strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
Now that my conference paper is done and I am less ludicrously busy, I'm turning my attention firmly back towards the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. I've written a fair bit on this journal about my involvement with the campaign, but I haven't yet said very much about why I'm so convinced that a change to AV is worthwhile. I did use the example of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election back in January to explain why I think AV enhances the dialogue between voters and prospective candidates, which is certainly one good reason for making the change. But there is much more to say than that alone.

I could, of course, write a long rambling post which attempted to cover all of the reasons why I am supporting a change to AV - not to mention the many, many things which are wrong with FPTP (not all of which AV will fix), or with the No to AV campaign. Believe me, there are plenty of arguments to go into, and I've used most of them during the 1000 or more phone-calls which I've now made for the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. But many of them have also been rehearsed elsewhere. In the more personal context of my own journal, I've decided instead to whittle things down to the single strongest argument which is convincing me to support a change to AV, and focus on writing about that.

So, are you ready for this?

The most straightforward, truthful and accurate statement of why I am campaigning for a Yes vote in the May 5th referendum?

OK - here we go:
The Alternative Vote is better than First Past the Post at identifying the Condorcet winner in each constituency election contest

That really is my genuine, number one reason for supporting the change. To me, it's the most persuasive argument. Unfortunately, it also isn't an argument I can use when campaigning. That small percentage of the population who have read up on the subject and know what the Condorcet criterion is might well nod sagely and agree with me - and believe me, I've been hanging out with a lot of those sorts of people in the context of the campaign! But most people would just greet me with a blank look. Should you wish to know more, however, read on... )

So that's me, and those are my real reasons for voting Yes to AV. As I've said, they aren't necessarily the reasons which are most effective in an actual debate. For most people, saying that I prefer AV because it is better at FPTP at identifying the Condorcet winner in each constituency is meaningless. And even if they're prepared to listen to me explaining it, I still have to acknowledge that that will only achieve a relatively modest improvement in the electoral system, and that AV isn't perfect at identifying the Condorcet winner itself anyway. But nonetheless, that is an honest statement of what is convincing me.

What's really important when I debate the issue with people on the phone is that my own core of conviction is solidly in place. From there, I can leave all talk of Condorcet winners behind, and concentrate on the arguments which are actually accessible and persuasive. It's nothing like as difficult as this post might make it appear. :-)

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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
This morning I got up bright and early, and headed off to spend the day campaigning for fairer votes in Skipton. I wasn't even sure I'd be able to get there when I set off, but as I got into town I realised that the snow was starting to melt at last, and my train left perfectly on time without the slightest problem. There was still plenty of snow lying in places where it hadn't been disturbed, though, leaving this statue of John Harrison (a local clock-maker) looking like he had a pair of festive angel wings:

In Skipton itself, I joined our campaign stall in the town hall, where there was a craft fair going on. It was much quieter than the organisers had expected, presumably because of the weather, but we talked to plenty of people - including Santa!

It was quite a different sort of event from the bonfire we went to at the start of November - that was mainly about shouting slogans and dishing out leaflets to students as they passed, but today we had more time to talk in detail about the referendum to people who were milling around at their leisure, most of whom were in their fifties or older. About two thirds of the people we spoke to still had no idea that there is a referendum on the horizon, or what it is about - but on the whole most of them were interested and enthusiastic once we explained what it involves. We got a few who just went "Oh, politics - I'm not interested in that", and one or two who said they preferred the current system, or didn't think the change would make any difference. But I'd say that in total about 80% of the people we spoke to were positively inclined towards AV by the time we'd finished with them.

Not all will actually take that positivity as far as bothering to turn out for the referendum, of course, but it seems quite encouraging to me. It also fits with the findings of a YouGov poll which concluded that people are more likely to prefer AV over FPTP if they understand how AV works. We've just got to keep on getting out there and making sure that they do.

Finally, here's a list of a few AV links which I've seen or shared on Facebook and Twitter recently, but haven't posted here yet:
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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
Many apologies that both writing and commenting here remains so light. It's going to be like this until December, when I finally finish and submit my article on Italian urban peripheries. Until then, the combination of that article, the other daily demands of my job and the ongoing fight to secure a viable future for our department just means I have very little spare brain-juice available for LJing. I'm doing my best.

