Thursday, 3 February 2011

I was wrong, it was my fault and I take responsibility, but I am not an Islamophobe.

The chances are that if you are inclined to read my blog you've heard a great deal about the subject of this post already. I believe it's time I put my own thoughts on record.

 I decided to ignore the approach from Evening Standard journalist Craig Woodhouse yesterday, fearing that making any statement directly to a journalist could only make things worse, not better, especially having read this article about how another newspaper (I doubt you'll be surprised when you see which) treated a lady with no regard for the harm they could do. Please read it if you have the time, it's shocking stuff.

I was first made aware of the reaction to my mistake when I received a call from the Yes campaign asking me to confirm that I was indeed responsible for the tweet in question and explaining that the Evening Standard had approached them and they were considering how to respond. Shortly after this they clarified with me that they had had to inform the journalist that they had dismissed me from my official position with the campaign. I accepted this without question. Between the two phone calls as I gathered my thoughts I had come to expect this as the likely outcome and understood the political reasons for it and was fully prepared to accept responsibility and this consequence which I could see was appropriate.

Indeed I realised the potential impact my tweet could have, not long after I posted it and promptly removed it from twitter regretting it there and then. I stand by the official statement of apology I issued through the Yes campaign: "I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused," it read. "My comments were thoughtless and I bitterly regret them."

That is where I had expected the matter to end. I would accept my dismissal, take a break from campaigning and focus on the remaining commitments in my life. In light of this affair I would also abandon my plans to make any connection between my band and the campaign.

At this point it was perfectly clear that it was my own fault and I would take responsibility, the campaign would do their best to limit the damage to themselves and I would pick myself up and move on as best I can.

But Craig Woodhouse and the Evening Standard had other ideas. I was made aware of the article when my twitter rivals on the No side brought its online version to attention there. There is a link to it here:

So much for representing my mistake as thoughtless and putting on record the Yes campaign's contempt for the affair. Clearly the author did not deem that sufficiently interesting or newsworthy, and decided instead to frame the tweet as anti-Islam and myself as an Islamophobe. Nothing could be further from the truth. I recognise that offence was taken and I recognise that I was naive and in the wrong, but Islamophobic? Absolutely not.

The context of my comment was in reply to a suggestion that God and religion might be relevant to the debate between the two voting systems. My reply was intended to show how ridiculous this idea was. My tweet was risqué and politically unwise, and I recognise that it was gratuitously so. However it was not intended simply to get a cheap laugh, and it was not intended as a criticism either of the Islamic faith, its holy book, or of any people who subscribe to that faith. By describing something that so obviously is not truly said in the Qur'an, I believed I had made it clear that my criticism was of the idea of bringing religion into the debate, not of any religion, religions, or religious people.

And so I read the article and saw that two spokesmen for London's Islamic community had been approached for their opinions on the matter and both criticised my tweet calling it offensive. I would speculate at this point that this reaction came from Woodhouse stirring up spokesmen for a response of outrage, not Islamic spokesmen coming forth to express outrage to the Standard.

After all, my tweet, although available to the public had to be actively looked for. It was "opt-in" in that it could be seen only by those who follow both myself and a close friend. I used no hash-tag. It was an @-reply to that friend and to one other twitter user and I did not go out of my way to ensure that it was viewed by anyone and everyone. That was done later by other people, after I had recognised my mistake and deleted the message. Therefore if it was rubbed in the faces of the Islamic community, it wasn't by me, and the Islamophobic spin certainly did not come from me.

Even so, I immediately realised that the decent thing to do would be to write directly to each of them apologising for the offence that was taken, explaining that I hold no Islamophobic views and had never intended for my comments to be received as a criticism of Islam. MP Khalid Mahmood was quoted as saying "What does AV have to do with Islam?" and really that is all I had been trying to say in the first place.

Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation replied to my letter of apology the same day, in an appreciative manner. He expressed to me that unfortunately a good deal of offence was taken by himself and many of his friends, but he appreciated my taking the trouble to contact him and attempt to resolve the issue between myself and London's Islamic community, despite the Evening Standard's best efforts to drive a wedge between us. Mr Mahmood has not replied but as a Member of Parliament I would imagine he is a very busy man and it may be a good while before he finds the time.

