England sends A V-sign to Westminster – which sees it as a V for victory!

So the results are in: 4,824,357 (or 30.93%) say Yes to AV; 10,774,735 (or 69.07%) say No to AV. For clarity, that’s the result in England. Across the UK as a whole, it was 32.1% in favour of AV and 67.9% against. So England appears to have rejected AV even more decisively than the whole UK.

But hang on a minute. Turn-out in England was a mere 40.95%. Across the UK as a whole, turn-out wasn’t significantly higher (42.22%), despite fears that holding the referendum on the same day as national elections in the other countries of the UK would skew the result – although turn-out was quite a bit higher in Scotland (50.43%) and Northern Ireland (55.20%).

So adjusted for turn-out, only 28.12% of English voters rejected AV, while a pitiful 12.59% supported it. That leaves a further 0.25% of English voters (or 0.61% of those who bothered to turn out) who spoiled their ballot papers. Accounting for this 0.61%, the proportion of those who came out to vote that supported AV was actually 30.74%, while 68.65% opposed it.

OK, then; so the real totals in England are:

Yes        12.59%

No        28.12%

Spoiled        0.25%

Didn’t vote    59.05%

Who are the real winners and losers here? While it’s certainly a massive rejection of AV, this is no endorsement of the First Past the Post voting system used for Westminster elections. In fact, it’s pretty much a rejection not only of any actual voting system used for the Westminster parliament but of the whole Westminster parliament: a clear majority either rejected the non-choice that was being offered to them, thought Westminster-parliament elections weren’t worth bothering to vote about, or didn’t think about it at all, including those who didn’t even know a referendum was taking place.

So for me, the AV referendum provides categorical evidence of the disconnect that exists between the broad mass of the English people and the UK establishment that presumes to govern them – in contrast to Scotland and Northern Ireland, where a majority did vote in the UK referendum and are by implication more engaged by UK-wide politics, paradoxically because they are also engaged by the devolved politics of their nations, which motivated them to vote in their national elections. So England duly sent a V-sign to Westminster: either rejecting a reform that seemed like a devious tinkering with the existing system designed to lever more Lib Dems in to Parliament, or telling the whole worthless bunch of Westminster lackeys where to go.

But did the politicians get the message – did they heck? They immediately started to spin it as a clear rejection of electoral, and even broader political, reform; as an endorsement of the existing system of voting and governance; and as a sign of approval of the government’s focus on making the tough decisions on the economy and (English) public services necessary in the ‘national interest’. I heard both Simon Hughes and Nick Clegg for the Lib Dems, and David Cameron talking in such terms.

This is, however, by no means an expression of support for business as usual nor a ratification of the legitimacy of First Past the Post and the whole system of UK governance that depends on it. Just watch as the politicians conveniently ignore the fact that the clear majority in both England and across the UK either spoiled their ballots or did not come out to vote, and by implication rejected both options. But they’ll say that 68% of British, not English, voters support FPTP. Well, they don’t. For a start, technically, the referendum didn’t ask whether people supported FPTP but only whether they wanted to replace it with AV. I and millions like me – the silent majority – refused to legitimise Westminster rule over England based on either system. The fact that the politicians go on about the verdict of the people having been given is just a way for them to talk up their own importance and legitimacy; in reality, the people refused to give a verdict at all.

And by the way, thank you to anyone who might have decided to spoil their ballot or not vote influenced by anything I might have written on the subject. The politicians may ignore or misread the message we’re sending them; but for me, our silence is DEAFENING!

It’s a bit like the old ‘is he waving or drowning?’ syndrome. We’ve sent them a V-sign of contempt, rejection and indifference; but they think it’s a ‘V’ for victory for the established order.

Well, England says No: not just to AV but to Westminster itself.


AV referendum: for the sake of England, don’t vote!

Do you think the First Past the Post voting system used for electing UK MPs should be changed to the Alternative Vote? Do you even care?

Firstly, should anyone who supports the idea of an English parliament give a monkeys about the voting system used to elect the UK parliament? On one level, no: the fact that this AV referendum is being held on the same day as the elections for the Scottish parliament, and Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies, but that the English have never been consulted about a parliament of their own; and the fact that we’re being offered only the disproportional AV system, whereas those very devolved elections use a different, proportional system, is a downright insult. So not only is there no representation for England as a nation on offer, but there is to be no proportional representation for England even within the UK parliament. So I know where I’d tell them to stick their AV.

