A liberal case against the Alternative Vote

Why liberals should vote "No".

Are all liberals bound to vote for the Alternative Vote (AV) in the upcoming referendum?

Is there any sound reason for a sensible person of good faith and enlightened views to do other than support the introduction of this particular voting system?

There are certainly some bad reasons for opposing the introduction of AV. Some complain of the cost: but that surely is a second-order problem if it is indeed the correct electoral methodology. Others say that it may help re-elect party X or "let in" party Y. However, one really should not support a constitutional reform simply to advantage one party or disadvantage another. (That said, most constitutional reforms, from the 1832 and 1867 franchise extensions onwards, have actually been for party advantage.)

And not all those who oppose AV do so for vested interests. As someone who broadly supports the Liberal Democrats, and certainly welcomes the effect they have on an otherwise brutal Conservative government, my opposition to AV cannot be written off as political self-interest.

There are two good reasons for any liberal to oppose the introduction of this proposed voting system.

First, AV is not in fact a good form of proportional representation. Because it retains the single member constituencies, there is no inherent reason why the national shares of the vote would be reflected in Westminster. AV also does nothing to deal with the very safest seats -- those where the winning candidate already gets more than 50 per cent -- and so, in such constituencies, the losing votes will be as "wasted" as before. And other seats will just be as "safe", depending on whether the there is a natural Tory/Lib Dem or Labour/Lib Dem majority.

Second, the practical operation of AV is fundamentally undemocratic and offensive to the principle of equal treatment of voters. In the less safe seats where AV is triggered, the votes cast by those who favour the most popular candidate are not of equal value to the votes cast for less popular candidates. The second and third choices of the voters favouring the most popular candidate are just disregarded. If all second and third votes were given equal value then the overall result may well be different. The charge that AV means repeated bites at the cherry for some voters but not others is impossible to rebut.

Indeed, no one really wants AV. It is a compromise. It may not even be a step towards proportional representation. AV retains many of the faults of the current "first past the post" system while treating the votes cast by voters in an unequal way. National shares of the vote may still have no national impact, and safe seats and wasted votes remain. AV is a rotten system, and so it should be opposed on 5 May.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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