However things were to get worse still for me. In conjunction with maliciously branding me as an Islamophobe, Woodhouse chose to research the other activities in my life and include the name of the school where I work in his article. This was utterly irresponsible, unnecessary and as far as I'm concerned completely undeserved. Up until I saw this I was absolutely prepared to accept full responsibility, but this is where I feel I have been utterly wronged.

In the article the Standard claimed that the school were investigating the matter. This as I suspected during the day, I was able to confirm in the evening was utterly untrue. I called my line manager, who is a good friend of mine as we worked together in my very first school position after qualifying back in 2007. She assured me that the school had not been contacted at all, and my informing her of what had happened was the first she'd heard of it. However thanks to the mention of the school in the article, once it had gone to print I knew the school would be fully dragged into the affair. It is not fair on me and certainly not fair on the school.

I will be speaking with the headteacher tomorrow morning, apologise that the school had been dragged into this and attempt to retain the one job I have left during very difficult financial circumstances for myself, just as I'm looking to take my life in the direction I want. Should I be dismissed from the school additionally and consequently find it incredibly difficult to find another job in the near future, for that I will not accept full responsibility. That I would put down to malice from the Evening Standard.

At this point I want to put on record that I hold no animosity to either the Yes Campaign who've acted professionally through an affair that they did not bring on themselves, or the No Campaign whom I cannot blame for taking advantage of the opportunity which I inadvertently presented to them. Most of all I have no grudge against the Islamic community. This is the most important message I wish to get across. I did not have anything to say against Islam before and I do not now. On the contrary I want to resolve this issue with them and reach an understanding as a top priority.

I would also like to place on record appreciation for the comments posted by internet users on the online version of the article. They were largely very supportive and almost all of them came from people who had never previously encountered me, online or otherwise. I would distance myself from those that blamed Muslim spokesmen for their reaction as I place no such blame myself, but any support at all is very much appreciated.

My initial reaction to reading the article was to contact the Evening Standard immediately and express fully how angered and hurt I was at the article's tone and the needless disregard for the damage it could do to me outside of my political role. However I was wary that anything I said, no matter how carefully I chose my words (and in my emotional state I was in no position to choose my words that carefully), there was every chance it could have been used against me to make matters worse.

So instead I approached the Press Complaints Commission. I found a number of clauses from their Editors' Code that Woodhouse's article appeared to breach and I shall now list them here:

1: Accuracy

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

The mention of the school as investigating the matter was untrue. The school was not made aware of the situation until much later when I contacted the head of music, and when the article went to print in the evening. Additionally, the branding of myself as Islamophobic and my tweet as anti-Islam was misleading, distorted and defamatory.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

The branding of my tweet as anti-Islam was clearly down to interpretation and yet from the very headline it was presented as fact.

3: Privacy

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

First of all I was not the one who sought to bring my digital communication to the attention of the general public. Secondly by researching and interfere with my unrelated commitments and place of work, and placing them alongside the wrongful branding of me as Islamophobic is a gross intrusion and a damaging one. The article has in fact caused the school's involvement unnecessarily in a malicious attempt to do me an enormously disproportionate amount of harm, purely for the sake of a tastier story.

6: Children
i) Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

Dragging the school into the affair was completely irresponsible and unnecessary. My job is to contribute to the learning of pupils and the author has sought to cause disruption to that learning.

12: Discrimination
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

Branding me as an Islamophobe and then approaching members of the Islamic community for a response in order to add extra flavour to the article is extremely irresponsible. I hold no prejudice towards Muslims and until yesterday they hold none towards me and yet the Evening Standard has decided to stir things up and create the potential for serious prejudice where there was previously none.

And so I submitted my appeal to the Press Complaints Commission yesterday afternoon. I have no knowledge of the timescale or the form of their procedure but I am hopeful of a positive response from them.

Please feel free to comment on what I have written here. It is not likely I will add anything further on the matter. I just wanted to set out my point of view.

If you have been, thanks for reading.


Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Yes Activists Performing in Camden on Wed 9th February

I'm taking a slightly different approach, in light of Yes To Fairer Votes Social Media Organiser James Graham's recommendation to use blogs to publicise local events for the campaign, and taking an opportunity to through in a bit of self-promotion at the same time. Therefore this blog entry is for the purpose of publicising the debut performance of  the newly formed band Platonic Curry at the Jazz Market at Undersolo, Inverness St, Camden on Wednesday 9th February.