On the other hand, a ‘better’ electoral system for electing English MPs would surely be a gain for the nation even while we’re being governed by an unrepresentative UK executive and parliament. Does AV constitute such a gain? Well, in my view, AV is marginally – very marginally – better than FPTP. It does ensure that parliamentary candidates have to secure the explicit support of a larger proportion of their local electorate in order to win – though it doesn’t guarantee that MPs must obtain the support of a majority of voters: that depends on how many voters don’t express a preference for either / any of the candidates remaining after the less popular candidates have been eliminated.

However, in reality, this greater share of the vote MPs have to win, which includes the second and subsequent preferences of voters whose first-choice candidates have been unsuccessful, already exists in latent form under the FPTP system. The only difference that AV makes is that it allows voters to explicitly express that support with their preference votes, so that – for example – a winning plurality of, say, 40% is turned into a winning ‘majority’ of 52%. That extra 12% of voters who are broadly content for a candidate to win on 40% of the vote are still there under FPTP; so AV in a sense just legitimises what happens under FPTP: the election to parliament of MPs who fail to be the first choice of a majority of voters.

AV is, therefore, mainly a means to secure buy-in to an unfair system that has ill-served England. That’s what FPTP has been: over the past few decades, it’s given us Tory and Labour governments that have never commanded the support of a majority of English men and women. It gave us the divisive, confrontational and egomaniacal Thatcher regime; and it was responsible for Blair’s New Labour, with its legacy of asymmetric devolution, British-establishment Anglophobia, public-spending discrimination against England, and the overseas follies of Iraq and Afghanistan, with so many brave young English people exploited as cannon fodder in unwinnable, unjustifiable wars.

FPTP has failed England. AV is only a very slightly mitigated version of FPTP. Both will lead to more disproportional, unrepresentative UK parliaments that will continue to ignore not only the just demands for an English parliament but England’s very existence. Under the present UK political settlement, England as such is completely discounted and passed over in silence. The pro-AV campaign says that, under AV, your vote really counts. But England will still count for nothing, whether we have AV or FPTP.

So make your vote really count this Thursday in the AV referendum by greeting it with the silent contempt with which the political establishment treats England. England’s voice is not being consulted; so respond with sullen, stern silence in your turn. Don’t vote for a system – the UK parliament itself – that disenfranchises you. And let the result – whether a win for AV or FPTP – be rendered as meaningless as it really is through a derisory turn-out across England.

England will have its say one day in a meaningful referendum: on an English parliament. And I bet neither AV nor FPTP will be on offer as the voting system for a parliament that truly represents the English people.

Forget the pedantry and distortions: the reason the big parties oppose AV is that it will erode their support

Readers of this blog will know by now that I dislike the Alternative Vote (AV) voting system but like First Past the Post (FPTP) even less. But cutting through all the crud and the crap about those systems’ respective merits and demerits, the one big reason why Labour and Tory dinosaurs such as Margaret Beckett and William Hague respectively oppose AV is that it will erode support for their parties.

It will do so in two ways:

1) It will reduce the percentage of first-preference votes each party receives compared with what they win under FPTP, because the FPTP totals are inflated by tactical voting. Under AV, people who’ve tended to vote for Labour or the Tories merely to prevent the other party from winning can now vote for their actual favourite party or candidate first, and only then switch their vote to one of the bigger parties. Suddenly, people will realise that the parties that have dominated post-war British politics are not that popular really, and that they can be defeated if enough people reject them; and as their reputation diminishes, more people will be emboldened not to vote for them as their first preference in subsequent elections.

2) It means that, instead of having only one choice at elections, voters are encouraged by the actual voting system to look at a range of parties and to vote for multiple parties. This loosens the hold that Labour and the Conservatives have over voters, bolstered by the FPTP voting system, which means anything other than a vote for them in most constituencies is a wasted vote. Under AV, voters can in theory express a wider range of political opinion (although, in reality, a lot of those preference votes will be disregarded in the AV counting process), and they can vent their displeasure with Labour and the Conservatives by voting for other parties first before switching their vote back to them in their final preferences.

On the other hand, if AV is introduced and either Labour or the Tories win an outright majority in parliament, they will try to counter my first point by saying their majority is a ‘majority of majorities’: a reflection of majority support in a majority of constituencies. I’ve demonstrated the fallacious nature of this assertion here. But that won’t stop the parties from saying it, and it’s a major reason for rejecting AV: don’t give the mainstream parties a chance to claim a majority mandate when, in fact, they’ll have won an even lower share of first-preference votes than the share of the vote they would have won under FPTP.

