Lefties, stop telling me to vote Yes to AV. You’re idiots.

This post was written by Jacob on April 23, 2011
Posted Under: Uncategorized

Reuben has already put out a very good succinct post on why the left shouldn’t vote for AV, but it still seems not enough people are listening to him. Over the last 24 hours I’ve been told by at least 20 left-of-Labour facebook friends that I should be voting yes to AV. So here goes at shooting down their arguments.

The first premise upon which we must work is that parliamentary democracy is a sham. It’s notoriously bad at actually representing anything that the populace thinks, mainly as a result of them not having a say in very much. Nonetheless it’s a system that we have to work with and we should probably be trying to get as many lefty MPs as possible.

“Won’t it be wonderful when you can vote for whoever you like without the concern that you’ll let the tories in?”

This is apparently the strongest argument that the left pro-AV campaign can come up with – an end to tactical voting. Erm, no. There is nothing great or wonderful about the political act of putting a cross (or number) on a ballot paper, particularly when said cross (or number) doesn’t change anything. The truth of the matter is that under AV, in many cases your vote is worth less than it would be under FPTP. This is a shit trade-off. There is absolutely no point in being able to vote for whoever you want on the condition that they can’t actually get in. For those of you who do think that putting a cross on a ballot paper is a great political act, I recommend you do one of the following: 1) Join a trade union; 2) Get involved with social movements, or if so inclined join an organization; 3) Print your own propaganda 4) Do some direct action; 5) Write a blog/letters to newspapers; 6) Set up a lobby of your MP on an issue, and co-ordinate with others; 7) Run a smear campaign on a public figure.

“It will give minority parties a better chance.”

This is frankly nonsense. It will only give minority parties a better chance if they can pick up transfers, which is generally going to be untrue for anyone standing to the left of Labour. Seriously, go look at where left MPs have got in – other than the hardcore left-Labour John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, the left have a chance in marginal constituencies, where they may get in with say 30% of the vote (for example Caroline Lucas). I wish this were not the case, but it is. Seriously, go look at where left have made these gains and try to work out where they’d get all the transfers from. The people it will give a bigger chance to are parties that politically position themselves close to others.

“This is the one route to proper proportional representation.”

You are not going to get PR, you dumb fucks. Labour oppose it, as do the Tories. It’s just not going to happen. Please don’t dump us in the worst possible electoral system for the left for 10, 20, 30 or more years because you think PR is on its way.

“It is just inherently fairer and more representative.”

Well not really. Actually for anyone left of Labour it will be less representative. Where your squeazed minority opinions may have in the past been amounted to a scattering of MPs, the new system will see us having no political representation whatsoever. It may be “fairer and more representative” for the middle ground, but given that parliamentary democracy is already a load of bollocks, I’d rather have whatever power we can get than none at all, based on some nonsense rhetoric about what’s fair. Indeed, if people to the left of Labour having no say at all is “fairer and more representative” I’d question the value of these terms.

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Reader Comments


obvs. here’s a good argument though:
AV will give people a greater *feeling* of representation. Now, given that I think that our current democratic structures, if not a sham (as in, not corrupt and rigged), are generally *innocuous*, this doesn’t mean that they are representative with or without AV. However, the feeling of representation might encourage a voice from below to shout louder, which in itself would help the other far more laudable tactics you outline.

Written By R on April 23rd, 2011 @ 11:09 am

clarification: I don’t think our systems are representative either with or without AV.”

Written By richard on April 23rd, 2011 @ 11:11 am

At the moment, our elections have some pretty dull issues being talked about in a very establishment way – immigration is always about control, economics is about deficit reduction, workers rights about concessions to/battles with Europe. Views outside the mainstream politic are not represented in elections, and certainly not in Parliament. It might be the case that we have a few ‘left of Labour’ politicians in the Commons at the moment. But Caroline Lucas aside, so what? And the main reason she has a stronger voice – because she’s not part of the established parties. If nothing changes, except the discussion surrounding elections, opening up the forum to more viable candidates – that will be a step forwards for democracy, and the left.

Someone recently told me they’d seen a documentary that mapped the differences AV would have made in the last few elections, and that it was remarkably few. You can take that in at face value in one of two ways –

1) Oh dear, AV isn’t going to make any difference, we should reject it in favour of another system
2) Oh look, AV still produces stable results isn’t that good (I’m aware a 3rd reading could be “what’s the point, might as well keep FPTP”)

But these are based on two fallacies –
1) That we can say how people would have voted had AV existed, and the choices remained the same
2) Much more importantly, that the choices (i.e., who was standing) would have remained the same

