It’s almost time to be putting a cross in a box again. On Thursday there are some largely pointless local elections (it sounds like there aren’t even enough candidates, so there’ll probably be less choice than usual) but there’s also the more interesting prospect of changing the voting system. Sadly the chances are that the referendum is going to be equally pointless: in the unlikely situation that the yes to AV campaign gets its act together, will anything actually change? This isn’t the first time that electoral reform has been suggested and, according to the Electoral Reform Society, a system proposed in 1917, which included the Alternative Vote in some constituencies, was only dropped after being blocked by the House of Lords:

“In 1917, the House of Commons voted in favour of proposals to use STV for 211 of the 569 UK constituencies and the Alternative Vote for the rest. However, after five successive rejections by the House of Lords, the plans were ditched.”

More recently Labour commissioned the Jenkins Report (worth reading for the section on AV), and then ignored it. So given that my vote is unlikely to make any difference anyway, it’s tempting to take inspiration from the NO to AV, YES to PR campaign and write something else on the ballot paper, although they do seem to be scaremongering with the rest of them. Maybe this will work…

One Person, One Vote… and that one person should be me!

No? Seems pretty fair to me! Very progressive. I’m actually pretty lucky in that my One Vote is closer to 1 than the average One Vote: 0.821 with FPTP and a staggering 0.923 with AV!

Still, assuming the country isn’t actually going to rest the entire future of democracy on my judgement alone, is the Alternative Vote a good idea? The worst possible way to find out is by reading the No to AV campaign’s leaflet: already well summed up on that link, but they raise an interesting issue on the cost of democracy. Maybe we should get rid of parliament and use all that money on something more constructive. That splendidly simplistic map of AV voting around the globe should be a little more colourful in reality as well, and it looks like Australians might not be that keen to go back to FPTP after all.

Not that it has anything to do with AV but I’m also getting very tired of being told how Nick Clegg broke his promises; HE DIDN’T WIN THE ELECTION! You may as well blame Martin Todd for tuition fees (sorry Martin, I was just trying to think of an example)!

For a more serious examination of the Alternative Vote, try these links:

Or for a slightly less serious view of the Alternative Vote:

Unfortunately AV just doesn’t seem that likely to address the points that the Yes campaign claims it does:

  1. MPs working harder to earn – and keep – our support
  2. A bigger say on who your local MP is
  3. Tackling the ‘jobs for life’ culture

Ok, it might give me more say over who my local MP isn’t, but I don’t really see it making any difference to the ‘jobs for life’ culture so why will they be working harder? Luckily I have a few ideas that could help here. An alternative if you will:

  • Fully proportional elections for the House of Commons
  • Maximum of two terms for MPs in the House of Commons
  • House of Lords elected using the Alternative Vote in local constituencies*
  • No limit on number of terms in the House of Lords

So you could still have a longer term view through career politicians in the House of Lords, and maintain the idea of constituency voices in Westminster, but there would be no ‘jobs for life’ in the House of Commons and everyone’s views would be fairly represented regardless of arbitrary geographical groupings**. Clearly never going to happen, but what would you do with a blank canvas? If you’re stuck for ideas, here’s another alternative which has some nice qualities. (Not just the bit about the lawyers!!)

* I did toy with the idea of some sort of jury service style selection for some seats, but not sure how that would work in practice.

** “We need a better word than ‘democracy’ to summarize ‘subjugation of the individual to the majority of an arbitrary geographic group’.” @MTPT

I only have a few days to make a final decision and I’m still wavering. I’ve changed my mind a couple of times just while writing this post! Maybe it will help if I keep track of the Alternative Vote pros and cons between now and Thursday…


  • Sign me up if there’s the slightest chance it will stop the local Lib Dems persisting with their intensely irritating graph!
  • You’re less likely to end up with Marmite when there are a selection of jams to choose from.
  • David Blunkett doesn’t want AV!


  • It makes very little difference, especially in my constituency: electing the least worse option only really helps if they aren’t all as bad as each other.
  • There are only two alternatives in the referendum.

And finally, one of the best ideas I’ve seen so far is from @brightsweb:

I’m voting ‘yes’ in the referendum on the alternative vote. And my second preference is ‘no’.


Update: more pros/cons, and added a few new links thanks to a tweet from @planetf1 (3 May 2011)

Update: another pro, although obviously a slightly spurious one! On balance I think I will vote for AV in the morning since there don’t appear to be any good reasons not to and I like a change. (4 May 2011)

Update: the results are in and unsurprisingly it was a no. In Eastleigh 13.6% voted yes, 30.4% voted no, and 55.6% stayed at home. I wonder if that means the majority of people don’t want elections at all! (7 May 2011)


8 thoughts on “Alternatives

  1. My vote is apparently worth 0.05 with FPTP and 0.07 with AV.
    So that at least solves the debate for me – I don’t need to weigh the options, its entirely academic here!

  2. No. No really, please don’t stay at home.
    I’m not going to persuade anyone either way, but everyone should use their vote. It’s only the second referendum we’ve had. Our democratic system isn’t perfect but we do all get to express an opinion. If we choose not to vote we abdicate responsibility and the ability to comment in the future. Historically, people really have struggled to win us the freedoms (whatever you may think of them) we have today.

    • No really, please stay at home if you choose to. Or spoil you ballot paper. Or vote. We’re very very fortunate to have those freedoms. I tend to lean towards voting at all costs but that’s my choice. I get very grumpy about suggestions that voting should be compulsory. If you don’t want to legitimise something you disagree with, you shouldn’t be forced to. Not to mention that there isn’t a ‘re-open nominations’ option in elections, or a ‘none of the above’ option in the referendum. This referendum does feel a little bit like being asked, “Answer yes or no; do you still beat your wife?” I should probably stop ranting now!

      • Yes ok. I accept those choices. But we are heading towards a situation where nobody does vote through apathy and / or frustration and that’s as dangerous as compulsory voting.

  3. I’d agree that nobody voting is a bad thing but giving people no real choice and then forcing them to vote seems way more dangerous to me. When I’m dictator, I won’t bother going through the pretence of people ‘electing’ me every few years! (I’ll give them a day off though- maybe ‘Democracy Day’, sometime in July?) Overall this referendum seems likely to do more harm than good and the cynic in me wonders if that’s exactly why the Conservatives agreed to the thing in the first place.

  4. I realize I’m a little late for the AV debate but I do take issue with the “I’m also getting very tired of being told how Nick Clegg broke his promises; HE DIDN’T WIN THE ELECTION!”. As I said to Evan Harris’ article in the Guardian the Lib Dems didn’t need to vote for the tuition fee raise despite not winning the election and yet they still did.

  5. Pingback: e-lections | Notes from a small field

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s