All the same, the potential for AV to undermine support for the Conservatives and Labour is a really good reason – perhaps the only good reason – to vote for AV; although I accept that this will provide a good reason to vote against it for many others.

How am I tempted to vote now? I’m still backing the idea of not voting at all in the referendum, preferably by spoiling one’s ballot paper by scrawling ‘English parliament now!’ – or another pet demand – all over it. In any case, the non-vote camp is definitely going to be the winner – at least, in England – as I can’t see the turn-out being more than 50%. I would be surprised if many more people go out to vote in the referendum than would have turned up to vote in the English local elections being held on the same day; and turn-out for local elections is usually around 30% or so. That’s one of the reasons I’ve soft-pedalled my ‘campaign‘ to encourage people to spoil their ballots in the referendum: the more you bring the matter to their attention, the more likely they are to actually vote!

So whatever happens, the result won’t have much credibility, not only because the turn-out in England will be so pitiful, but because the turn-out in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be significantly higher because of the elections to their national parliament / assemblies that are taking place on the same day. It will be clear that people in England have bothered to vote in the referendum only because a ballot paper was pressed into their hands when they came to vote in the local elections, not because there is any groundswell of opinion in favour of either of the options on offer. If the establishment were really serious about proposing AV as a constitutional innovation of major importance to the UK, they should have made it compulsory to vote – and you could still have rejected both options by not marking anything on the paper or by allowing a third option such as ‘neither of the above’.

Having said all that, if it looks from opinion polls as though the No camp are going to swing it, I would now seriously consider voting Yes, if only for the reasons set out here: to give the major parties a well-deserved smack in the teeth and to offer the hope that their support would be undermined by AV.


First Past the Post is the past; AV is its final outpost: let’s draw a finishing line for them both!

The present First Past the Post voting system used for UK-parliamentary elections is the post that is propping up the whole crumbling House of Westminster. It’s like one of those wooden buttresses that are used to hold up the remaining outer walls of part-demolished buildings: a common sight on post-war bomb sites. ‘We should have demolished the old girl and built a new house from scratch’, the locals were wont to say; ‘but we’ve grown attached to her – she reminds us of the good old days’.

So it is with the Houses of Parliament: once the epicentre of a vast estate, now a shadow of her former self. First she lost all her lands, which she reluctantly had to hand back to their original and rightful owners; now even some of her choicest and most palatial rooms have been knocked down. ‘Devolution’, they called it, though it seems more like a demolition. All that’s left is Little England. But we won’t let on; we’ll carry on pretending that we’re still mighty Blighty, Great Britain, and that Westminster is the seat of an immense power.

And First Past the Post is one of the things that props up that illusion. It does so by indeed conferring great power on the government of the so-called United Kingdom (well, we can’t call it ‘England’, can we!) by ensuring that it does not need to suffer the inconvenience of being accountable to anything such as voters or ‘the people’. House of Commons it may be, yet it’s not for the common people but only for those who would be the Lords of Westminster’s manor. The said Lords are known as the Executive, and they exercise their power by commanding the loyalty of their servants, who are known as MPs. So long as a majority of the MPs are willing to continue serving their masters, those masters can hold on to their power, and the MPs do their bidding and enact their decrees.

Every now and then, the servants put themselves up for election by the commoners they are supposed to represent. But one needn’t suppose that the different factions into which the servants are divided – known as parties – are elected in proportion to the support they receive from the commoners. Oh no! That would make the power of the Lords of Westminster dependent on the support of the commoners rather than the MPs. No, one or other of the two largest parties needs the votes of only the largest minority of commoners to win big majorities of MPs; and so power can be swapped between the two parties from time to time, but the system of power itself remains unchanged.

First Past the Post (FPTP) is the voting method that allows this marvellous, time-honoured system of Executive rule to be perpetuated. Under this, the candidate obtaining a plurality – sometimes as low as 30% of the vote – is elected as MP, i.e. becomes the sole representative of his or her commoners, or constituents. This is replicated at national level, whereby the party obtaining the plurality of votes wins absolute power, sometimes known as an ‘outright majority’.

