Monday, 25 April 2011

The deplorable No2AV campaign

I'm expecting my final article on AV to be a positive one which outlines why I'll be voting yes, and why I'd encourage you to do the same. Before that article, I need to do my bit to help tackle No2AV's misinformation and shoddy campaigning tactics. (I changed the title of this post to make sure it couldn't be misread as me saying no to AV).


They're a nasty bunch of people
The No To AV campaign appears to be largely populated by career politicians whose selfishness and willingness to adapt the truth and use underhand tactics knows no bounds. Aside from saying that AV will help the BNP despite them being one of the few parties who support a No vote (along with the Conservatives and the Communist Party), I think some of the best examples of this campaign acting in an underhand way are the ones that aren't so public.

They bought the www.yes2av.org domain and set it to redirect to their no2av website. When asked about this on Twitter, Charlotte Vere's (No2AV's Twitter presence and campaign finance director) response tends to be that the Yes campaign hadn't approached them to ask for it (presumably they'd be asked to pay), and that it was the Yes campaign's fault for having a silly name. The person who registered the domain was Matthew Elliot - that's the director of the Taxpayers' Alliance who was appointed to lead the No2AV campaign. The TPA seeks much larger public spending cuts but has the audacity to suggest that if we didn't implement AV then we could spend more on maternity units.

Secondly, the No2AV site previously had a blog post which claimed that Australia used vote counting machines in its AV elections. In an attack on Antony Green, Australian elections expert and journalist, the blog said: "Uh oh! It looks like the Yes to AV campaign’s Australian expert doesn’t know his home country as well as he thought" and said he needs to "get his facts right about Australia and AV!". He posted a rebuttal on his own blog here which disproved No2AV's lies. He - as well as I and others - attempted to post comments on the No2AV site which pointed out why they were wrong, but they refused to publish any negative comments on their blog posts; only sycophantic ones. As I was looking for this No2AV blog post again today for this article, I was surprised to see it had disappeared. I eventually found where it should have been, but it was just redirecting to a different article. I searched Google too, and surprise surprise it was no longer on the site. I took this up with Charlotte Vere on Twitter today. She usually has lots to say except when she doesn't quite know how to respond:

bradleyphipps: @ This blog is redirecting to a different one. Is that intentional?
No reply despite replying to many tweets from other people sent after mine.

bradleyphipps: @ Does the lack of response mean 'We decided against saying an Australian elections expert is clueless, so took the article down'?
No reply.

bradleyphipps: @ That's a yes then. I suppose deleting old misleading attack posts is a step in the right direction.
The next day, still nothing.

It's a shame, because I've seen she's usually so quick to respond. I would have appreciated a response of "Sorry. The article was inaccurate, so we removed it", but Mrs Vere doesn't like replying when her deplorable campaign is shown to be wrong. Though I suppose if I were the Twitter representative and finance director of a national campaign which had been shown to lie in a blog post, wrongly call an Australian elections expert wrong, refuse to publish comments showing it was wrong, and then try to brush it under the carpet, I'd be embarrassed too.

Thankfully I've tracked down the post - someone had copied and pasted it ad verbatim as a comment on a Tory blog. Maybe this will jog your memory, Mrs Vere:

Australia Does Use Vote-Counting Machines
Uh oh! It looks like the Yes to AV campaign’s Australian expert doesn’t know his home country as well as he thought. Only last week Antony Green, the self-titled ‘Australian Elections Expert’, said:
“We’ve used AV for 90 years at all levels of government. And Australia has never used voting machines to conduct its elections.
“They need to get their facts right about Australia and AV.”
But wait, what does it say here?: Australian Capital Territory [ACT] Electoral Commission – Electronic Voting and counting
The ACT’s electronic voting system is the first of its kind to be used for parliamentary elections in Australia. The electronic voting system was used at the 2008 election in 5 locations in Canberra’s main town centres.
The ACT’s electronic voting system was first used at the October 2001 election and was again used at the October 2004 election.
And this?:
Electronic counting, which combines the counting of electronic votes and paper ballots, was first used in the ACT at the October 2001 election and was again used in the October 2004 election. In 2001 and 2004, preferences shown on paper ballots were data-entered by two independent operators, electronically checked for errors, and manually corrected if required. In 2008, an intelligent character recognition scanning system was used to capture preferences on paper ballots
Looks to us like Mr Green needs to ‘get his facts right about Australia and AV’!"


