Pickles’ selective citation on AV

An extraordinary new video from Eric Pickles selectively cites 2005 election results. It erroneously claims that AV would be less fair than the current system.

An extraordinary new video from Eric Pickles selectively cites 2005 election results to claim that introducing the Alternative Vote electoral system would be less fair than the current first-past-the-post system.

PICKLES: What this means in practice. At the 2005 general election, we got 8,115,00 votes. The Labour party got 8,050,400 votes. Under AV, despite the Conservatives polling more votes, Labour would have more MPs in Parliament.

Watch it:

Although not mentioned once, the votes cited by Pickles exclude Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. A paper by the House of Commons library outlines that at the 2005 election, despite the Conservatives polling more votes, Labour got 286 MPs in England while the Conservatives got 194. Again, looking at England alone, projections by the Electoral Reform Society show that Labour would have gained 12 seats under AV, the Conservatives would have lost 20 seats but that the Lib Dems would have gained nine. But this, and similar results in 1997 and 2001, are something of a statistical anomaly.

Curtice et al found that, in 1997, 10 per cent of voters did not vote for their preferred candidate but switched for tactical reasons. This incentive would be removed under AV. As Sunder Katwala of the Fabian Society told Left Foot Forward:

“A big part of the Tory argument in the Commons was that only first preferences should count. They depend here on the (false) claim that the FPTP results reveal first preferences, as Pickles’ vote totals here do. For lots of voters they don’t. This means that the assumption that Pickles knows what the pattern of votes under AV is flawed: straight projections across need a health warning”

And even using these “straight projections,” the Jenkins Commission report detailed how it is only in “some circumstances” that AV produces a more disproportionate system:

“In the three previous elections, those of 1983, 1987 and 1992, AV would have had a less distorting effect on proportionality between the two main parties.”

In his report ‘A Better Alternative? What AV would mean for Westminster’ Lewis Baston, Director of Research at the Electoral Reform Society, wrote:

“[I]n many circumstances [AV] produces results that relate seats a little more closely to votes than is usual under FPTP. But with single seat electoral systems like AV and FPTP proportionality depends on a range of contingent factors…

“AV is a more robust and defensible majoritarian system. AV is intrinsically a better system than FPTP, and if we were starting from a position of having AV, few if any electoral reformers would give consideration to moving to FPTP…

“AV is possibly a ‘better’ system than many reformers have hitherto conceded, in that it does have intrinsic merits that make it superior to FPTP. The ability of voters to record a sincere first preference, the widening of political choice available to the elector, and the disincentives it offers for parties to pursue core vote strategies that ignore the wishes of the majority of the electorate, are all positive. The much-discussed negative of occasionally producing more disproportional results than FPTP is a weaker counter-argument than generally admitted, as the circumstances in which it does are rare, actually replicable in FPTP by electoral pacts and tactical voting, and somewhat defensible in principle.

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