We get the governance we deserve

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
Winston Churchill

So, an overwhelming no to even modest political reform. Money, power and fear have once again convinced people to vote against their own self-interest. I wonder in history lessons in the distant future school children will sit in wonder at how there grand parents could have been so subservient and easily scared by political propaganda.

The AV referendum was a chance to go into the polling box and instead of putting a cross next to one candidate, you could instead rank them in order of preference – making those in charge perfectly aware of not just who you wanted to win, but also the regard in which you held the other candidates.

Yet around 70% of voters decided that this was something they didn’t want.

I just find that unbelievable. I just cannot fathom why anyone would not want AV over FPTP (I’ll ignore valid arguments about AV being a miserable compromise because it was the best we were ever going to be offered and already No campaigners are already crowing about how they knew all along the masses didn’t want political reform – I think it highly unlikely we’ll ever get the chance to vote for any kind of reform again). People went out in their millions and actively said: ‘Don’t give me the chance to rank candidates! I don’t want that!’.

What makes it worse is that if I genuinely felt that people had considered the cold facts of AV and FPTP and preferred the FPTP system then I could accept that. But I just really don’t believe that they did. Instead they just picked up their newspapers, read the AV leaflets, got scared and voted no without even engaging their brains. It’s the same when any political debate begins and the masses just repeat the media narratives and we’re all soon lost in a cycle of pointless, endless arguments about immigration that never come close to addressing the facts of the matter.

It’s depressing. Very, very depressing.

What really annoys me is that people always seem angry about the government which just switches between the Conservatives and Labour every few years – each party voted out as being the worst government ever… before being re-elected a few years later because the other party is now the worst government ever – we seemingly forget the evils of the party that they in turn had replaced. FPTP has given us this system that everyone seems dissatisfied with, yet here we are as a populace voting in droves to keep this same two-party system that we’ll no doubt keep bitching about.

I would invite anyone to justify why they voted against AV, why they would not want the opportunity to rank preferences on a ballot paper rather than just getting one option. I will never understand the mentality of the no voters, just as they will probably never understand the consequences of their actions.

In Bury today after three recounts, Labour and Conservative posted the same number of votes in the Ransbottom ward. The two candidates then drew straws, with the Labour candidate drawing the longest one to gain an extra vote and win the seat – giving them a majority on the council. In actual fact they drew cable ties.

We have a system so staggeringly simple that the winners can be decided – quite literally – at random using the length of a cable tie. And over 10 million people were so happy with this system they went out and voted for it.

No wonder the world is such a messed-up place.

36 thoughts on “We get the governance we deserve”

  1. I would invite anyone to justify why they voted AV, why they would not want the opportunity to rank preferences on a ballot paper rather than just getting one option.

    I think you mean “… to justify why they voted against AV”

  2. Great article. I asked some of the few people my age (18/19) why they were voting no, they said: “it costs too much”

    I felt like punching them

  3. For me, the biggest issue always involves how the figures tot up.

    As a (for three weeks more) member of the Lib Dems, I can understand some of the backlash. It is the same reason why I stopped campaigning. And admittedly, the Lib Dems on a local level have been trashed. But not just by Clegg but by pseudo-Tory Lib Dem Councillors too.

    But when you see so many people take to the streets against, let’s face it, Tory ideological cuts, and then add all the public service workers, and Lib Dem/Labour (and leftish Tories) in to the mix who was left to support (a) a small Tory gain and (b) such an anti-AV vote?

    Under FPTP, I (as a Lib Dem member) voted Labour as our paper candidate had no chance of victory. My alternative was UKIP or a safe Tory who wouldn’t step down despite taking £26,000 for meetings he didn’t attend. Farcical.

    We had the chance to do something – little as it was – and failed. Miserably.

    Confused? I am.

  4. What I find amazing is that the right-wing press say “Now, let’s have a referendum on a real issue – leaving the EU”, oblivious to the fact that UKIP, the party most likely to grant their request, was pro-AV, and stands next to no chance of getting anywhere under the present system.

  5. I have also blogged on this subject (http://bit.ly/iGilGg), and I came to the conclusion that as we naturally oppose change, it is in the interests of those who want to preserve the status quo out of self-interest to just lie.

    Your reformers are fighting on two fronts then, and the public infer simplicity from the status quo due to the complexities of the discussion, and choose to reject the change.