That's the wonder of the Internet. Things are very rarely gone for good. Even patronising incorrect drivel like that still has a way of turning up. Good ain't it? And just to clear something up, he's not "Yes to AV campaign’s Australian expert" - he's an Australian journalist who works for ABC, and he was so shocked by the bullshit that No2AV have been publishing about his country's elections and the AV system in general that he wrote about it on his blog. Note also that he linked to No2AV's derogatory article in his blog post which they tried to stuff down the memory hole.

This approach of ignoring uncomfortable comments (and the truth) appears to be an official tactic of the No campaign. As I mentioned, all comments from visitors to their blog are moderated, and only the ones which praise the content of the blog or the No to AV campaign are approved to be published, and comments on their Youtube videos are disabled altogether. You would have thought if they were so sure of the content in their blog posts and the campaign they work for, they'd be able to easily handle comments from lowly peons like me. By contrast, the Yes Campaign allows positive and negative comments and debate on its blog posts, and the same applies on its Youtube videos. I do think this tells us something about the varying extent to which the Yes and No lobbies are committed to democracy and have respect for the public.

I also found it interesting that another page on their site that I've linked to in a derogatory way in a previous blog post has disappeared: the Labour Patrons list. Perhaps they realised a list containing only tribalist has-been politicians like John Prescott and Margaret Beckett didn't do them any favours.


Claim: "It'll create more coalitions"
It is true that there will probably be more coalitions in future, but that's because of changes in voter behaviour, not the system. Even if we keep our current system, there will be more coalitions due to the steady and consistent decline in the numbers of us voting for the two main parties. About a century ago, over 90% of the electorate voted for either the Conservatives or the Liberals (Labour's rise did not happen until later). Over time, though, the increased popularity of smaller parties and the split into a three party system has meant that people are unwilling to split the votes between only the two main parties. Observe the differences between the 1910 (left) and 2010 (right) general elections:

We can see that in 1910, over 90% of us voted for one of two parties. By 2010, the proportion of people choosing between two parties had slumped to just over 65%. This is a trend which is set to continue, with smaller parties performing better in opinion polls and doing surprisingly well, such as UKIP coming second in the Barnsley Central by-election, and the Greens winning in Brighton Pavillion in 2010. It is these voter trends which make coalitions more likely, and keeping our current First Past the Post system will not prevent this. If parties want to form a government with a large majority, they need to start looking at why people are not longer voting for them in the way they did previously and adapt their policies to fit, not say that the electoral system should be kept the way it is so they can form majority governments on ever-smaller public mandates.

Allow me invite Dan Snow to speak on this topic:
 

Thank you, Dan. (You can see Dan Snow's wonderful Filthy Cities on the IPlayer now.)

Claim: "It's too expensive"
Ho-hum. This one is tiresome.

Firstly, the claim of the cost is based upon the assumption that electronic vote-counting machines will be used. There's no basis in fact for this. The impartial Channel 4 Fact Check considers the claim to be 'fiction', and a leaked memo from the Treasury says that there are no plans to increase the budget for the election, whatever the outcome of the referendum.

Australia is used by anti-AV campaigners as an example of how the cost of elections under AV would be increased. It is true that the cost per person of elections in Australia are more than the UK, but using that as evidence of AV being more expensive is disingenuous. It ignore the many other variables which make elections in the UK and elections in Australia different: like a much larger population, massive land-mass, a more rural and spread population, extra time being given to postal ballots to arrive, how much ballot counters are paid, etc, etc.

It is true that there is a one-off cost of the referendum. That's a one-off cost which will not occur again, and one to which voting No will not save. When I see Labourites attacking the 'cost' of AV, it's particularly irritating since it was in their manifesto to have this referendum. And I believe that holding the referendum under a Labour government would have cost more because the date it was planned to be held on was not going to coincide with council and Scottish Parliament elections.

I don't like the arguments about cost at all, and I wish we didn't have to defend against this nonsense Judging by the logic of No2AV campaigners, we should get rid of elections entirely because there's a cost associated with them. Instead, we should have a dictator. It wouldn't be democratic, but at least it would be cheaper. The advertising campaign that the group has used suggests that if we use AV, babies will die and soldiers will go without equipment. We all know full-well that the budget for elections won't magically end up building a new hospital. It doesn't work like that. And I emphasise once again, the 'cost' of using AV is based upon the unproven and very tenuous assumption that counting machines will be used if we adopt AV. This remains merely a tactical assumption - I've not seen any evidence to support the claim, but I have seen evidence to disprove the claim.

