Why Alternative Vote system is a good idea

A better way to choose your rabble

A better way to choose our rabble

On May the 5th the British people have a chance to fundamentally change part of our democracy yet for some reason the media has been practically silent about this. There has not been nearly enough coverage and it’s likely that many people will not think that voting is worthwhile.

I think we should get out in large numbers and vote AV and I’ll tell you why.

The current voting system is known as First Past The Post (FPTP). It’s supporters claim that it is simple and straightforward. We all get a single vote to cast for a candidate to represent our constituency in Parliament. After voting closes all the votes are counted and the candidate who has the most votes wins.

This system has the advantage that each constituency gets a representative who has been voted for by local people. It has the disadvantage that, when there is no clear overall favourite, a candidate will be elected who has the support of only a minority of the electorate.

The Liberals have long advocated Proportional Representation (PR). This is a system where all the votes for all the parties in the UK are added up and a number of elected Members of Parliament (MPs) allocated proportional the the number of votes cast for their party. This overcomes the shortcomings of FPTP as smaller parties or parties with support widely scattered through the country are allocated MPs which they would not otherwise have got. It has the disadvantage of breaking the MPs link with his constituency.

But the system which is being put to the British people on May the 6th is not PR. The system which is being proposed is known as the Alternative Vote (AV).

With AV the voters get to rank the candidates in order of their preference. So the voter puts a ‘1’ by their first-preference candidate, a ‘2’ by their second-preference and so on. They can rank as many or as few as they wish.
When all the votes are counted, if a candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes then they are elected. If no candidate gains a majority on first preferences, then the second-preference votes of the candidate who finished last on the first count are redistributed. This process is repeated until someone gets over 50 per cent.

Initially I was skeptical about this and I may have been swayed by the Tories pushing their propaganda that this is a “complicated” and odd system. However, after mulling it over for some time I have decided that, if one is trying to elect a representative, then this is not only a superior system to FPTP or PR but that FPTP can be absolutely undemocratic.

My reasoning is as follows. Suppose you and 59 other people survived a ship sinking and you were marooned on an island. 60 people in all. You decided that someone should be the leader (I leave aside why we think we need leaders for the moment). You decide to elect the leader. You decide that you will all vote and the person who gets the most votes wins.

Suppose 3 people are candidates and one guy gets 50 votes. You’d be fairly satisfied that most people wanted this guy as leader. Both FPTP and AV would deliver this result.

However, now suppose that one candidate received 8 votes, one candidate received 25 votes and one candidate received 27 votes. FPTP would dictate that the candidate with 27 votes would be the leader even though the majority of people would not want him as their leader. In fact the majority of people might think the guy was completely unsuitable but they would be overruled by the minority.

I believe that in this situation everyone would start yelling and people would decide, that, OK, it was obvious that the guy with only 8 votes was not a contender and he should not be a candidate. A second round of voting would be held with only the two main candidates.

Now the people who had voted for the least popular candidate would cast their votes for one or other of the two mains candidates. The outcome of this would be a majority.

In a national election with numerous candidates it is not practical to keep rerunning elections but whoever invented AV has obviously thought of this. AV gives us a chance to rank our first preference and then asks us: if your first preference were to come last then who would you vote for. This is a much fairer system because, as in the shipwreck scenario, it ends up with everyone voting on two candidates and one necessarily end up receiving a majority vote.

The Tories argue that AV is too complicated and strange and that FPTP is more like a sprint race. The Tories are TALKING BOLLOCKS!

FPTP does not always produce a clear winner. If it were a sprint race then, in many situations, all the runners would collapse, never finish the race and be carted off on stretchers. The winner would be declared the guy who got closest to the finish line. It is an absurd system as there are situations where nobody wins yet one guy gets to become an MP.

To continue the analogy, AV is more like a series of heats where the loser of each race is knocked out and the races rerun until, in the semi final, only two runners remain and first across the line is the winner.

I believe that AV is fair and logical because it produces a clear winner voted for by a majority.

So get out and vote on May 5th.

Banks recovery is a cheap trick

Simple strategy: May the public pay

Simple strategy: Make the public pay

I get a little irritated when Labour supporters blame the current financial crisis on the banks as they’re merely trying to sidestep their own incompetence. The generally accepted root cause of the credit crunch amongst Economists is interest rates held too low for too long and the blame for this lays with the chairman of the America Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan and, in the UK, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

This is not to say that others should not share the blame. We, as individuals, were to blame for knowingly borrowing far too much and, yes, the bankers were to blame for their incompetence in lending far too much and for tying themselves in knots with odd financial instruments such as credit derivatives.