Now, some while back, the MPs and even the Executive itself heard mutterings of rebellion from the commoners to the effect that this voting system was somehow ‘unfair’. Indeed, there were even suggestions that it might be replaced by a system that did ensure that the number of MPs elected from each faction corresponded to the number of votes each faction had received. This raised the horrific prospect that only MPs elected in Little England should help the Executive to rule England. By contrast, under the existing system, MPs from a former province known as West Lothian were imported into the House to further prop up the majority of one of the two largest parties, known as the Labourers of the Estate. But as the number of English MPs elected was out of all proportion to the number of votes they’d actually received in Little England anyway, no one seemed to mind – or, if they did, the members of the household didn’t care.

These mutterings of rebellion grew so loud they even led to a third party that championed the cause winning so many votes that the FPTP system for once failed to deliver an outright majority to the party that won the plurality. That particular party, known as the Conservators of the Estate, incidentally handled the episode with exceptional grace: firstly, by taking the MPs belonging to the third party – the Liberty Takers – into their confidence and combining with them to form a new kind of majority known as a coalition that the Conservators were able to control; and secondly, by allowing the commoners to choose whether to keep the First Past the Post system or replace it with an alternative, conveniently called the ‘Alternative Vote’.

The Alternative Vote (AV) is superficially a rather complicated system. But its complexity serves essentially to obscure its primary function, which is to ensure that, at constituency level, a candidate must obtain a majority – or as near as possible to one – in order to pass the post and be elected. I suppose the thinking is that FPTP fooled the commoners for many years into thinking that enough pluralities at local level added up to a legitimate majority at national level; so that when MPs need to win actual majorities at local level, we’ll accept that the outright majorities their parties will continue to enjoy at national level are, well, legitimate.

AV performs this sleight of hand by dismissing the first votes of many of the commoners, which is their only vote under FPTP – making the FPTP winner, in effect, the one who first passes the first and only post. Under AV, if no candidate obtains a majority of these first votes, then a sort of virtual run-off election is held in which the candidate finishing last is eliminated – so that, effectively, they’re not even allowed to cross the finishing post at all – and the second votes, or preferences, of the commoners who gave that party their first votes are then assigned to the parties remaining in the race. This process is continued until, finally, one of the candidates obtains a majority of the votes or until these run out. The winner, therefore, is the one who first passes the final post: the one who wins most votes in the final virtual run-off ballot, whether the total number of votes they obtain constitutes a majority of the votes of all the commoners who bothered to turn out or not.

So, AV replaces First Past the (first and only) Post with First Past the Final Post. Superficially, these systems are so different that most of the commoners won’t notice that the end result will be the same in virtually all the constituencies: the same candidates will be elected under either system, and they’ll mostly be people that are not supported by a majority of voters. Except, AV will cover up this fact by adding the non-first-preference votes of the commoners who voted for the smaller parties to the first-preference votes of those who voted for the larger parties and calling them the same thing. This then creates larger pluralities and majorities for the same dominant parties. Genius!

And so the cherished hope of the Westminster Estate is that whichever system is chosen – FPTP or AV – will continue to prop up its crumbling walls and sustain the illusion of democratic legitimacy with which it has held the commoners spellbound for so long. However, I suspect the foundations of the edifice are shot, and any electoral fix is only a short-term solution. In fact, I don’t think we, the commoners, should play along at all: we shouldn’t vote either for First Past the Post or First Past the Final Post and thereby allow the MPs and the Executive to lord it over us any more. We should tell them where to stuff their buttresses (the clue is in the name) and pull those supporting posts from the side of the building.

Then perhaps we can start building that new House from scratch: a little English castle not a lordly palace.


Business leaders say ‘yes’ to AV, historians say ‘no’: how can they both be so stupid?

It’s hard to comprehend how a group of such distinguished businessmen, and a bunch of academic and popular historians could both have got it so wrong yesterday. The businessmen in question, including leading figures in the financial and retail sectors, signed a letter to The Telegraph in support of the Alternative Vote (AV) voting system. The historians, headed up by Tory MP Chris Skidmore, wrote to The Times (behind that title’s paywall) in defence of the existing First Past the Post (FPTP) method. The arguments used by both sides were simplistic, inaccurate and, in some instances, factually wrong.

First the pro-AV businessmen – all men, as it turns out. Their arguments, in summary, are:

  1. AV would force politicians to work harder in order to secure the more than 50% of the vote needed to be elected
  2. As a consequence, MPs would be more representative of the population as a whole and have more legitimacy
  3. AV better reflects political pluralism and multi-party democracy
  4. AV is fairer and would be good for business.