As I said above, this isn’t just about the reality of who gets elected, but about the discourse surrounding the election. More fundamentally though, we just don’t know how the party system will work with AV. Looking at the other countries that use it, they are still dominated by a few large parties. In the case of the UK, that might lead to an ‘leveling out’ of votes between the three – that might not be a bad thing; I certainly hope it would stop a tyrannical Tory Government ever having power again. However, they all also have smaller parties represented in Parliament. We don’t.
I think it’s also important that the MP is not only a national representative, but a local one – whether these smaller parties make a difference nationally is hard to gauge, but surely they make a difference on a local level. Voting for a local independent of some description is probably throwing your vote away at the moment for two related reasons one of which is our FPTP system and the other is that most people focus on getting their party into a majority government. Once we’re not so focused on “making sure the Tories don’t get in” on a national level, we can think about fringe parties locally.
I don’t think AV is perfect – but I do think it’s better than FPTP, including (but not especially) for the left. If you’re radical left – then, well, FPTP screws you, AV isn’t going to help much but might provide fringe benefits (discourse again). I don’t view AV as a stepping stone – although I hope eventually it will convert to AV+ (which adds a PR element such that both PR and Constituency systems are in use simultaneously). But what we can be sure of – if AV gets rejected, that possibility is dashed, a new referendum will not be held for PR after AV is rejected, under cries of “look, we had one, the electorate didn’t care”

Written By simon on April 23rd, 2011 @ 11:23 am
simon kane

“Actually for anyone left of Labour it will be less representative.”

You idiot. This sentence makes no sense. Both these arguments are just shouting. There’s no evidence for any of these claims.

Written By simon kane on April 23rd, 2011 @ 11:34 am

Not sure I agree with you Jacob.

Regarding your first point, there’s no reason why people can’t put a cross on a ballot paper as well as join a trade union et al. And the advantage of being able to put down your preference for a left of centre(/labour) party without them getting in is that it registers your opinion for everyone to see; it demonstrates how many people are against the drift to the centre and prefer minority opinions, without being asked to give up a tactical vote to keep the tories out. You don’t have to be absurdly optimistic to see that having these opinions out in the open can help prevent demonstrations, campaigns and suchlike being dismissed as the same tiny minority shouting loudly.

Without a detailed look at whether it’ll give minority parties a better chance, I can’t argue with you here. However, AV isn’t PR and I think you’re probably right anyway.

Labour and the Conservatives oppose PR because as things stand, they see greater advantage to themselves in opposing it. This isn’t going to change in and of itself. However, what a yes vote for AV and the resulting political opinions being recorded can do is provide impetus for further political change, an appetite to have all those disregarded opinions expressed rather than ignored. There is the potential for AV to move us further down the road to an electorate who are more interested in democracy actually reflecting the votes of its population rather than just aiming for ‘strong government’ – I guess they way I see it, FPTP helps people to ignore that non-mainstream party views exist to any real extent because there’s no record of , AV means they can still ignore their content as the main parties will likely still get in, but it’s harder to deny how widespread the other points of view are. This is a small change and won’t necessarily lead to PR. But equally, it could well help. And contrariwise a No vote will allow people to claim that there’s no appetite for political change in this country…

With your last point I’m not sure where you’re getting that it will be less representative. More people will be able to vote for these hard left parties without feeling they’d just be wasting their vote. So it’s hard to see how they’ll do worse. They won’t necessarily win anything, either, due to the strength of other less radical people’s transferred votes, but then they weren’t winning anything anyway, that I can see. Would be interested in where you’re getting your opinion here from though, what’s your basis for saying that it will be *less* representative?

Anyway, I’d say AV is totally minor improvement on FPTP and it’s no quick fix for our political system. But it’s still worth voting for.

Written By AdamP on April 23rd, 2011 @ 11:35 am
David Moss

These arguments seem completely undermined once you recognise the fact that we’re faced with a choice between FPTP and AV. Pointing out the problems in FPTP that AV won’t solve, relative to some option that’s not available, is therefore irrelevant.

Yes, parliamentary democracy is very bad at representing the electorate’s view, but AV is nevertheless a somewhat more representative system, so that’s sufficient reason to support it.

Being able to vote as you like, without fear of letting the Tories in is important. For one thing the warm glow of voting The Unelectable Leftist Party is very nice. But most important is that this change should i) increase the number of leftists (who’d otherwise vote tactically) voting for small leftist parties, ii) increase the number of leftists (who’d otherwise vote for the ULP) voting Anti-Tory, iii) increase the number of Lib/Lab anti-Tories voting Lab/Lib anti the Tories, rather than just splitting the vote.
Notably iii) won’t get in any proper lefty parties, but nor will any electoral reform short of PR, since not that many people want to vote for them. It will however lead to more non-Tory MPs, which is a good thing. Suggesting various political activities outside of elections is not a relevant intervention in a debate about electoral reform.

Denying that AV will give minority parties a better chance is silly, it clearly will. Your argument simply denies that it is a sufficiently better chance for you to care about. As I grant above, the reason why this is the case is simply because there are sufficiently few supporters of leftist parties, so again, criticising AV on the basis that it won’t (sufficiently) aid leftist parties is irrelevant to the AV vs FPTP.

