This is the first time I’ve ever written about politics on this blog, and I hope it will be the last. [Edit: it wasn’t. Three more posts on AV followed — #1, #2, #3] Usually I don’t like to swim in such murky waters, but here in the UK we have a referendum coming up in five days’ time — Thursday 5th May — that I think is the most important vote of my lifetime, and I want to take a moment to explain why.
In the UK, we use the simplest of all possible voting schemes to elect our MPs. Everyone votes, and the candidate with the most votes wins. This is appealing in its simplicity, but has a grave problem. Suppose a constituency is roughly split so that 40% each support the Tuna Nigiri party and the Unagi Maki party. The other 20% would like the Salmon Nigiri party to get in, but they realise that voting for Salmon Nigiri is hopeless — there just aren’t enough supporters for them to get in.
In this very common situtation, Salmon Nigiri fans will look at the other parties and say “Well, I certainly don’t want to eat tuna, so I will vote for the Unagi Maki party, even though I don’t really like their candidate”; or, as it may be, “I certainly don’t want to eat eel, so I will vote for the Tuna Nigiri party, even though I don’t really like their candidate”.
This is called “tactical voting”.
A better name for it would be “lying”.
The brutal fact of the democracy that I live in is that nearly every time I’ve voted, I’ve had to vote for a candidate that I didn’t want to win. That’s because the real choice was between him and a candidate that I really, really didn’t want to win. And the stupid result of this is of course that the candidate who I actually did want to win didn’t get my vote. (No doubt he also missed out on many other people’s votes — and, who knows, might even have surprised everyone by winning had we not all voted tactically.)
This is fundamentally wrong. I want to stop lying on my ballot forms every time election year comes round, and that is why I will be voting YES TO AV, and I hope you will, too.
Under the proposed replacement voting system — Alternative Vote, or AV for short — you list your preferred candidates in order. So I would vote Salmon Nigiri as my first choice, and Tuna Nigiri as my second. (Some advocates of the current system complain that this is too complicated for voters to understand. I think they they should give their constituents a little more credit than that.)
I am not even going to explain how the votes are tallied under the AV system, and how the winner is decided (though it’s not hard to guess). Because for me that is not the point. The point is that I don’t have to lie.
This might not make any actual difference to who gets in, of course. I hope that it will in many constituencies, and that people’s real preferences will be elected rather than the candidates they feel obliged to vote for. But whether or not it makes a difference, the AV system is better because it’s just Right.
There are lots of other arguments in favour of the AV system — maybe most intuitively, this image, which I got from an article on Andrew Hickey’s blog:
But I’m not going to go into any of that. My position is simpler. We should adopt the AV system so that we don’t have to lie in every other election.
Thanks for listening.