Information about the band can be found here: Band Website , and details of the event are on this facebook page (if you prefer not to use facebook there is plenty of information on the gig page on the band website as well):

Thus I won't go into enormous detail about the band in this entry, but instead highlight that with myself on saxophones and fellow Yes activist Penny Homer (Penny's Twitter) on vocals in front of an extremely talented rhythm section it would be short-sighted not to put a Yes to Fairer Votes spin on the gig. So I'll be wearing the Purple YES! t-shirt and one song in particular Pushing For Improvement is particularly relevant to the cause and thus I will be dedicating it to the campaign as an unofficial theme song (perhaps if it goes down well it can be made slightly official). 

There is a further parallel between the band and the Yes campaign in that my main aim in the music I write is to make it accessible for all. You don't have to have listened to lots of jazz to understand Platonic Curry's fresh but unconceited approach to jazz funk. Nor do you have to pretend to like it just so as not to appear uncultured to your friends. Platonic Curry is a jazz band reaching out beyond its core market without compromising core values just as an MP would have to do following a Yes outcome in May.

So if you're a London based Yes supporter and want to have a good night out with other Yes supporters and music-lovers a like, it would be fantastic to see you over at the Jazz Market, Undersolo, Inverness St, Camden (really close to Camden Town tube station). Doors open from 7:30pm. £4 entry. Food served until late and there is a jam after the band performances with the incentive of a half-price drink for anyone who participates, so do bring your instruments if you want to give them a public airing.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Finally an Actual Argument from the No Side

I have to say, give some credit to NO2AV blogger DBirkin. He's not trying to hide any partisan agenda, nor is he bringing in any irrelevant smears or misleading myths about AV. He's got an argument based on the voting mechanics and is trying to put forward a principled case to defend FPTP against AV.

He's wrong, of course but at least he's playing the game properly.

His latest blog post is an analogy that tries to demonstrate that you care more about somethings than others. It is based on the idea of rescuing precious items from a burning building, some more important to you than others. Where he goes wrong is that he associates the absolute level of support - the importance of the items, with degrees of preference which are relative, and can be compared only to each other, and not to anyone else's preferences or absolute levels of support.

Here's a link to the post:

and below are the contents - his analogy and a further dialogue between us in the comments. All of DBirkin's words are in Italics. (I haven't included Lee Griffin's comments or replies addressed to them as I'm sure Lee will tackle this in his own blog soon).

The Famous Fire Analogy

Two men are standing outside their respective houses. 

Unfortunately for the two men their houses are on fire. 
Each man has a wife, a beloved pet and a TV (they are minimalist).

Out of the two men, one of the man's wives, let call him Man 1, has already evacuated his wife. Man 2 on the other hand, hasn't.

Out of the two men, which one would you imagine is more prepared to charge into the flames?

Now, is it far to say that the newly introduced Man 3, who has got both his wife AND his pet out of the house is even more likely to charge in?

Transfer this over to the AV voting system.

Who has most support, someone voting for their first choice (wife) or someone voting for their second choice (pet) because their first choice is now out of the picture or someone voting for their third choice (wardrobe) because their first and second are out of the picture ?

Would it be accurate to Man 1 cares no more about charging the flames than Man 3 does? I don't think so and when the Fire Department turn up I know where any non bias person would send them first.

1st preferences count more than 2nd , 2nd count more than 3rd. Any system that does not recognise this, does not accurately measure support.


The problem is your analogy is missing an important factor. The difficulty to rescue the item, which represents the likelihood of the candidate winning.

If your wife is in there, she is a, an obvious first choice, but b, relatively easy to get out of the building. 

In a first past the post situation, your 'wife' would be a main party candidate with a reasonable chance of winning and also your first choice. I was lucky in the last general election in that the party I wanted to vote for was also the party I would have voted for if I had to vote tactically.

However it's far more common, that the most important object to you is something incredibly difficult to rescue. Let's say you don't have any family or pets, just lots of precious valuable items, a grand piano, some valuable paintings and a TV.

The grand piano is the most precious to you. There's no way you're going to get it out of a burning building though. If you have to make just one choice, ideally you'd choose the piano but you know you'd just die trying to get it out and save nothing (wasted vote). So instead you go for the paintings, (your second choice, reasonable chance of rescue).

