I should begin by saying that I’m very unsure about my vote today, was throughout the ‘campaigning’ period, and as such this is no argumentative piece of prose (hence /writing/diary not /writing/thoughts) but a quick log of how my thoughts went. I would like to care a lot more about this, but with a country around me not caring much that can be quite difficult. More interest in Oxford, though, due to various Maths-types (inc. me) being interested in the various kinds of situations FPTP and AV can bring up.

I like AV as a system. We use it in JCR elections, of course, and so do all students’ unions and it feels like a system well-suited to that sort of environment. And indeed there are many things to recommend AV on a national level, the main one for me being the removal of the tactical voting dance that pushes many into apathy. AV essentially eliminates something that for something like 20% of voters (right? if memory serves) defines their democratic involvement. This is not to say I approve or disapprove of full-on PR, and this gets seen as a natural follow-on from a reform from FPTP to AV which isn’t really fair; ranking of candidates is something the vast majority of people do in their heads in an election, and building that into the electoral systems would seem to be more democratic when you consider the ludicrous excesses of FPTP in how much it inflates small percentage advantages into numbers of seats.

My initial thoughts, though, were not for these democratic advantages. Constituency-based democracy on a national level, where we try to mix both constituency representation and the vision of parties for where to take the country, present all this in a deeply dishonest way to a populace enslaved to consumerism as a choice between this Oxford PPE graduate and this other Oxford PPE graduate, is something that I have a low opinion of. The issues with the governance of the UK that make it undemocratic are rooted in the hegemony of the political class, a dedication to the likes of the City and a right wing media that helps keep all these institutions in place; voting reform of whatever form (that we are likely to get) isn’t going to change any of this, so the argument that AV is a small step in the right direction and we might yet improve things further doesn’t carry much weight with me. Instead, as a radicalish socialist, the priority for me is getting a not-too-extreme-but-definitely-not-centre party elected back into power to reverse the cuts, cut defence spending, slap restraining belts around the financial sector and start pouring money into education and health again.

For this task I pick Labour (of which I am a card-carrying member, I should say). New Labour, of course, failed in their push towards privatisation but I would hope that this has been learnt from. And it’s always very easy to blame the front-runners in the cabinet and forget the MPs and the activists: in my admittedly limited experience, the socialist spirit in these individuals hasn’t aged and become corrupted by the quick benefits of private sector contracts, and it’s this that we put ourselves behind when we get behind Labour. Further, in real life politics, a certain loyalty to a movement gives it a lot of strength; I can criticise my party, and aim to do so, but sticking to an imperfect party that does have a chance of winning and does contain a red fire, even if it’s not always visible, seems to me to be an important move in the quest against capital even if it means occasionally sitting behind a movement that appears to be breaking with large chunks of my ideology.

So, to AV. My initial thoughts for some weeks have been: AV will disadvantage Labour, Labour is more important to me than a little more democracy in a rotten ‘democracy’ to begin with, so vote against AV. However this view that Labour will be disadvantaged under AV was basically hearsay, so last night I sat down to try to confirm it, with, of course, the Internet. This turned out to be an abject failure: various claims on both sides, and in order to filter out the claims and check the numbers against each other (since they’re all looking at different predictors) I would have had to sit down with some paper and a pencil and do a lot of figuring out, which I didn’t have time for. Jonathan now presented me with the thought that since it is unclear whether Labour will be benefited or disadvantaged under AV rather than FPTP, and in either case it will not be a large effect, and there is a democratic advantage to AV as I have discussed, I should vote in favour. This left me back at square one, and deeply uncomfortable about how spur-of-the-moment my vote was going to be.