Claim: "It's too complicated"
You can tell how little politicians think of the public when they make this claim. Apparently we're all too dim to count. In fact, it's so complicated that I have to show you a picture because words can't describe how complex a process writing numbers is:
I just can't get my head around the process. Apparently you fill in as many or as few as you want in order of preference, and you're finished. I just can't cope with that. Too complex by far.

Claim: "No-one uses it"
You've probably seen that map which shows how only Australia, Fiji, and Paupa New Guinea use AV. Firstly, I don't think it matters what other countries use - what works in one nation may not be right for another; we need to decide what is right for the UK, not arrogantly turn our nose up at AV because little Fiji uses it. However, I thought it would be interesting to put this into perspective by showing you a map showing the electoral systems of the world. I won't post it here so as to avoid copyright issues, but here's a link to the PDF file. As you can see, First Past the Post is relatively rare. The only prominent countries which use it are the UK, USA, Canada, and India. If the argument is that FPTP naturally creates stability, then I would point out the unstable African nations which use FPTP but are beset by problems: the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, and so on. Much of the world uses a proportional system of some kind, with the proportional Party List system alone by used by (judging by my quick and dirty count) nearly 40 nations. If the argument that we should use tried and tested systems, then looking at Europe alone, we see we are the only nation amongst our friends on the Continent who still use FPTP; most of them use party list.


Claim: "It's even less proportional than FPTP"
It's certainly true that AV isn't a proportional system, and it's very difficult to judge the impact AV would have on elections before we've had any under the system. However, when taking into account the preferences of voters, the University of Essex was able to research the likely outcome if the 2010 election had been conducted under AV.

Actual outcome under FPTP and predicted outcome under AV
Party
Proportion of vote
FPTP proportion of seats
AV proportion of seats
Conservative
36.1%
47.07%
44.46%
Labour
29.0%
39.69%
38.15%
Lib Dem
23.0%
8.77%
13.69%

And below is the disparity between the proportion of that national vote on the 2010 election, and if the 2010 election had been conducted under AV.


Disparity between % of vote and % of seats won
Party
Under FPTP
Under AV
Conservative
10.97%
8.36%
Labour
10.69%
9.15%
Lib Dem
14.43%
9.31%

It's clearly not a proportional system, but it seems that it would certainly have been a step in the right direction to making the outcomes of our elections more proportional, as there is less disparity between the proportion of the popular vote and the proportion of seats won

It's also worth pointing out that when No to AV campaigners ask you to vote no on the basis that AV isn't a proportional system, the system they're defending isn't proportional. I firmly believe that if you support PR and are therefore not overwhelmed by AV, you should vote yes to show an appetite for future change. With the new leader of the Labour party backing this referendum, there's a chance for electoral change to come back onto the mainstream agenda if there's a Labour government in 2015. If we vote no, we're sending a message to political parties that we don't support change. That will mean parties avoid putting it on their agenda because they don't want to put something before the electorate which has a precedent of getting turned down. Voting no is sending a big sign to political parties which says that the British people don't want electoral reform, so don't put it in your manifesto because you'll look out-of-touch.

Claim: "Vote no to give Clegg a kicking"
This would achieve the short-term aim of sending the Lib Dems a message, but they're already well aware that they're unpopular and have got the message loud and clear many times. It's the worst possible strategy to vote against electoral reform just to annoy Clegg. In the long term, you're helping to cement the two party system by turning down reform in favour of the failed and deeply flawed status quo system. The coalition won't collapse if you vote no, but you are likely to give Cameron a boost and give him the legitimacy he needs to pursue more Conservative policies and pursue less compromise with Clegg. If you're thinking of voting no on the basis of upsetting Clegg, I'd call on you to remember that the Lib Dems have been successful in influencing Coalition policy for the better, such as raising the income tax personal allowance, tempering the tuition fees changes, Budget proposals to create £140 pensions and restore the earnings link; the Green Investment Bank; the intention of a Mansion Tax; removing such Conservative policies as raising the inheritance tax threshold, and to bear in mind that a Lab-Lib coalition was simply not possible due to there not being a majority.

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