With AV, you rank the Piano 1st and the Paintings 2nd. Someone else, might have a wife and not a piano but they have paintings too. Chances are they care more about the wife than you do about the piano, but you both value the paintings the same, and paintings are both of your second choies. 

OR someone else might NOT have a wife or a piano, but have paintings. They will rescue the paintings and they will care just as much about their paintings as you do about yours, even though their paintings are their 1st choice and your paintings are your 2nd choice.

This aims to show that preferences are NOT measures of absolute support. They are only measures of relative preference between the available options. Absolute support does not change with what's available. Relative preferences do change. So whether you put a candidate 1st or 4th is not an indication of how much you support them. Two voters could support a candidate the same amount as each other, but one happens to support a number of others even more so. 

Let's say there are two voters who like a candidate. They agree with each other completely on all of that candidate's policies and support the candidate just as much as each other. However it just happens that there's another candidate who has offered a really attractive sounding policy on immigration, and immigration is really important to one of the voters but not the other. So one voter gives a 1st preference, the other gives a 2nd, but both are equally supportive of the candidate.

This is why it's fair to measure votes coming from different degrees of preference as equal, and why it would be completely unfair to add weightings to preferences, not least of all because it would bring back tactical voting. 


Ben, we have spoken about this. how difficult it is to save is irrelevant as this is about how much you want to.

Your support is not influenced by how likely they are to win. Your support happens.

In your example, one person did not support the candidate the same as the other, as they would have both voted the same. To one the immigration policy on one made one candidate better than the other


I'm afraid the difficulty has a huge impact. That's why FPTP encourages tactical voting and AV does not. How much a voter cares and what a voter actually does shouldn't be different, but with the wrong voting system they are. When the voting system makes you choose between acting on the postive or negative end of your views you're going to end up with your ballot not necessarily representing your positive support. Difficulty is an essential factor in this.

And again you are confusing preference degrees with absolute levels of support.

If I have a wife I'll choose her over a piano. If I have just a piano I'll choose the piano first. If someone else chooses their wife first and I choose my piano first does that mean we both care about our respective first choices the same amount? Of course not.

Especially if I have a just a piano and someone else has a wife AND a piano. I care about my piano the same amount as he cares about HIS piano. It just happens that he cares about his wife EVEN MORE. Absolute support and degrees of preference are entirely separate and you can not infer one from the other.

Essential to this is the fact that your 1st preference is only ever your first preference of what's available. When your vote is counted in any round of AV, it always goes to your first preference of what's available, even if to begin with it might have been your 2nd or 3rd or any other preference. All that matters is that out of everyone available it's your 1st choice. It is easy enough for anyone to imagine an ideal candidate, one who'll never be available to vote for, but who would be absolutely the first choice against anyone else. It's also easy to imagine a large number of candidates whom in an ideal world you would rank in between that ideal candidate, and any of the candidates who actually stand. That would mean that in absolute terms the candidate you put 1st is really much much lower down. But they are the 1st choice of what's available.

This referendum itself is a fine example. There are just two choices: AV or FPTP. Very few people think that either AV or FPTP are the best system we could possibly have. But plenty of people have a clear idea which of the two they prefer. DBirkin's argument suggests that your vote shouldn't count as much (or even at all) in this referendum if you can think of a better system than the two available because you don't care as much as everyone else. That's obviously nonsense. People have preferences between the available options and they declare them. It doesn't matter how many options there are to begin with - it's always possible for there to be more, so you can never define a 1st preference, or any other degree of preference as an absolute level of support.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Roger Steer Unable to Add Anything of Worth to the Pro FPTP Case.

Try as he might, and here is where you can find his effort Conservative supporter and author Roger Steer fares no better with his attempt to justify First Past the Post than any who have tried before.

So let's have a look at the points he makes.

"First Past The Post (FPTP), our incumbent voting system: it is familiar to the public, votes are simple to cast and count, and there is no surging popular agitation for change. It usually (although not invariably) leads to a one-party majority government. It thus enables electors, while nominally voting only for a local representative, in fact to choose the party they wish to form a government."