    Totally depressing stuff.

  6. The Tories’ rushing around barking “There we go! That settles it, no need to talk about electoral reform ever again!” makes me think of a parent saying “A holiday? OK, let’s ask the kids. Hey kids, who wants to visit a Spoon Museum? No? SEE? THEY ALL SAID NO! Nobody wants a holiday, the subject is closed.”

  7. Instead of drawing straws, why not ask the people who did not vote for either of these two candidates which one they prefered?… Oh.

    I share your sentiments. Both FPTP and AV have their advantages and disadvantages. This referendum was not decided upon merit however, that is such a shame.

  8. The world is not a messed up place, or at least the democratic part of it. The vast majority of it would never accept a voting system so unrepresentative. It is the British who are messed up

  9. I voted for AV, but I can see one argument against it. Smaller and regional parties would find it much more difficult to get elected because they typically get elected with less than 50% of the vote (think Caroline Lucas or the in many cases the SNP, for example). These parties represent a fair number of voters, but wouldn’t get representation.

    That said, I would much rather the three big parties were more proportional and have a third party, than piddle around with worrying about whether a small party gets its 1 MP. In my view, challenging the 2 party system is the best way to achieve further constitutional reform as things simply won’t work anymore.

    I used to be a fairly fervent supporter of STV, but having experienced my first Scottish election today, there are elements of AMS that I like (being able to differentiate between candidate and party, for example), so from now on AV+ is getting my vote. If we ever get a choice.

  10. An interesting post and mirrors many of my initial thoughts (except i can’t write them down as well as you!). But I’m genuinely confused how it was such a landslide. Were the ‘No’ voters really that stupid or easily led? Judging by the moronic ‘No’ campaign who seemed to think so……. and then gained the most votes. Why was the right wing press so obsessed that No must win? Why was there such public apathy over the first public referrendum in my lifetime? Every time i watch Question Time an audience member is demanding a referrendum over something, to great applause. And more importantly was the ‘Yes’ campaign one of the most incompetently run campaignds of all time? If the full facts had hit home surely they would have got a lot more votes!

    Not many months back the public had no respect for MP’s, did they really not understand FPTP system is so skewed towards current sitting MP’s! I’m pretty sure the biggest post-war swing was the 1997 election (of 12% Con to Lab), yet still over 400 seats remained as they were. So even a very cautious estimate must put safe seats in the UK at well over 300, which yesterday meant the public voted for over half of us to continue to have a worthless vote. Perhaps you’re right, perhaps the public really are that stupid. I hope not.

  11. Only 4 out of 10 people even bothered to vote at all.
    If people can’t even make the effort to vote when they have the opportunity too, then its no surprise we are stuck with this rotten system.

    AV wasn’t a perfect solution, but those who opposed it out of spite for Clegg, or some misguided notion that if we reject AV we’ll get true PR soon have done half the No campaign’s job for them.

  12. I was talking about a week ago to someone who was going to vote no, because he didn’t want a system that led to more coalitions. I sent him a link to some analysis saying that AV is no more likely to create coalitions, and in fact where a party is very unpopular (like Tories in 1997) could lead to even bigger majorities than FPTP. Oh no, he said, I don’t think anyone should have big majorities. So as we sit here with FPTP having led to a coalition, and PR having delivered an absolute majority in Scotland, I say, voting systems don’t deliver outcomes, voters do. I think when historians look back at this vote, an important factor will be last week’s Royal Wedding. Fed weeks of hype about our heritage and history, people put on their Rose-tinted specs about how we do things and didn’t want to change.

  13. Alright then. These are the reasons I didn’t vote Yes.

    1. Lies. Nick Clegg kept saying that “AV is a good first step towards full PR”, despite AV not being connected to PR at all. Yes campaigners kept saying that “AV will put an end to safe seats”, “AV will put an end to corruption” and “AV will usher in a new utopian era of left-wing politics”. None of those things were true.

    2. Distortion and flawed analogies. You’ve probably seen the picture showing that, out of 10 people, 7 want a pint and 3 want coffee, but because the 7 who want a pint split their vote between 3 different pubs, the 3 coffee voters win. Or the video about voting for a range of lovely cats, but because there’s only one type of dog (namely, a nasty bulldog in top hat & tails), the dog wins. It’s just bullshit: there’s more than one breed of dog, and there’s more than one coffee shop in town.

