
If you are a Conservative voter, and you want to vote No, then that is your choice and it is a rational one, but be honest with yourself about your motivation; you aren’t doing it because FPTP is fairer, you’re doing it because you want to keep your party in power.
PS I think the blog may be out of the mothballs again for at least a little while. It seems there may be a significant Bearhunt around the corner and, if so, there will be stuff to share for at least a few more weeks.