Why I voted No to AV

An explanation of a vote against the liberal consensus.

Unlike being the only gay in the village, being the only liberal on the "wrong side" of a constitutional reform debate is not necessarily a thing to boast loudly about.

Indeed, one cannot be absolutely delighted at the company one is keeping.

But, a couple of months or so on from my post setting out the liberal case against the Alternative Vote system, today I voted "No" to AV.

I do not feel that strongly about the issue, and the introduction of AV would be nowhere near a calamity; that is why I am merely posting an explanation today, rather than a post urging a "No" vote earlier in the week.

And I certainly have no wish for any post of mine to be used again by the hapless, misleading, and disgraceful official No campaign, and certainly no one should vote No by reason of costs, complexity, or Clegg.

All the same, my No vote was on a principled and reasoned basis, and so it may be interesting to others to know what that basis was.

First, I simply do not accept your second or third preferences should have the same weight as my first preference, or vice versa. Here, I am familiar with all the counter-arguments about this not meaning there are "two bites of the cherry" and that everyone (somehow) still has one vote. I am familiar also with the actual mechanism of AV in practice.

However, I just cannot see how a second or third preference should be accorded equal weight with a first preference. For me, this violates the basic principle of equality of votes.

Second, and as a consequence, I cannot accept that adding together first and second preferences, and so on, creates any real - rather than an artificial - majority in an applicable constituency.

Otherwise, AV seems to have exactly the same faults as First Past the Post in regards of proportionality. The legislature will still not reflect the proportions of votes cast overall, and safe seats will still exist. Nothing fundamental will change.

However, this is not an issue to lose either sleep or friends over, and a win for AV today will not upset any sensible person, and it will upset quite a few senseless ones.

Given the expected low turnout, a win for AV may also provide us with the harmless pleasure of hearing its advocates explain the legitimacy of a new voting system which was supported by less than 50 per cent of those entitled to vote.

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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Want to beat Theresa May? First, accept that she's popular

The difficult truth for the centre and left, and advocates of a new party, is that people don't "vote for the Tories reluctantly".

An election campaign that has been short on laughs has been livened up by a modest proposal by an immodest man: the barrister Jolyon Maugham, who used to write about tax for the New Statesman as well as advising Eds Miliband and Balls, has set out his (now mothballed) plans for a new party called Spring.

The original idea was a 28-day festival (each day would be celebrated with the national costumes, food and drink of one of the European Union’s member states) culiminating in the announcement of the candidacy of Spring’s first parliamentary candidate, one Jolyon Maugham, to stand against Theresa May in her constituency of Maidenhead. He has reluctantly abandoned the plan, because there isn’t the time between now and the election to turn it around.

There are many problems with the idea, but there is one paragraph in particular that leaps out:

“Like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, Labour’s left and moderates are bent on one another’s destruction. No one knows what the Lib Dems are for – other than the Lib Dems. And we vote for the Tories reluctantly, lacking an alternative.”

Even within this paragraph there are a number of problems. Say what you like about Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty but it seems hard to suggest that there is not a fairly large difference between the two – regardless of which one you think is which – that might perhaps be worth engaging with. There are fair criticisms of the Liberal Democrats’ uncertain start to this campaign but they have been pretty clear on their platform when they haven’t been playing defence on theological issues.

But the biggest problem is the last sentence: “We vote for the Tories reluctantly, lacking an alternative”. A couple of objections here: the first, I am not sure who the “we” are. Is it disgruntled former Labour members like Maugham who threw their toys out of the pram after Corbyn’s second successive leadership victory? If you are voting for the Tories reluctantly, I have invented a foolproof solution to “voting for the Tories reluctantly” that has worked in every election I’ve voted in so far: it’s to vote against the Tories.  (For what it’s worth, Maugham has said on Twitter that he will vote for the Liberal Democrats in his home constituency.)

I suspect, however, that the “we” Maugham is talking about are the voters. And actually, the difficult truth for the left and centre-left is that people are not voting for Theresa May “reluctantly”: they are doing it with great enthusiasm. They have bought the idea that she is a cautious operator and a safe pair of hands, however illusory that might be. They think that a big vote for the Tories increases the chance of a good Brexit deal, however unlikely that is.

There is not a large bloc of voters who are waiting for a barrister to turn up with a brass band playing Slovenian slow tunes in Maidenhead or anywhere in the country. At present, people are happy with Theresa May as Prime Minister. "Spring" is illustrative of a broader problem on much of the centre-left: they have a compelling diagnosis about what is wrong with Corbyn's leadership. They don't have a solution to any of Labour's problems that predate Corbyn, or have developed under him but not because of him, one of which is the emergence of a Tory leader who is popular and trusted. (David Cameron was trusted but unpopular, Boris Johnson is popular but distrusted.) 

Yes, Labour’s position would be a lot less perilous if they could either turn around Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity ratings or sub him out for a fresh, popular leader. That’s one essential ingredient of getting the Conservatives out of power. But the other, equally important element is understanding why Theresa May is popular – and how that popularity can be diminished and dissipated. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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