    3. Hype. I found the #yes2av campaign on Twitter to be very depressing. The theme seemed to be “If you’re young, progressive and cool, vote Yes, otherwise you’re a dick”. Do you know what it reminded me of? Last May, when the theme was “If you’re young, progressive and cool, vote Lib Dem, otherwise you’re a dick”. And look where that got us.

    The No campaign was, as you know, also full of lies and bullshit, which is why I didn’t vote No either.

    I spoiled my ballot paper, because both campaigns were full of shit, AV wouldn’t solve anything, and the referendum was called for all the wrong reasons: namely, to get the Lib Dems to prop up the Tories so that David Cameron could be prime minister, and not because there was any great desire for voting reform.

    And that’s the crux of it: the reason 68% of voters chose No wasn’t because they believe what the Daily Mail tells them, but because there was no great desire for reform. The Yes campaign failed to make the argument that first-past-the-post is a “broken” system in any really convincing way.

    And I have one killer pro-FPTP argument that really stopped me from voting Yes: it takes longer to count the votes. Election night specials with David Dimbleby would be rubbish under AV, because it wouldn’t be until the next morning that the results would start coming in. Who wants that?

  14. Good article. I dont often reply to blogs but I wanted to try and put across some points that might be counter to yours.

    I voted no, but I believe that I understand the arguments for and against AV -and I hope that I am not moronic!

    The fact was that we were asked to choose between AV and FPTP, the landslide was against AV, not against electoral reform altogether. The YES! campaign failed to engage with the electorate, IMO this is the reason for the poor turnout, to effect change you need to energise people (it is always easier to maintain the status quo).

    I think that the YES campaign should probably look at how well their argument was put in time for the run up to a PR referendum (if there ever is one). The whole referendum came across as a fop thrown to the Lib Dems for their cooperation in Government, and this did unfairly politicise the debate.

    I voted against AV principally because I feel it discourages conviction politics. Politicians in order to appeal to second and third preference votes would (and this is IMO) want to appear as conciliatory, vapid and vague as possible so as as to not offend as many people as possible (and hence gather more vital 2/3/4th pref votes). Something I believe that politics is already too awash with is vague, PR, spin, double speak.

    I believe the effect of AV would discourage strong argument, characters and philosophies which may run the risk of alienating people.

    I can understand why people may feel differently from me but I thought you might want to hear from someone who voted NO.

  15. The AV referendum lays bare the stranglehold tribal party politics and its twin sister media influence/bias, have over our democracy.What passes for debate in the Uk is not debate at all, it’s vested interests screaming at one another a series of exaggerations and outright lies over the heads of the electorate. Occasionally the voters ask them to stop but most of the time cover their ears, let them get on with it, and get on with their lives – lives often made much more difficult by the idiocies which emerge as policy from the charade above.

  16. Mike, any particular reason why you’re assuming the smaller parties would get overtaken by major parties in later rounds? Eg if there was an SNP plurality it seems reasonable to assume Scottish Green votes SSP votes and so on could push them over the halfway mark in later rounds…

  17. The main problem with the result isn’t that it means we don’t get AV, it’s that it means we won’t see another vote on any kind of electoral reform for decades now. The Yes campaign have screwed over the country for at least a generation thanks to their sheer inability to conduct a decent campaign (hell I received two anti-AV leaflets and yet I heard *nothing* about the pro-AV side, at all, ever).

    I don’t buy the “people voted against AV after weighing up the pros and cons of it” argument, either. No matter how you view it, AV is better than FPTP. It’s not as good as PR; fine. But voting no on it effectively destroyed any chance of then voting for PR at any time in the future.

    If the vote had passed, it would’ve given some momentum to the electoral reform movement. After one or two general elections, there could have been an “okay now let’s try to push for an even better system” movement. Now? No one with the power to do so is going to push for anything of the sort, because that would be political suicide. Similarly, anyone complaining about the anti-AV campaign being full of crap will be derided as being sore losers.

    So not only have we lost AV, we’ve lost any hope of anything but FPTP for at least 20 years or so.

    As for the reasons people voted no, my parents’ reasons for doing so are pretty illuminating.

    My dad thought that under AV, anyone who didn’t vote had their vote added to the sitting government (i.e. if you’re registered to vote and you don’t, your vote automatically goes towards the current government). I don’t know where he got this idea from.