However today we had a useful talk from a political scientist (i.e. a politics tutor, though not the Balliol’s anti-AV James Forder who wasn’t there to argue back, unfortunately) at Balliol who debunked various myths on both sides with the cold blade of analysis. I asked him whether any of the claims to Labour’s advantage or disadvantage are at all credible, and he said that they’re not because there are too many factors to make a decent prediction. This would explain my inability to get much of use. However, there was something else in his discussion that got me thinking some more. AV, in our speaker’s view, does advantage the centre a little. And I got thinking about the nature of pandering for votes. When Labour or the Lib Dems talk a bit more about immigration in a constituency with a strong UKIP candidate, it’s very temporary and very unreal; it doesn’t permeate, and it’s what we get with FPTP. In a system which encourages pushing towards the centre ground and parties compromising and lining themselves up for preferences more than FPTP, the changes are going to be more permanent. Labour is going to compromise somewhat and move in the direction of the Lib Dems at all levels, under AV, and this takes away from a powerful movement. I exaggerate effects here, and indeed this is rather speculative, but as I’ve written before the lack of idealism is for me perhaps the greatest problem with our politics, certainly greater than issues with FPTP. I don’t want to modernise into a politics of the centre, I want to return to a battle of radically opposed ideals. This brings a clarity and force and interest.

So this is why I eventually voted no to AV, since the democratic advantages are out-weighed for me by what I see as a step into a future I don’t want to see that potentially disadvantages Labour, my chosen revolutionary force (now that’s an exaggeration). But I worry for how uncertain I am with all this, and further just how much I worry about my influences. My first political memory is of my mother crying in 1997 and my knowledge of current affairs is so small, and my loyalty to Labour from my family and to a traditional victory for them under FPTP probably influenced me a lot here. It’s good to write it down, though, so that the process of thoughts over the past few days can be reflected upon by my future (and hopefully better read) self.

This is a fair reason not to vote for AV; there again, FPTP is pretty bad for encouraging centrist thinking as well. I… also have to question you viewing Labour as anything other than a fairly centrist party in all that they do. I grant you, yes, that there is in the activists some of the spirit which you value, but the party is led from above, and frankly the people at the top like the status quo.

In my view any ability that Labour ever had to be a radical and effective party (and I’m not sure it ever did) is gone. They are the best hope of electing a centre-left-ish government with slightly populist/authoritarian views on domestic policy, but one of those would be kinda crap, again.

I can’t shake the feeling that were Labour in power now, if they’d won the last election, they’d be doing much the same sort of thing that the Tories are, using different rhetoric for the same sort of policies.

Their hypocrisy on things like tuition fees is an example of this; they set up the Browne review, they’d have responded in a similar way to the coalition, and fees would have been increased; but because they didn’t win the election suddenly such a thing is a magnificent evil.

I should probably apply WP:AGF, but I just can’t. I see no potential in Labour for what you want of them.

Comment by jr512 Sun 15 May 2011 11:48:40 UTC
comment VJC1MMYK72L9B2XC

Lord knows why you think that AV would eliminate tactical voting. The point tells in exactly the opposite direction.

Under FPP, so-called tactical voting is a straightforward expression of a preference between realistic alternatives.  I don’t call that ‘tactical’.  I call it sensible.  Those 1.800 Greens who were determined to vote Green in Oxford West and Abingdon managed thereby to select the worst possible outcome, given their agenda. They elected a Tory with an anti-Green agenda instead of a Lib-Dem with the best green credentials in Parliament.  That’s not sensible.  That’s posturing.  We learn that the posturing was more important to them than the issues they pretend to care about.

Under AV we have the prospect of genuine tactical voting, manipulating the system to select your favoured  candidate.  Here it can be to your advantage to vote for the candidate you least prefer.  Thus in a tight Labour/Lib-Dem constituency it may be best for Labour if a certain proportion of Labour supporters vote Conservative, their least preferred option, so that the Lib-Dem candidate is dropped on the first round, and the Labour candidate is elected in the ensuing Labour/Conservative runoff.

That’s the real nightmare, with local campaign managers issuing instructions to their natural supporters at the polling booths.


Comment by bob.hargrave Wed 18 May 2011 11:58:47 UTC