Ok, so it's familiar to the public. While that's a good thing in itself, the same could be said of any number of things we'd happily do away with given the choice, such as bad weather, the common cold or racism. All that's being said here is it's the current system. Any system, good or bad, after a few elections' worth of use would be equally familiar to the public. Given how many people use preferential voting systems all over the world I doubt very much that we'd struggle to get to know AV quickly in the United Kingdom.

So FPTP usually leads to a one-party government? Well it did in the past. When we had two strong parties a long way ahead of everyone else. Circumstances have changed now and the people aren't as emphatically in favour of Labour and Conservative over everyone else as they used to be. 35% of the voters voter for neither in the last election. That's the same amount of voters as voted for the party in government in almost every general election in the last 30 years under First Past the Post. I'll come back to whether or not I think one-party governments are worth hanging onto shortly, but for now I think it's worth mentioning that FPTP is up against AV here not, a Proportional system. AV is single member system a well and on a national level it works in the same way as FPTP. It might also be worth mentioning that over the same time period, Australia has produced just one hung parliament under AV, FPTP has given us 2 in the UK and 11 in Canada.

The last sentence in Steer's paragraph is just plain wrong. The one thing First Past the Post most certainly doesn't do is allow electors to choose anything at all. A ludicrously undemocratically small number of voters get to make a real choice with their vote under FPTP. For most of us the only choice offered by First Past the Post is that between a tactical vote and a wasted vote. You can vote for your own candidate knowing before hand they are unlikely to win, but merely registering merited support. But if you do that you will have to live with the fact that you turned down the opportunity to help keep out the candidate you really didn't want. By voting for that candidate's closest rival instead you might have ended up with a more palatable result. But then if you do take the tactical option you are denying your preferred candidate any real positive feedback and the fewer votes your candidate receives in one election, the less likely everyone is to vote for them in a subsequent one, making the situation even worse next time around.

"It then leaves each MP with a direct relationship with a particular geographical area, on a basis of equality in the sense that they are all elected in the same way." 

AV does this as well.

"It also enables the electorate sharply and cleanly to rid itself of an unwanted government. "

Only by switching sharply to the opposite extreme. The previous Labour government was clearly unwanted in 2010, but the Conservatives were also incredibly poor as evidenced by their inability to capitalise on Labour's failure. Only because of the pressures to vote tactically and the limited choices that come from First Past the Post did Labour and Conservatives both end up receiving as many votes as they did, and even then neither received a convincing share of the vote. 

Even when you have Labour and Conservatives both performing well, the best you can hope for with First Past the Post is an ongoing switch every 10-15 years or so between two extremes. Long term policies get scrapped somewhere between investing a load of money and yielding anything good, just in time for the new government to start their own, so very little gets done with any real efficiency or to much benefit. There's no inherent merit to having a succession of single-party governments. There are advantages to having stable coalition governments that can work together over long periods of time, and rather than ever changing dramatically, are gradually refined in line with the overall consensus of the electorate.

Of course there I'm talking about PR rather than AV. AV  would provide us with very similar governments as First Past the Post as I mentioned above. The difference with AV happens at constituency level where each MP is required to have majority support, unlike FPTP where it is possible to win with little more than an equal share of the vote, regardless of how many of the rest of the voters actively dislike the winning candidate.

Roger Steer doesn't seem to be able to accept this and disappointingly he falls back on the long-since debunked old myth of some voters getting more votes than others.

"in order to cobble together an artificial ‘majority’ of 50 per cent, supporters of fringe parties can end up having their vote counted five or six times – and potentially decide the outcome of the election – while people who backed the mainstream candidates only get one vote. AV treats someone’s fifth or sixth choice as having the same importance as someone’s else’s first preference – but there is a big difference between positively wanting one candidate to win and being able to ‘put up with’ another. And why should voters of the BNP be given more votes than voters for the Lib Dems or Conservatives?"

Let's take this nonsense one point at a time.

He calls the majority 'artificial' presumably because he thinks that the fact that voters disagree on their first choice invalidates the fact that they're all agreed on preferring one particular candidate over another. I'm afraid this is just wrong. If the majority of my friends prefer vanilla ice cream to strawberry, then the fact that a number of that majority really prefer chocolate to both and the rest don't does not change anything. It's still a majority who prefer vanilla to strawberry. The minority who prefer strawberry to both vanilla and chocolate may all be agreed on what their first choice is, but they are in the minority. The real test is when you take the vote-splitting chocolate out of the equation, vanilla will beat strawberry in a head to head, as is the definition of a majority. There's nothing artificial about it (except maybe the colours and flavourings in the ice cream).