    My mom voted no because she thought it’d allow parties like the BNP to gain power, and had apparently read articles that showed how the parties that came last in some elections would’ve come first under AV. Which is wrong for at least two reasons (the last party would’ve been eliminated in the first round and couldn’t have gone on to win, and how the hell do the writers of the article know how voters would’ve ranked the parties anyway? The reason we wanted AV is to find that out! Under FPTP we have no idea!). Any attempts to engage in conversation ended with an “I don’t want to talk about this” argument so I gave up.

    As a side note, it’s (morbidly) interesting to note that the yes-to-av vote ended up being roughly 30-31% of the total vote. This is considered an “overwhelming rejection” of AV. In the 2010 election, the conservatives got 35% of the total vote and ended up with majority control of parliament, which they claim is “exactly what the voters wanted”.

  18. Ok, I voted No to AV. After reading through the arguments both for and against, I arrived at the conclusion that AV was a solution looking for a problem.

  19. The question for me is – where was the Yes campaign? According to the Guardian* the Yes campaign actually had more funding than the No Campaign. Where did it all go? It was FAR less visible. We received numerous leaflets from the No campaign, and the household received one postcard from the Yes campaign. The Yes campaign should have been aware that they were going to have a more difficult time getting media coverage, and should have been investing heavily in Direct Marketing.

    Looks to me like they had the funding but didn’t know what to do with it.

    * link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/may/03/av-campaign-funding

  20. You’ve just totally summed up my feelings over this. It angers me because I live in a Tory safe seat and there is just NO chance any other party would get in under FPTP.

    I live in Stratford; people are posh and Tory. That’s just the way it is. People in Stratford voted no because they like having a pro-fox hunting Tory MP and don’t want to rock the boat. It’s sad and nothing will change as long as the older generation is knocking around.

  21. I think…most don’t though. That is the problem. Or part of it at least. On the occasions that I have tried to discuss this, or any other political issue, with someone who gets by with just believing the main stream news and press, even when I manage to convince them they are being misled or the government are acting unfairly, they just shrug it off, claim there’s nothing they can do about it and carry on regardless. I believe the overwhelming majority behave and think along these lines. Perhaps we need to wait for things to get a lot worse before finally they all wake up!

  22. Nikki – under AV, Stratford would still be a safe Tory seat. Half the time the Tory candidate is elected with over 50% of the vote, so second preferences wouldn’t be taken into account. The other half of the time, the gap between 1st & 2nd place is so great that second preferences wouldn’t be able to overcome it.

    But of course, the Yes campaign never told you that.

  23. A lot of people voted No to punish Nick Clegg, because it was perceived as something he personally wanted. I really believe it was as simple as that.

  24. I voted Yes to AV even though I didn’t want it. I would rather have been asked “would you like to have voting reform” and for standing committees to decide which was the best system (I would prefer STV).

  25. I’ve never felt so depressed about the state of British politics as I do right now. I voted yes, not because i think AV is a fantastic system but because I think we desperately need voting reform and this was the only chance we’re going to get in a very long time.

    The ‘Yes’ campaign was terribly run. While the ‘No’ campaign was sending literature to everyone and putting up billboards all over the place the ‘Yes’ campaign was silent. Their inability to inform and engage the voters is probably why they failed.

    So now we’re stuck with FPTP. We’re stuck with governments voted in by a minority of the people. AV wasn’t a great system, but it would have been better than FPTP and, more importantly, it would have allowed us to have a referendum in a few years time to see if we could get proper PR. Instead we’re going to have to wait for years before the idea of voting reform can even be legitimately considered again, all the while the government will continue to be an essentially undemocratic body.

    I want to sit in the corner and cry.

  26. Drawing straws to get a candidate on the council? WTF? Might as well not bother with the election at all and just select people randomly. Eeny meeny miny mo, or something. Some would be perfectly happy with that, I suspect, if it meant they didn’t have to actually do anything or even think about it.

  27. I voted Yes but like others have said, the reason it didn’t win is because (a) the Yes campaign was non-existent (I received two No flyers, saw No posters and press ads and on voting day there were No campaigners handing out leaflets at my tube station. I saw probably one Yes ad but nothing else); (b) the press hate campaign, (c) perhaps the more intelligent saw the vote as a concession to the Lib Dems as part of joining the coalition, which is of course correct, as well as the fact that their request for the referendum was a request for more Lib Dem power: the probability of more hung parliaments and thus coalition governments in which the third largest party holds the balance of power is in the Lib Dem’s best political interests. So it served them well to vote Yes, just as it served the Cons and Lab to vote No.

