Why AV does not give some people “two votes”

What John Humphrys should have told David Cameron this morning.

John Humphrys tied himself in knots on the Today programme this morning attempting to rebut David Cameron's claim that AV gives some people two votes. The broadcaster said: "I have a second preference as well as you or anybody else and you count them again as well, so you don't count some people's votes more than others."

This allowed a gleeful Cameron to respond: "You are wrong. If you vote for the Labour candidate and I vote for the Monster Raving Loony candidate and the Monster Raving Loony comes last, my second preference is then counted again . . . It is quite worrying if actually the lead broadcaster on the BBC doesn't understand the system. You don't understand the system you are supposed to be explaining to the public. I do think that's worrying. Back to school."

What Humphrys was rather clumsily attempting to explain is that first preferences are also counted twice. The difference is that your vote goes to the same candidate in each round. For instance, in the 2002 French presidential election, if you voted for Lionel Jospin in the first round and Jacques Chirac in the second round (to keep Jean-Marie Le Pen out), you did not get more votes than someone who voted for Chirac in both rounds. A transferred vote is not the same as a multiple vote.

It's not a complicated argument, but it's one that the Yes campaign, to its cost, has struggled to make since the campaign began.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496