A win for AV does make PR more likely than a loss for AV, given that the odds are small but non-zero. If you’re correct that the chances of PR are irrelevantly small either way, then this simply means that, from a PR point of view, it doesn’t matter what happens. What would be a compelling argument against AV would be if you explained why AV was “the worst possible election system for the left.”

AV is fairer and more representative, insofar that it allows voters’ full preferences to be represented, and is uncontroversially better than FPTP in this respect. It’s conflating two ideas to say “for anyone left of Labour it will be less representative”; what you mean to claim, presumably, is that it’s less beneficial to people left of Labour, because it’s more representative (of every-one else’s opinion). Leaving aside whether we should prefer a more representative system or a faux-representative system that benefits the left (on occasion), your claim seems mistaken anyway. For the couple of MPs who might be counted as leftist (McDonnell et al.) AV wouldn’t reduce their chances. McDonnell has actually won 54.8% 58.7%, 65.7% and 62% of the vote for the last 4 years, so AV couldn’t have kept him out. There’s no reason to think that AV is more likely to count against mainstream leftist candidates elsewhere either. Caroline Lucas, for example, has roughly 30% of the vote, as do Labour, Lib Dems 14%, versus Tories on 24%. It’s possible of course, just as it is under FPTP, that Labour would gain a couple of percentage points and oust her, but it’d at least be certain under AV that the Tories would never get in, whereas at present there’s only 6% l them and the seat, despite it being likely that 60%+ of the electorate are staunchly opposed to them.

Written By David Moss on April 23rd, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

While some of your arguments suggest a few potential reasons not to participate in parliamentary democracy (perhaps quite rightly so), you seem to have completely failed to argue against the pro-AV points you lay out.

AV is certainly not a good system for the left. But it is most likely not worse than FPTP. The advantage of AV for us on the left is not that it will aid us in capturing power through parliamentary means, but that it will hopefully prevent those on the right from doing so. Parliament is not our friend, in any case.

If this can hold back the Tories on parliamentary terms, via the broad consensus on mediocre candidates who are nonetheless at least somewhat progressive, we can focus on the more important stuff. The REAL political stuff, the actions that REALLY help the movement. The things that YOU list as being more important. I don’t think AV is the best move by any means, but I think there’s a good chance it’ll give the left a bit of breathing room to work with, in which we can show people that we are the only realistic alternative.

Written By D on April 23rd, 2011 @ 12:36 pm
Jon Wright

With the sole exception of Caroline Lucas (in England at least), there is not a snowball’s chance in hell of a left-of-Labour candidate winning under either AV *or* FPTP, and you’re kidding yourself if you think that that’s going to change within your lifetime at least. What AV *will* change is (a) the number of Tory MPs (fewer, and thus by any metric a Good Thing) and (b) the nature of the voters Labour will want to attract. In three-way marginals (actually, in pretty much all marginals) Labour, and indeed the post-coalition Lib Dems, will have a better chance by attracting the anti-Tory second preference rather than whoring themselves out after Tory voters in the foetid ‘centre’ – especially true in Wales, where Labour will go all-out to attract Plaid second preferences. In short, Labour will find that their best hope is too differentiate themselves from the Tories rather than ape them. A slightly leftier Labour and fewer Tories is not what I’d call a brilliant result, but frankly it’s the best we’re likely to get.

This is, incidentally, why I believe that democracy is essentially a terrible idea, at least in an age of televised entertainment.

Written By Jon Wright on April 23rd, 2011 @ 3:01 pm
David M

Wow… The Third Estate really is going downhill. When I first started reading I remember posts tended to avoid shouting “you dumb fucks”.

I am assuming that since there is nothing great, useful or worthwhile about voting apparently you will be abstaining from the referendum.

Written By David M on April 24th, 2011 @ 12:11 am
J Lam

I think when every single comment written under your article starts to be more coherent than the article itself, it is time to stop writing.

Written By J Lam on April 24th, 2011 @ 10:40 am

hmm, I agree with many of your points, but most of these are more reasons to not be that bothered than they are reasons to vote no. It doesn’t answer why I, as a lefty, am voting yes – described here:


Written By Adam Ramsay on April 24th, 2011 @ 8:12 pm

I think you make good points. I’m personally inclined towards a spoilt ballot rather than an outright ‘no’ vote, as both systems are frankly shit for the left; AV for the reasons you mention, and FPTP because without the second preference cushioning it’s extremely difficult for left-of-labour parties to avoid paying the £500 fine for not getting 5%. AV would sort out the latter (probably; the details have been kept – I suspect – deliberately vague on this) but in turn not make things much better. Unless you’re the sort of left who thinks that the primary goal facing the working class is to make sure that when hospitals and schools are privatised and cluster bombs are dropped on colonial natives, it’s a Labour cabinet giving the orders.

Written By Lindsay on April 24th, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

I would like to move to AV, but in all honestly if there’s going to be voting reform it should be proportional representation, at least that way exactly what the people want gets into power, regardless if there will be a coalition

Written By Joe on May 3rd, 2011 @ 5:38 am

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