Thursday, February 17, 2011

Choosing how to choose

I keep thinking I should write about the electoral reform referendum (assuming it happens), but I keep being beaten into despair by the fusillades of drivel being fired off in the media by pro- and anti-AV campaigners. It’s as if they’re competing to avoid my support.

If anybody can recommend some blogs/papers/articles on either side, making arguments that don’t pointlessly exaggerate, that haven’t been knocked down on factual or logical grounds a thousand times already, that don’t ramble on about irrelevancies, and that don’t amount to pleading for the advantage of someone’s favourite party, I’d be grateful. I’m genuinely undecided.

Or maybe I should just get it out of my system and fisk all the crap from both sides.


john b said...

This is good. The writer is Australian, so understands how the system works in real life rather than the outlandish claims made by pro- and anti-campaigners, and doesn't seem to have much of an opinion on UK partisan issues.

Liam Murray said...

Frustration shared.

Only thing I'd add - at the risk of adding to the 'fusillades of drivel' - is there should only really be one test for any voting system the lays claim to be democratic; that it accurately reflects national opinion.

The stability of the government that results, the type of people that might wield some power (BNP etc.), the transparency of the deals that follow etc. are all - in my view - secondary (& by a long, long way) to how well it reflects public opinion. That's probably why I'm leaning pro.....

Anonymous said...

Until you have compulsory voting (with the option of abstaining as a positive choice) you'll never get a vote that reflects public opinion

Liam Murray said...

"abstaining as a positive choice"

That sounds wonderfully Orwellian, sort of like 'truthfully with intent to deceive'. Abstaining is NOT a positive choice so there's no requirement to 'reflect' that opinion... since it isn't one really.

Tom Freeman said...

Thanks John, looks interesting.

Liam, I think some of the reason for why so much of the public debate is unproductive is that people are coming at it with different ideas on what an electoral system is actually for.

Apart from the shameless partisans, there's a split between people who want a representative Commons and those who want people to have a clear choice between coherent, effective governments. The latter seems to amount mostly to not liking hung parliaments/coalitions. And this ties in to the confusion people have about whether it's a parliament we're voting for (yes) or a government (not directly as such).

I almost wonder whether the Cameron/Clegg speeches due today might - given their need to be polite about one another - be more constructive than the average fare.

john b said...

Thanks Tom.

Liam, I think you're missing Anon's point. If you have compulsory voting, AUS style - ie "compulsory turning out at the polling booth" - then not filling out a ballot paper says "I turned up and I think you're all arseholes", and not "I can't be bothered to get out of bed".

Liam Murray said...

Thanks Jon but if an abstention is forced on someone I'm not sure you can read it like that.

Regardless (and I'm not in favour of compulsory voting) I don't think anyone who spoils a ballot paper or just refuses to vote is entitled to have their 'views' respected or reflected in the result.

Chris said...

The thing is, even once you have all the facts you're not necessarily close to an answer. For example, if you vote for your first choice candidate in FPTP even though they have no chance of winning, do you regard that as a 'waste'? No amount of comparisons with Australia can answer that one. It is, literally, not a rational choice.

Tom Freeman said...

if you vote for your first choice candidate in FPTP even though they have no chance of winning, do you regard that as a 'waste'?

Not necessarily: demonstrating that there's a sizable minority of e.g. Green supporters can show other parties that there are votes to be won by being greener.

Also, if lots of people would vote Green but for the expectation that they can't win, then releasing that constraint could seriously put the Greens into the game. (The same point applies, in a less cuddly fashion, to the BNP.)

Under FPTP there's already plenty of grudging, half-hearted second- or third-preference voting going on. It's just based on guesstimates about what other voters are going to do.

Whatever its other effects, AV can reveal more reliably than opinion polls what the electorate's preferences are.

Richard T said...

There may be a simpler way to look at it - if such luminaries as Prescott, Beckett, Straw and Hague want to keep first past the post, with their long dedication to seeking what voters actually wish, then there's 4 reasons to go for the AV.

Chris said...

Whatever its other effects, AV can reveal more reliably than opinion polls what the electorate's preferences are.

To an extent, Lord Copper. For the sake of argument, opinion polls are capable of more nuance, and can actually ask people about i.e. the strength of their preferences - for example, if I go 1. Labour 2. Lib Dem does that mean I would really, really like Labour to adopt Lib Dem policies and be more like the Lib Dems because I'm just so torn, or that I'm very very reluctantly resigned to them being the lesser of two or more evils?

But, that said, you do make a good case. However, I still thinks it depends on an essentially irrational decision about what you personally value. For someone who wants to be represented by a Green Party candidate, who wants a Green Party government, the prospect of being able to indicate preferences and still influence who does get elected if not their chosen candidate might mean zero. Where it's not compulsory to fill the slate, people often don't. It's not contrary to reason to say my candidate or nothing.

Of course, it's also not contrary to reason to not vote at all.

Tom Freeman said...

"opinion polls are capable of more nuance"

You're right. What I meant was that an actual election in which people rank options will be more reliable than a poll asking people to rank options.