AV keeps the BNP in their cage

The official briefing paper on AV has flaws but makes the point well that the BNP will suffer from a Yes vote on May 5th, reports the Green Party's Rupert Read.

The official briefing paper on AV has flaws but makes the point well that the BNP will suffer from a Yes vote on May 5th, reports Rupert Read

The ‘Political Studies Association’ has produced a briefing paper (pdf) on the alternative vote. This paper is generally a useful dispassionate source for information on the debate over AV. It does, however, have some flaws.

It argues that while AV will yield more votes for ‘minor’ parties, it will not yield them more seats. This argument is contradicted by the breakthrough of the Australian Greens into their parliament, a breakthrough demonstrably due to AV.

The flaw in the reasoning of the briefing paper seems to be that it has not considered the possibility of a small party existing that is not widely hated. Arguably, the Green Party in Britain today is an example of such a party.

As I wrote here, the briefing argues that the “number of seats where AV produces a different result [from FPTP] is low”. Again, this is faulty reasoning in failing to take into account the long-term effects of changing the electoral system, the kind of effects visible in Australia to the benefit of the Greens. The argument might be valid at any one election, but it is not valid over a generation or so.

It argues that AV will definitely result in more seats for the Liberal Democrats: On p.13, it makes the claim that “AV always boosts the LibDems”. I have contested this argument at length here.

The argument, in short, fails to take into account that the Lib Dems are now disliked in many quarters, which may result in them being placed bottom of many people’s preferences; and it fails, still more crucially, to take into account the long-term effects of AV, which gradually eliminate tactical voting, in the widespread form in which we know it, under FPTP: this will be bad news for the Lib Dems, who may well start to drop to third place once voters can genuinely express their preferences, and don’t get ‘forced’, to avoid ‘wasting’ their vote, to vote for the lesser of three evils.

Again, Australia is a textbook case here.

These are fairly serious flaws; but the remainder of the briefing paper is in my view sound, well-founded, objective and useful. One particular use it has is in providing evidence for the claim that extremist parties will suffer badly under AV. That, to quote BNP vice chairman Simon Darby:

“We are never going to get our feet under the table under the AV system.”

Page 16 of the briefing paper demonstrates clearly how AV will hurt the BNP, by using a real example from Australia. I’ll close by quoting this at length:

“Crows Nest, Queensland, 1998 – Queensland politics was shaken in 1998 by the rise of a new political force, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. With its anti-Asian and anti-Indigenous rights rhetoric, One Nation attracted 22.7 per cent of the first preference vote across the state…

“One Nation polled strongly in the rural heartland of the governing National Party. One of those seats was Crows Nest, previously the National Party’s safest seat. Had the election been conducted under FPTP, One Nation’s David Cockburn would have defeated sitting National MP Russell Cooper.

“However, under AV, Cockburn needed more than a simple plurality of votes. The count of first preferences was as follows:

Candidate Party   Transfers   Votes   %
Fiona BUCKNALL   Labor Party   3,908   16.5  
David COCKBURN   One Nation   9,342   39.5  
Russell COOPER (MP)   National Party   9,060   38.3  
Brenda MOLONEY   Reform Party   635   2.7  
John LANGFORD   Green   704   3.0  
Formal Votes       23,649      

“As no candidate had achieved a majority of the vote, Moloney (Reform Party) was excluded and her ballot papers examined for second preferences. Still no one had a majority, so Langford (Greens) was excluded. Only three candidates now remained. Cockburn still led, but lacked a majority, so Bucknall (Labor) was now excluded.

“Labor had actively campaigned to prevent One Nation winning seats. Though the National Party was Labor’s traditional political opponent, Labor recommended preferences to the National candidate. Around 40% of the Labor candidate Fiona Bucknall’s ballot papers had no further preferences and exhausted, but of those with preferences, 63% gave their next preference to Cooper. This allowed Cooper to overturn his deficits at previous counts and win with a majority of 377 votes.

Candidate Party   Votes after 3rd count   Transfers   Votes   %
Fiona BUCKNALL   Labor Party   4,287   -4287   0  
David COCKBURN One Nation   9,613   +950   10,563   49.1
Russell COOPER (MP) National Party   9,329   +1611   10,940   50.9
Votes still in count         21,503        
Exhausted prefs     +1726       2,146    

“Though One Nation’s candidate had a plurality of the first preference vote, the majority view amongst voters opposed her election. The AV count revealed majority support for the National candidate against the One Nation candidate.”

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