Except in rare, bizarre, mathematically fascinating but realistically impractical situations, the winner from an AV election would always beat the winner under FPTP in straight a head-to-head (unless of course they were the same person, as would be the case in situtations where FPTP produced a fair winner). Given that First Past the Post was initially designed for head-to-heads between two candidates (hence the name, as when there are only two candidates there is an actual post to pass, and it is at the 50% mark), this is a clear demonstration that AV beats FPTP by its own standards.

Next up, he talks about supporters of fringe parties having their votes counted multiple times. Well yes, I suppose they do, but, and this it the thing that First Past the Post supporters often miss (either deliberately or through lack of thinking it through) SO DO ALL OF THE OTHER VOTERS!

Everyone's vote gets counted in every round. If your candidate is elimianted, and your vote is transferred it gets counted again in the next round. If your candidate is NOT eliminated, and your vote doesn't get transferred, it STILL gets counted again in the next round. The only difference is it gets counted again for the same candidate.

Then Steer goes on to say that AV treat's one voter's fifth or sixth preference with the same importance as another voter's first preference. Well, no actually it doesn't. A voter's fifth preference isn't even CONSIDERED until their top four candidates have been eliminated. During each round until that happens, a voter's first preference is counted. A candidate won't receive a vote as a fifth preference for at least four rounds. That candidate has to sit and wait patiently for that vote and hope that no-one else gets a majority before then. So no, differing degrees of preference are not treated with equal importance at all. It's fair. 

AV gradually reduces the number of candidates one at a time, to bring the competition as near to a head-to-head as is necessary to ensure that the winner has a majority preferring them to the other remaining candidates. By taking the least popular candidates out of the equation you get to see who is most preferred overall. Mere plurality cannot give you that, and the more candidates there are the less reliable it becomes.

"And why should voters of the BNP be given more votes than voters for the Lib Dems or Conservatives?"

They shouldn't and they aren't. It's that simple. 

"voters of fringe parties can end up having their vote counted five or six times – and potentially decide the outcome of the election"

Not only do they have their vote counted the same time as everyone else's, but to say the outcome of the election comes purely down to them is also just plain wrong again. The outcome of an AV election is based on a majority.Either a candidate has a majority and wins or they don't. 

What that means is if you discount the votes from any group of voters, regardless of who their first choices may have been, no-one has a majority and no-one has won. Mere plurality without a majority is not enough to determine whether everyone supports a candidate. The opinions of preferences of one candidate over the others when it comes to the final round are needed from every voter to be sure. Voters for fringe party candidates are by definition in a tiny minority so they cannot decide an election outcome on their own. It is a combination of their votes with everyone else's that together arrives at an overall majority in favour of one candidate. 

This is so much fairer than having a minority decide an election because their candidate is so different from the others that they all vote for the same name, even though the majority could easily achieve the same if it weren't for the fact that they had so many good candidates between whom to choose. Remember being a fringe candidate doesn't necessarily make you a bad one. It just means that there are lots of candidates competing for your niche.

It's ironic that Steer should mention the BNP as an example of a fringe party. They're alone as a minority party who are against AV. The reason for this is because they are a fringe party who AREN'T in competition with many others for their niche. They're on their own. They don't have anyone else splitting their vote and they can do well under First Past the Post as a result. Under AV they'd struggle because they'd never get a majority to back them because they're incapable of reaching out beyond their core vote.

This another great thing about AV. It makes candidates reach out to everyone. It's not enough to rely on a core minority of voters. You have to make sure that other voters support you as well. The BNP are no-one's second choice. AV would force them to fall in line with the majority view and drop their racist attitude if they want to get anywhere. And if they couldn't manage that it would keep them out entirely.

Steer goes on to reference the Jenkins Report - an overrated document that tries to make a point about what AV might have produced in recent elections using First Past the Post voting data, an exercise as worthwhile as doing calculus using degrees instead of radians.

He then recaps about single-party governments and tries to argue that coalition governments give more power to the politicians. 

"A hung Parliament is a politician’s parliament. Policy is the result of post-election bargaining. The people do not get a look in. Compromises are reached which may bear no relationship to what electors want, which were never placed before them, and which they may have no opportunity to pass judgement on at the next election."