However, I too am angry with the bankers because they are not sharing the pain. It might be argued that the rich, by definition, never suffer during financial crisis but what irks me is the bankers arrogant inclination to actually raise their income by large amounts while everyone else is having to cut back. Today’s Guardian reported that the head of JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon, received a 51% pay rise!

What planet do these morons think that they’re on?

Bankers argue that they have done a brilliant job in making profits for the banks since the credit crunch and in so doing dug the banks out of the mess they were in. This disingenuous as they have achieved all this merely by the putting their prices up. Competition has dropped out of the market, base rates are ludicrously low let yet loan rates and fees are high.

So who is really paying for the banks recovery and Mr. Dimon’s bonus? You are! Joe bloody public again. The same poor bastard who also paid for the banks bail out. You don’t need to pay a £3m bonus for a trick like that.

Whenever criticised bankers usually reply that you have to pay the market rate or you will lose people. Well, OK, let’s lose some of these people. Firstly, where can they go? Secondly, if they have so little solidarity with their fellow countrymen then bollocks to them and thirdly their past performance IS an indicator of future results so good riddance to them.

Voting reform – where’s the debate?

Apathy wins again

Apathy wins again

I received a voting form through the door recently for the upcoming referendum on reform of the voting system. I have no fervent party allegiance but have voted Liberal in the past and have recognised that the Liberals get a bad deal out of our current system. There was an election not so long ago where each of the three main parties got roughly a third of the popular vote  but the Liberals attained only a handful of seats as their votes were spread evenly rather than concentrated in areas where votes could be translated into seats in the House of Commons. Proportional Representation would have given the Liberals a fairer number of seats. However I also recognise that the current “first past the post” voting system has the advantage of allowing people in an area to elect an individual who’s responsibility it is to speak for them in Parliament though the rise of lobby group politics and party whipping can dilute this advantage considerably.

The change that we are being offered in the upcoming referendum is to either keep the current system or change to a Single Transferable Vote system. In the new system we are asked to rank the parties according to our preferences. So we might place a 1 next to Liberal, a 2 next to Labour and a 3 next to Tory. All the 1s are added up and if there is no overall majority then the 2’s are added to the 1s. . OK, so I broadly understand the workings of it but there are many questions. What effect would this have? Would we still retain the individual representing a constituency? I’m sure there are many questions and I’m sure that each system has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.

What I’d like to know is: Where is the debate? Where are the TV documentaries full of university professors discussing each system? Where is the comparison with other countries? Where is the manic news reader with his swing-o-meter producing charts and statistics to show what would have happened in various previous elections if one or the other alternative system had been in place? Where is the Referendum web site explaining the options?

In short: Where is the informed debate?

As far as I can see there is none and I expect that, despite of the support of Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg, the Tories and Labour do not want a change. May the 5th will come and go and most people will be unaware or too uninformed to vote.

The chance to make a major change to British politics will have passed us by because the political establishment and, presumably, the media are happy with the status quo.


Brighton Festival revving up with choral singing at St Barts

Brighton Street Musicians

Brighton Street Musicians

Brighton Festival is almost upon us and musicians are starting to play in the streets. On Friday night I visited St Bartholomews church in the middle of Brighton where some choral singing was being perfromed. Last year I went up to the Thames River Festival in London and saw a choir made up of representatves from all over England and I learned that, while we English seemed quite a reserved lot, England is a hotbed of choral singing.

St Bartholomews was built in the 19th century by one Rev. Arthur Wagner and differs quite dramatically from traditional English churches having an almost industrial feel brought about by the brickwork which is based on the architecture of Germany. It is very tall and the acoustics are excellent for this sort of performance.

On Friday night Brighton Festival Chorus and Brighton Festival Youth Choir were performing “an enlightening evening of some of the most ethereal choral music of our time” which included Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei” and Adagio for Strings. Only £12 and handy for the pubs.

Conductor: James Morgan
Soloist: Juliette Pochin – mezzo soprano

St Bartholomews

St Bartholomews

st malo beach

St Malo Beach