Dealing with these arguments in turn:

  1. Politicians are not required to secure over 50% of the vote in order to win under AV. This is a fallacy that people should not be taken in by. It’s quite possible – and indeed this has happened in recent Irish by-elections and the Labour leadership ballot – for candidates to win on a minority share of the vote if not enough voters indicate a preference for one of the top-two candidates. One AV supporter I had a comment-stream argument with conceded that, in his own estimate, maybe as many as a quarter to a third of UK seats will still be decided by a minority of voters under AV.

    It is true that politicians will need to work harder to secure the support of second-preference voters. But in most seats, AV still won’t make any difference because the end result after all the vote transfers will be similar to what it would have been under First Past the Post: UKIP supporters will mostly vote Tory as their second preference; Green voters will support Labour or the Lib Dems; Lib Dem votes will transfer mostly to the Greens and Labour; Labour to the Greens and the Lib Dems. The end result will mostly be the same as if some of those voters had voted tactically for their second or third preferences under FPTP.

    As very few constituency results will be different under AV, UK elections will still continue to be decided by a small percentage of swing seats. Even the proponents of AV concede this fact: the result will be decisive at a national level in more seats than under FPTP but still relatively few. The businessmen writing to The Telegraph are confused about this point and extrapolate from the fact that, at constituency level, the result will be decided by more voters (but still not necessarily a majority) to the conclusion that: “Under AV, parties would have to pay far more attention to the majority of people during election campaigns”. Just not true: they’ll still just pour money and people into the swing seats.

  2. It is true that MPs would have more legitimacy insofar as they would be elected by a greater share of voters. But as I observed in point 1 above, many MPs will continue to be elected by a minority of voters in their constituency. And merely winning over 50% of the vote is a slender test of legitimacy, especially as the basis for that majority in the AV system is so flaky. In fact, the winner in an AV ballot can often obtain a smaller and weaker majority of first and subsequent preferences than one of the losers, based on the fact that the second preferences of people who’ve voted for one of the last two candidates left in the race are not counted. For example, if the final round in an AV ballot involves a Labour and Conservative candidate, the second preferences of first-preference Labour and Tory voters are not counted. These will mainly be for the Lib Dem, who might then be the recipient of a greater total of first plus second preferences than either the Labour or Conservative candidate. But as these votes are not counted, the most popular and ‘legitimate’ candidate – more closely representative of the views of most voters – is not elected.

    Besides which, there are much greater questions about the legitimacy of the UK parliament than this mere concern to secure the support of a dubious ‘majority’, particularly all the issues around the governance of England. What point does all this minor tinkering with the voting system have if the body that’s elected remains an illegitimate and unaccountable parliament for England in which MPs not elected in England have a decisive say in England’s laws; and a parliament that does not speak for England nor stand up for her people’s needs and rights within the UK?

  3. It is also true that AV does take more account of political pluralism and that one of the reasons why FPTP has become so unfair is that parties can now win large parliamentary majorities on quite small minority shares of the vote, such as Labour’s 2005 majority of around 60 MPs based on a 36% share of the vote across the UK. Nonetheless, AV will not facilitate the emergence of genuine multi-party democracy in the same way that a properly proportional voting system would do. If anything, AV will ultimately concentrate the vote between the leading right- and left-of-centre parties, and will consolidate the present 2 x two-party set-up: Labour and the Tories dominant in the North of England and Midlands (and Labour even more so in Scotland and Wales); and the Lib Dems and the Tories making a clean sweep of the southern half of England. This is because AV acts as a sort of vote funnel: all of the right-of-centre and left-of-centre vote ultimately concentrates behind one leading party. In England, the Tories will cream off the right-of-centre vote; and the left-of-centre vote will line up behind Labour in the North and Midlands, and the Lib Dems in the South.
  4. And so will AV be “good for business”? Yes, probably; because the present British establishment will not be shaken up, and you’ll have permanent government of the centre, rather than full-scale multi-party democracy – let alone an English parliament. So it’ll be business as usual, in fact.