Well we've all seen what a hung parliament can do under First Past the Post. In Canada they've seen it under First Past the Post eleven times. If it weren't for first past the post, if we didn't have a ratio of seats so different to the ratio of votes cast between the main three parties, we could have ended up with a very different coaltion. One based on what the electorate want. In terms of the votes, the Lib Dems should make up about 2/5 of the coalition. In reality their share is far far smaller. They haven't ended up with very much power at all. The Conservatives are in government and they are leading the Coalition. And it's because they got more votes than anyone else, not because of politician trickery. The problem is that First Past the Post has made it so merely having more votes than anyone else is enough. A fair system should require they have more votes than EVERYONE else, and AV at least provides that at constituency level.

Steer Finishes off his article by listing the names of key supporters of the No campaign emphasising his delight that they're not all just Conservatives. Well no, they're not all Conservatives. Many of them are Labour as well. But this is to be expected. Labour are the other side of the two-party system that First Past the Post has served to maintain long beyond its welcome. Just as the Conservatives benefit enormously from First Past the Post in Most of England, Labour benefit similarly in Northern England and much of Scotland. Those names on the list are people who can see advantages for themselves at the expense of voter power and mentioning them serves only to underline the fact that the current system serves only those who like to pretend that no more than two parties are worth voting for.

I'll leave you with one last thought. To form a single-party government you are required to have a majority of seats. It's a sensible rule and one with which we all agree. So why on earth is it acceptable to win a seat - a single party seat at that - with anything less than a majority of votes?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

If you really want to punish Nick Clegg, say Yes to AV

I've said most of this already in a previous blog entry on the Lib Dems. But I've found away to say it again in a less long-winded manner. So here goes

If you really want to hurt Nick Clegg, and it's quite understandable if you do, then say Yes to AV.

AV gives voters the power to reward and punish any MPs of any party without getting too tied up in party politics. If you say No to AV that'll mean keeping First Past the Post and giving Lib Dems the same seats based on tactical votes that they won this time around. Remember under the current system it's really just a choice between Labour and Tories in most places, and sometimes the Lib Dems get a look in.
So if we hang onto that system our only alternative to the Labour government who let us down is either the Conservatives who came up with the decisions that have made the Lib Dems so unpopular, or the Lib Dems themselves who went along with them.
You wouldn't be doing anywhere near as much damage as you think. 
If we have AV for the next general election it's quite conceivable that Greens or UKIP could overtake the Lib Dems as the 3rd party. Everyone will be free to put their real first choice first and you never know what might happen.

This would also have a knock on effect with the other parties. The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems would all have to work that much harder to stay ahead of the game. In 20 years time when Clegg's retired and all the parties are doing things differently from how they are at present we might even want to give a revived Lib Dem party a chance which we'd also be able to do under AV. But only if we wanted to.

The point is AV gives voters more control. You can punish bad MPs and reward good ones and you're not left having to vote tactically or having to go with one of the big parties out of limited choice. You can do so much more with AV and you can hurt clegg without hurting yourselves if that's what you want to do. Don't cut off your noses, it wouldn't bring tuition fees down. It'd just mean that the Tories would take all the blame themselves next time.

Do we really want to be condemned to having to have either a Labour or a Tory government, occasionally changing between the two when we get really fed up with who's in at the time, enough to forget the harm the other lot did? Do we want the only alternative to that being bringing in the Lib Dems and seeing how they get on with one or the other two, especially when they're in such a small number they don't get enough influence to stick to their principles except by walking out of the government altogether?

We need electoral reform so that this kind of thing never happens again. Say Yes to AV for the good of every voter.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A Majority is a Majority is a Majority (warning, contains algebra!)

I've seen a few people object that AV has a weakness because the people who vote for the least popular candidates first, transfer their votes before everyone else, meaning that minority candidates get to have their say on the outcome between the most popular candidates before everyone else. It looks like a reasonable objection at first glance..

However I've argued that a majority is a majority, and by definition, all the other votes put together couldn't beat a majority. Yet some people are understandably not convinced, so this blog post aims to demonstrate algebraically why having everyone else transfer their preferences would not alter the outcome.

