AV voting, no thank you

The Liberal Democratic party in Britain come third in general elections and are fed up with this. So instead of coming up with policies and candidates that attract more votes they want to change the rules of the game. Very sporting. In fact they want to change our First Past The Post (FPTP) system to proportional representation. Which is a rubbishy system as it encourages a proliferation of weird parties and coalitions where nobody can keep their manifesto pledges. It is one of the main causes of continuing turmoil in Israel, led to Ireland not having any government at all for a while and to Germany having a change in government with no election.

The last general election was nearly a stalemate, so the Conservatives were forced into a deal with the Liberal Democrats who extracted a promise of a referendum on AV (Alternative Vote). This is a system where you list your candidates in order of preference and then your secondary votes are taken into account when one candidate gets less than 50% of the total votes. This is not a good thing and here is why:

  • AV is just a step on the road to proportional representation. It is the thin end of the wedge. If the LibDems win this one then they will just move to the next target. Just as the devolved Scottish and Welsh legislators gradually accrue more powers on their way to independence.
  • Most voters, the vast majority, will not understand AV. Fact. Ask 1,000 people in a football crowd to explain it and you would be lucky to get even a handful of correct answers. So where is the democracy in people not knowing what effect their votes are having?
  • The candidate who gets the most first choice votes in an election does not necessarily win it. This is just plain silly.
  • AV is more expensive to implement. Over a country of 60 million this will mount up into millions. Money that could be better spent elsewhere.
  • It is more likely to lead to coalition governments where all parties are free to ignore their previous electoral promises because they can blame it on the compromises necessitated by the coalition.
  • It weakens the direct link between successful candidate and their electorate that you get with FPTP.
  • FPTP has served us well for centuries. Why try and fix something that isn’t broken?
  • Nick Clegg once described AV as a “miserable little compromise”.
  • AV massively favours the LibDEms because they will be most people’s second choice. So we could end up with a succession of coalition governments featuring the LibDems, giving them executive power well beyond their true voter base, which is undemocratic.
  • In Australia election turnout went down after the introduction of AV, forcing them to make voting compulsory.
  • It makes no difference in all those Labour safe seats where even a chimp would get over 50% of the first choice votes if nominated as the Labour candidate. As we have seen many times.

So there we have it, AV is a silly idea. Also, if you want to truly measure each person’s view across a range of candidates then there is only one way forward and that is the Schulze Method. But try explaining that to the LibDems, never mind a football crowd.


  1. Oh don’t be such an old meanie.

    AV is vastly superior to FPTP (it’s far from perfect but FPTP is about as bad as you can get) and as to it giving advantage to Lib Dems (whom I don’t particularly like), well firstly it probably doesn’t, secondly FPTP is unduly harsh to them and thirdly Lib Lab and Con are all exactly the same (they only differ in presentation – it’s all Indian Bicycle Marketing).


  2. Dealing with your points in turn,

    * ‘Today, AV tomorrow, PR’ is a slippery slope fallacy.

    * It’s patronising to suggest people won’t understand AV when it’s explained to them. It’s not that hard.

    * Why is that silly? AV makes more sense than a system where multiple candidates on similar platforms can split the majority vote to the point where someone the majority of voters certainly don’t want gets in by winning about 30% of the vote.

    * It might be more expensive to count the votes in an AV system, but I don’t see how this could stretch to millions. Do you have any figures for this?

    * Whether AV leads to more coalition governments remains to be seen. Don’t confuse AV with PR.

    * Rubbish. AV *is* a FPTP system, with each constituency electing its own candidate.

    * Argument from antiquity fallacy. We hanged witches for centuries too, but I’m glad we don’t any more.

    * I’ll give you that one.

    * Not necessarily. They’re also likely to be the first candidate eliminated, so their votes would be redistributed to the second-choice candidates. It would stop the insanity of tactical voting, where your favourite candidate has no chance, so you switch to the Lib-Dems to stop the other one getting in. This happens a lot in by-elections, and Lib-Dems have had MPs elected because of it. How can AV be all about them?

    * No idea about this one.

    * What about those save Conservative seats that operate in exactly the same way? Under AV, even in a safe seat a candidate would have to get over 50% of the vote to be elected, which might make them work harder than they do now.


  3. The AV referendum is costing £79.8 million to stage.
    It is being run by civil servants, if it was contracted out it would cost half of that.

    The cost of introducing AV has been put at £250 million.
    It appears that running a general election currently costs £120 million.


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