Now for the historians. Their letter is hidden behind the Times paywall, but a good summary is provided by the BBC, and I’m also basing my critique on yesterday’s radio coverage. Their arguments, as I take it, are as follows:

  1. AV compromises the hard-won principle of ‘one person, one vote’, in that those whose second and subsequent preferences are counted get several bites at the cherry, while those whose first preferences only are counted get only one vote.
  2. AV also casts aside the principle of ‘majority voting’.
  3. FPTP delivers strong government at a national level, with one party obtaining a clear majority, and better representation at the constituency level, since MPs are directly accountable to their constituents.

Let’s look at these arguments in turn:

  1. First of all, to say that, under AV, some people get multiple votes while others get only one vote is a crass misrepresentation. The way to understand AV is that it is a form of run-off voting. In fact, in the US, where AV is used in municipal elections in a growing number of states, they call it ‘Instant Run-Off Voting’ (IRV) for that very reason. In other words, it’s as if you were holding multiple ballots in which losing candidates are progressively eliminated but in which every elector can still cast a vote at each stage. Those who’ve voted for unsuccessful candidates then re-cast their vote for one of the candidates still in the race. But those whose chosen candidate is still in contention continue to vote for them. Therefore, in effect, every voter has multiple votes; it’s just that those whose preferred candidates have not been eliminated continue to vote at each stage for the same candidate.

    Are the historians really saying that people whose first-preference candidate has been eliminated should not be allowed to say whether they support one of the remaining candidates? The consequence of not allowing such people to influence the final result is the gross distortion of FPTP, where the result is in fact mostly influenced by only a minority of voters, and where furthermore even those minorities are inflated by the votes of people who’d rather support another party but vote tactically instead because they know their votes would otherwise be wasted. Ignoring the wishes of these voters would be like having a group of ten people, four of whom were in favour of one course of action (A), three supported another idea (B), two backed C and one D. Those who are in the A camp then bully all the others into accepting the ‘will of the majority’ (in fact, a minority: four votes) whereas, if B, C and D had to decide between A or B, they’d rather support B.

    You decide which of these two is more democratic. Besides, the historians have got their history wrong: the story of British democracy has not been a long struggle leading to the sunny uplands of one person, one vote, which has been in place since 1928, according to them. Wrong: as one commentator points out, up until 1950, graduates had two votes, the second of which under PR. And as Matthew Roberts has shown, multi-member constituencies were the norm until the Third Reform Act of 1884-5, and: “The United Kingdom is one of the few countries that implemented single-member constituencies as part of its journey towards democracy, and it is one of the few developed democracies to use a voting system based solely on single-member constituencies for general elections”. And that’s because single-member, plurality systems produce such unfair, disproportional results.

  2. This is where the historians, frankly, are being plain stupid when they say that FPTP enshrines the ‘majority’ principle. Not true. How can the possibility of being elected on a minority share of the vote as low as 30% or less be said to respect the majority principle? I think the word they are looking for is ‘plurality’, as in the candidate with the largest share of the vote – whether a minority or majority – wins. It is in fact AV that enshrines the majority principle in that it at least aspires to produce an absolute majority for the winning candidate, even though it frequently fails to achieve this and the majorities in question are often flawed, as argued above. And just as the winning candidate in UK FPTP elections mostly fails to win a majority, so any party achieving a parliamentary majority fails to win a majority of votes across the UK as a whole. Maybe that’s the majority principle the historians had in mind: a parliamentary majority as opposed to the actual support of a majority? If that’s what they meant, then they’re really showing their elitist, anti-democratic colours.
  3. And as for FPTP producing strong, single-party government and better constituency representation, well it’s FPTP that gave us the present coalition government, and it would be just as likely to produce a similar result in future elections if no party can command enough support on its own to win outright. Maybe if Labour continues to ride high on the votes of disaffected Lib Dem supporters, they might be able to win a majority in an FPTP election; but the Tories won’t, unless they somehow manage to cross the threshold of 40% support that has eluded them since the days of Maggie T. And in any case, as I argued above, the election result will only be marginally different under AV compared with FPTP: if a party’s going to win outright under FPTP, they’ll probably do so under AV, possibly with an even larger majority, as indeed it has been projected that Labour’s 1997 landslide would have been even bigger using AV.

So it cuts both ways, really: if you want massive unrepresentative majorities, then you can’t complain if it’s the other side that wins them; plus in any case, AV won’t be any better and might be worse. And as for FPTP making for more representative MPs, that’s just silly: how can an MP that needs to win the support of only 30% of voters be a better representative than one who wins 50%, or a bit more or less? Plus AV is a single-member system, so if anything it embodies the principle of an MP being directly accountable to his constituents in just the same way as FPTP.