Anyway, on Friday evening I downed tools and headed out of the house, all dressed from top to toe in purple, to help launch the nationwide Yes to Fairer Votes campaign at the Hyde Park bonfire in Leeds. The date of the AV referendum has been confirmed now, and November 5th marked exactly six months until it will take place. So it was time to get out there and start spreading the word.

We had a professional photographer along with us, as the nationwide campaign is asking local groups all over the country to submit photos of their events for a collective gallery. So we started out by doing a few posed photos )

Responses were pretty good on the whole. A few people just weren't interested, but I didn't encounter a single person who wanted to argue the case with us for keeping the existing first-past-the-post system. Rather more depressingly, though, the great majority of the people we talked to either a) had no idea that there was going to be a referendum on the voting system in six months' time or b) had no idea what AV is.

And that's a sad state of affairs, because what's happening next May is a really big deal. It's far bigger than a general election, where you merely vote to elect a government for the next five years. This referendum is about whether or not we should change this country's entire voting system permanently. It matters, and everyone should be thinking about it and talking about it and getting ready to decide how they want to vote in May.

Of course, the whole reason why we were there was to raise awareness about the referendum, and explain to people how AV works and why we believe it is fairer than the current system. And actually people seemed pretty interested once they heard about it. We chatted to as many people as we could and gave out a good couple of hundred flyers between us, with a fair number of people seeming actively pleased to be given them, or even coming up to us of their own volition to find out more. So it felt like a pretty positive start to the campaign. But there is still very definitely lots to be done.

Having said all that, of course, it would now be remiss of me not to finish off this post with a simple explanation of how AV works, and why I think it is an improvement on the current system. I know that a lot of people on my friendslist are already extremely well-informed about it. But I also know from my experience at the bonfire on Friday night that plenty of people won't be. Since everyone (who's over 18 and a UK citizen) will get to vote on this next May, I think it's time we all started talking about it. So this is my simple starter's guide to what on earth it's all about:

  • The change proposed is very simple. Under the current FPTP (first-past-the-post) system, you place an 'X' by the candidate you want to vote for, and whoever gets the most Xs wins. Under AV (alternative vote), you get to rank the candidates numerically in your order of preference instead.
  • If you want to, you can simply vote as you always have done under the AV system. You just put a '1' next to your favoured candidate, and leave the rest blank.
  • But AV also lets you express your preferences in more detail. You can vote '1' for the candidate you like best, but also '2' for the one you like next best, and so on until you run out of candidates or preferences. (See an example here.)
  • If no candidate gets more than 50% of the votes on the basis of first preferences, the candidate who got the least votes is eliminated, and the electoral officers look instead at the second preferences expressed by the people who voted for them.
  • These second-preference votes are allocated to the relevant candidates, and this keeps happening until one candidate has at least 50% of the total vote. That candidate is then declared the winner.
  • This means that in order to win their seats, parliamentary candidates would have to appeal positively to at least 50% of the voters in their constituencies.
  • The result would be fewer safe seats, and thus more accountable MPs.
  • It also means that if you live in a seat where your favourite candidate usually comes third, you would no longer have to face the choice between wasting your vote and voting tactically. You could express your actual preference by putting your favourite candidate first, but (assuming that that candidate is then eliminated) you would also still get to have a say in which of the remaining candidates wins by using your second (or third, or fourth) preference votes.
  • And if everyone in the country was voting on that basis, we might just get a Parliament which represented the views of the voters rather better than it does now - surely a good thing, whatever your personal political preferences are.

There's a lot more to say about it than that, of course. It isn't a simple issue, and there is plenty of debate to be had about how AV would actually play out in practice. But I am well enough convinced that it would be fairer than the current system to consider it worth actively campaigning for a 'Yes' vote. And I am absolutely certain that we should all be thinking about it pretty hard between now and the actual referendum. So consider the above my small, humble contribution to kick-starting the thought-processes. If it's the first kick you've had, then I've done my job.

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