    On those odds it would never win. For those bleeding heart liberals who get depressed about the state of British politics, have a look at Italy, or perhaps, I don’t know, Vietnam to take a country at random. Russia? Burkina Faso? Or even America. We live in a privileged, comfortable country.

  28. Thanks for pointing that situation in Bury. Farcical. I wish that was a parody.

    @ Sam – Good to hear coherent arguments from someone who voted ‘No’. Personally, I agree with aspects you raise, I do not like this ‘third way’ politics and the mythical centre ground; it makes for vague and empty politics.

    However, I think what I (and perhaps a lot of those who wanted political reform may have done) was put aside the technicalities of AV, and instead look at the referendum as a message to political elites. We were forced to do this by the circumstances in which the Tories (very cleverly) dictated the referendum would be run.

    And the message boils down to, does this open or close the door for further electoral reform. Pretty strong arguments on both sides. Closes the door argues that AV would get entrenched. Open the door argues that any political reform may start off some more. Incremental steps.

    And that’s ultimately why I said ‘Yes’. I (naively) thought positively about change bringing about change.

    Now, I think the only way electoral reform is possible again is for FPTP to fail once more, and create another hung-parliament or maybe even two. In Italy and NZ electoral reform came about because of pressure from a public truly fed up with the system. It will probably happen here one day, but will take a crisis or two.

    I just wish it could have been done positively.

    @ Smogo: Agreed, the Yes campaign didn’t explain that. But I do think that is relatively obvious, and I read a number of articles pointing out that many safe seats would be unaffected.

    During the 2010 election they actually trialed AV on a few thousand voters to try and model second preferences etc (obviously only their first vote counted). They decided the Greens would still have got in in Brighton. I can’t remember where I read that, I’ll try and find it.

  29. I’ve seen an election decided by drawing lots elsewhere. Still, what mechanism should we use for a dead heat, which could happen in AV as well? Indeed, such close races should bring home to voters that every vote counts.

    On the main post, I’m sorry, but I don’t really like the assumption that people who voted ‘No’ were duped. I think AV is inferior to FPTP, but I prefer a more proportional system.

    Why is it worse? The non-monotonicity.

  30. But why is monotonicity more important than the other abstract mathematical criteria of voting mechanisms, such as mutual majority, independence of clones or the majority loser criterion? That last one seems a pretty ghastly thing to miss out to me.

  31. A quote along the lines of the Churchill one you might like:

    – Every thinking person will be voting for you
    – Madam, that is not enough. I need a majority

    Voter talking to Adlai Stevenson (US politician)

  32. Gerard – great link. That sums it up really. We who wavered and ended up voting no have been patronised as too stupid by the Yes campaign. It wasn’t that I believed the No campaign, it was that I didn’t believe in Yes.

    Harlander – because it means that trends are inaccurately represented. In FPTP, if you vote for party A, party A is more likely to win. If you change to vote for B, then A is less likely to win and B is more likely to win. In AV, it’s possible for people to switch from party A to party B and make party B less likely to win, due to the effect on the order of elimination and whose second preferences get counted. Equally, it can sometimes give a better outcome to voters if they don’t vote than if they vote according to their preferences. I see that as a major flaw. Don’t you?

    It’s not abstract, it’s a real problem (but as a mathematics graduate, I accept that I find a lot of maths more real than most people do)

  33. That’s certainly a striking flaw, and it’s interesting that the No campaign made no mention of it.

    “Voting for your guy might make him lose” is a pretty good soundbite, and it has the advantage of actually being true unlike most of the ‘points’ used by the No campaign.

  34. @Harlander

    Well they sort of implied it with the stuff about races and whatever, but it was dumbed down, which was kind of their intention.

    They didn’t need to bother coming up with proper explanations because it was easy to come up with the stupid ones. But of course, they were able to because the Yes campaign were so woeful. Given such an opportunity, why waste time on research?

    I don’t dispute that many people were duped by the No campaign’s distortions. But not all of us were, and a large reason such lies were able to stick was down to the way that the Yes campaign approached it.

    And of course the underlying problem that AV was not really what most of the Yes people wanted, and so they were hamstrung to start with anyway.

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