    It’s amazing how stupid such bright and successful people can be. Maybe that should be the real lesson here: successful establishment people back a system that’s worked for them, however unfair it is, and however much logic, common sense and even factual accuracy need to be distorted to justify it. Both FPTP and AV are designed to bolster that system of disproportional, unaccountable UK-parliamentary sovereignty over England.

    The people of England deserve better, which is why we should vote both options down: don’t vote for either of the electoral frauds on offer, but write ‘English parliament now!’ on your referendum ballot paper!


    The Welsh powers referendum, the West Lothian Question and the AV referendum

    Yesterday’s resounding ‘yes’ vote in the referendum about the Welsh Assembly taking on primary-legislative powers is good news for English nationalists. The change will be another nail in the coffin of the idea that the UK is a unitary state across which the Westminster parliament’s writ applies uniformly. Welsh Assembly Members (AMs) will now be able to make laws in the 20-odd policy areas that have been devolved to them without any reference to the UK government or any formal scrutiny from the UK parliament.

    English people, once they realise the implications of this major item of constitutional change, will be bound to question further why Welsh and Scottish MPs should continue to be able to make laws for England in devolved matters while English MPs cannot make laws for Wales and Scotland in the same areas. In other words, yesterday’s Welsh referendum begs the West Lothian Question.

    This is clearly one of the main reasons why the Welsh referendum garnered such pitifully scant coverage from the so-called anglo-centric (in reality, the brito-centric) media and the likes of the BBC: they don’t want English people to think about the implications for England of legislative devolution for Wales. Until last week, I’d actually forgotten that the Welsh referendum was taking place this week, and I consider myself to be someone who follows such matters relatively closely. And that’s because there’d been virtually no mention of it in the BBC and other England-based media. On the actual day of the referendum – Thursday of this week – I was watching out for BBC coverage. On the lunch-time news, there was literally only a 15-second snippet on it, with a picture of someone leaving a polling station identified as Welsh by virtue of the polling-station sign being in English and Welsh. This item was followed by a roughly three-minute piece on UFO scares in the 1950s and 60s: clearly, far more relevant to English people, and British people in general, in the present!

    To give the BBC their due, it’s obviously true that it’s not easy to explain to English people why the Wales referendum matters to them. Such constitutional issues are regarded by most people as highly geekish if they’re aware of them at all; plus the Welsh story was competing against more dramatic and TV-friendly items such as the uprising in Libya. And doubtless, the BBC and other London-centric media are holding their fire until May, when the referendum on the voting system will be taking place.

    It’s easy to argue that a referendum on changing the electoral system used for UK-parliamentary elections is of much greater import than a poll of around 5% of the UK’s population on whether to give their elected representatives power to make laws. But from a constitutional perspective, the Welsh vote is arguably much more significant: it means that, more than ever, England stands out as the only UK nation not to have been consulted on whether it wants a national parliament and what powers it wishes that body to have. And England is now much more obviously the only UK nation whose laws in devolved matters are made by representatives from across the UK, rather than by representatives elected from within its own borders.

    By contrast, the referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) changes nothing about England’s constitutional position and will do nothing to increase the legitimacy of the UK parliament as the legislative body for England: it’s merely a shifting of the chairs on the deck of the Titannic we call the UK, which will not prevent her inevitable shipwreck. Better to start building a new federal UK, with a written constitution and law-making parliaments for each of its nations, that might yet salvage the best of the old UK. That’s why, when the AV referendum comes around, I’m urging people to spoil their ballot papers by writing ‘English parliament now!’ on the paper: don’t support either of the flawed voting systems that are designed merely to prop up the illegitimate Westminster parliament. Vote for real change by not voting at all!

    England has been denied a referendum on its own constitutional future and a parliament of its own. The best way to put across our demand for such a referendum is to not go along with a phoney referendum that aims only to create the appearance that English people have been consulted on how they wish to be governed while in reality they will still be ruled by a parliament they alone have not elected.


    Send A V-Sign to Westminster: Spoil your ballot in the AV referendum on 5 May

    Check out the article of the above name at Rise Like Lions and sign up to the Facebook campaign to send a message to Westminster about the referendums we really want (English parliament and the EU) by spoiling your ballot in the AV referendum next May!