Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Sayeeda Warsi does have a point about AV

Vote for me

Does AV give more say to minority parties ?

I read today two related articles published earlier last week. One in The Sun by Baroness Sayeeda WarsiWhy a vote for AV is a vote for BNP and a response to that on Left Foot Forward –  Warsi makes hypocritical claim on BNP pandering

The first featuring said Sayeeda Warsi having her statements misrepresented by The Sun – she doesn’t say that a vote for AV is a vote for the BNP at all – no, she says that under AV, there is a side effect that minority parties, such as the BNP, are more likely to have their lower preferences recounted if no outright winner is elected, and this situation is likely to lead to candidates ‘pandering’ to the BNP vote in order to pick up second preference votes. Warsi concludes from this that it’s better to stick with the tried and tested approach of ‘first past the post’

I disagree with the reasoning which she uses to reach her conclusions – flaws in AV do not excuse the flaws in FPTP – which are many.

She does make an important point though – one which Will Straw’s article on Left Forward doesn’t seem to have grasped. Will appears to assume that Sayeeda is repeating the oft quoted myth which says that minority parties are more likely to win under AV than FPTP – Will’s right to challenge this – it’s spurious at best, and probably inaccurate – but it’s not what she’s saying.

Dewsbury Market

I also feel that highlighting her courting of the potential BNP vote in her previous campaign in Dewsbury, using what he tags  as “dog whistle”  literature, further misses the point. It also fails to contextualise her tactic – I know Dewsbury very well, and my feeling is that a female Asian candidate in Dewsbury, speaking directly to people planning to vote BNP, and telling them not to, is a brave strategy indeed – I don’t support her, but I do respect her for that.

To explain Sayeeda Warsi’s point, which I feel illustrates a fundamental failing of the Alternative Vote system, consider this :-

Suppose there was an election under AV which had 4 candidates – Labour,  Conservative, Liberal Democrat and BNP.

Let’s suppose for the sake of argument, that the first choice results were : Lab 21,000; Con 16,000, Lib Dem 7,000, and BNP, 4,000

After the first round of voting the BNP are eliminated – no change for them : under  First Past the Post – they wouldn’t win, and they certainly don’t win now.

So on to second preferences – but whose second preferences count ?

Most of the Labour and Conservative second preferences would be likely to be for the Lib-Dems – and most Lib Dems’ second preferences would presumably be for Conservative or Labour.

Only their second preferences don’t count – they haven’t been eliminated – so don’t get redistributed !

No !  The only second preferences cast at this point would be the BNP votes – and they have it within their power to either see Labour home and dry, or to force a third count, and the uncertainty of a redistribution of Lib-Dem votes.

So the party that comes last – the party that fewer people want to win than any other – is effectively the party whose voters get to decide the outcome of the election – which in the run up to the election, means that politicians will feel under pressure to appease minority parties to pick up second preferences.

Surely this is unfair ?

How can the least popular party be given the first opportunity to select their second choice ?

Please explain it to me – have I made a mistake with my interpretation of AV ?

I really hope I have – let me know.

So far in this campaign issues like this seem to be left un-addressed by either side. I’ve no fondness for FPTP – but from where I stand AV appears to be just as deeply flawed – I really don’t know how to vote. It’s like heads you lose, tails you don’t win.

Point me to the persuasive arguments please – not the four legs good-two legs bad bickering.

PS : Interesting how WordPress applied automatic links to Lib Dems, but not Labour, Conservative or BNP – You know where to look for them !


April 3, 2011 - Posted by | news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] Sayeeda Warsi does have a point about AV ( […]

    Pingback by The ‘Alternative Vote’ a politician’s scam. It is a way for them to claim the support of people who couldn’t face actually voting for them. | | April 10, 2011 | Reply

    • I’m giving this comment the benefit of the doubt – it was flagged as spam – but hey I’m liberal minded !

      Comment by northernheckler | April 10, 2011 | Reply

  2. There is nothing actually wrong in your argument re BNP being 1st to have their votes redistributed, (though I guess their 2nd preference would be more likely to be Conservative than Labour). It is one weakness of AV, but one which is essentially also present in 1st past the post, just hidden from view. Under 1st past the post, many of the BNP and Liberal supporters would have voted for Labour or Conservative in the 1st place, thereby in effect giving up on a 1st vote and applying their 2nd preference. Others would have voted tactically – the outcome is highly dependent on how good voters are at guessing what other voters will do.

    With the figures you have here, the BNP end up more influential than the Liberals, but only because Labour already had enough votes so that no 3rd round is needed. It is possible to set up scenarios for all voting systems that will give anomolous results whether hidden from view or not. There are many variations on AV that would be an improvement but most of them would require voting machines unlike the one we were actually asked to vote on.

    Comment by LWhitfield | December 21, 2011 | Reply

    • I think you’re right in saying that better options were not on offer in the referendum. I also think that the end result of the referendum is actually that it will be a long long time before there’s another chance to change our voting system.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Comment by northernheckler | December 21, 2011 | Reply

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