Conservative activist Ed Hall wrote a piece on Conservative Home over the weekend where he sets out why he thinks First Past the Post is a simple, comprehensible and fair electoral system.
Fair enough. He is entitled to his opinion and it is clearly genuinely held. However I do wonder why so many people within the No camp seem to make so many factual mistakes when making their case.
I am not going to perform a full fisking here. There are however three arguments he uses that are just plain wrong:
1) "If you have a 'normal' constituency election with three or four mainstream parties, two or three genuine local campaigners, a couple of extreme parties from either side, and a Loony candidate, then the ballot paper lists them all and the voters will have to list them in preference. I have to say I am not sure precisely in which order I should rank the Vote Muesli candidate and the True Love Party candidate, but issues such as that will start to trouble us if the referendum goes in favour of AV."
No you won't Ed. The AV system that will brought in if there is a yes vote is one where it is optional to list all your preferences. You could if you wish just put a "1" next to your most favoured candidate and leave it at that. You are not forced to vote for more than one person. You can even put an X next to them if you like. There is provision in the bill for this to count as a "1" (and as anyone who has attended counts knows even without specific legislation, returning officers would use their discretion to count this anyway). So this point is utterly, factually wrong. Perhaps Ed is confusing us with Australia where they are made to rank all candidates. We will absolutely not be.
2) "In modern politics, a winner should be a winner. Try it round your dinner table or next time you watch the X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. Everyone votes for their favourite book, film or act: surely the candidate with the most votes wins? How would the BBC or ITV possibly explain or justify a programme format with public voting in which the candidate that got the most votes did not win?"
This is such a bizarre comment. X Factor and Strictly both use run-off voting systems where week by week candidates are eliminated. It is mathematically far closer to AV (which in some countries is called "instant run-off voting") than FPTP. If these programmes used FPTP the winner would be decided in week one and could win with perhaps only 15% of the vote. I wonder how many viewers would consider that fair.
To be fair to Ed he sort of acknowledges his error a couple of paragraphs later saying:
"Of course you do get to vote again in the TV formats as the candidates are knocked out, and the next week's programme starts..."
But then he goes and spoils it all by saying:
3) ...but do we really want General Elections every week until we get a winner? That would be the only way to give equal weight to everybody’s second choice votes.
No Ed, it's not the only way. The sensible way to achieve this is to give the public the AV system! It allows us to emulate knock-out voting rounds without people having to go down to the polling booth several times. Because each ballot paper can be carried through each round with the second, third etc. choices being used as and when necessary. So multi-round voting is not the only way to give equal weight to second (and third etc.) choice votes. AV does it already!
I have heard the argument from numerous people in the No2AV camp that AV is "nothing like" knock-out round by round voting. The only difference I can see is in the point at which people cast the votes. Admittedly it is possible that some people's further choices might have changed had they known who was still going to be in (but it is highly debatable how many would change their choices - I suspect a very small minority) and so it is not identical but it is far, far closer to AV than FPTP is. And as Ed himself acknowledges making people go down again and again to the polling station for the same election is not feasible so AV is a good way of achieving a very similar end through slightly altered means.
There are arguments for and against AV that deserve to be properly debated. For example I was asked an interesting question from Labour activist Emma Burnell (who blogs at Scarlet Standard) at the weekend where she questioned about whether candidates under AV might all start to converge on the centre ground or "mushy middle" as she termed it over time. A good question worth debating.
But I keep coming up against false arguments like those listed from Ed Hall above from No2AVers again and again. It makes me wonder if some of them even understand what they are arguing against.
PS: Sunder Katwala has written an excellent post here on Next Left skewering Ed Hall's claims about X-Factor type shows and AV/FPTP in far more detail than I have time for!