Consder, after the first round, there are 2 leading candidates and the 3rd and 4th placed candidates also receiving a reasonable share of the vote each. The remaining minority of votes is divided between fringe candidates. The fringe candidates are eliminated first and those who voted for them have their votes transferred while the voters for the top four candidates have their votes remain with their first preference, and the first placed candidate eventually wins.

Let's say P = No. of voters who put the 1st placed Candidate 1st.
Q = No. of voters who put the 2nd placed candidate 1st.
R = No. of voters who put 3rd/4th placed candidates 1st
S is everyone who put the eliminated candidates 1st.

No-one gets a majority immediately, so we can say 50% > P > Q > R > S

So suppose the 1st placed candidate wins with a majority from a combination of 1st prefs and a minority's second prefs.

Let's consider the extreme case where all of S have transferred their votes to the 1st placed candidate and all of R would transfer to the 2nd place if 3rd&4th are eliminated.

P+S > 50% > Q+R

The question is if R transferred their votes first before S could it have given Q a majority to beat P?

Could Q+R > P? Yes, of course it could. P is less than 50% so there's no reason why that cannot be true.

However, could Q+R win with a majority? Since Q+R is less than 50% they can't get a majority for the 2nd place candidate on their own, so no, it wouldn't have made a difference if R got to transfer their votes first.

There would be another round, those who voted for the least popular candidates would transfer their votes, and P+S would have a majority for the first placed candidate who would be declared the winner.

I hope this serves to satisfy any doubters that AV is fair and doesn't lead to a minority defeating a majority, something that only FPTP can be said to do.

Friday, 31 December 2010

Another Dialogue with a No2AVer

Below is my reply to a reply to my comments on Nick Cohen's rather pathetic attack on the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign for the Spectator.

Before going on I'd like to draw your attention to Lee Griffin's excellent demolition of the article. It is ruthless. No punches are pulled. 

So I posted a couple of comments myself and got a reply, all of which I have quoted (paragraph at a time) as I responded. I replied again and below is what I have written. At the time of writing these comments are still awaiting moderator approval, but I hope that is a mere formality. In the meantime I thought I'd get the comments down here for future reference. In this dialogue, my correspondent gave his name as "Michael S".

"Firstly, not every constituent is entitled to vote (for example, under 18s are constituents but not eligible voters)."

Being a bit facetious there aren't you? A point that's true of every voting system isn't really worth making.

"Secondly, not every eligible voter chooses to vote. The winning candidate cannot be said to have the support of any of these people."

No, but neither can the losing candidate. You're really just being facetious again here as this is true of all non-compulsory voting systems, and I believe in the right not to vote (even though I would never dream of not voting myself).

"Thirdly, the situation where the winning candidate must have a majority of votes cast only applies if all voters are required to produce a full ordering of candidates. Otherwise, votes that were validly cast for one candidate will be redistributed to the 'Spoilt, Blank or Void' pile rather than to another candidate if no further preference is expressed once the preferred candidate was eliminated."

When it comes to the last round before a winner is declared, all the voters have either expressed a preference for one of the remaining candidates over the other(s) or they have no preference at all. If they have no preference then they will be equally happy/unhappy whatever the outcome. However of those who do have a preference, the majority prefer the winner to the others. 

Consider what FPTP does. It basically eliminates all candidates except for one immediately. All preferences of all voters are ignored making all losing ballots under FPTP the exact equivalent of exhausted AV ballots. Bear in mind that for a ballot to be exhausted under AV the voter must vote exclusively for all of the least popular candidates, putting them in a tiny tiny minority. Add to this that these voters are completely indifferent to who wins out of the leading candidates and the fact that the majority of FPTP ballots are ignored in exactly the same way (except where a winner has a majority) and your point becomes rather negligible.

Also, the more candidates there are the less chance there is that the one with the most support has won. In fact it's perfectly possible (and occurs often enough) for an FPTP winner to be the most disliked by a majority. 

"So the most that can be said for AV is that it ensures that MPs have the support of a majority of voters whose votes were still being counted at the end."
I don't see how this can be a major objection to AV, especially when the alternative is FPTP. Everyone has the right to a say. You can express as many preferences as you wish. Or as few. We're looking at a comparison of AV over FPTP because that's all that's on offer at the moment and your description above puts AV well ahead.

"Even this seems to be going too far. If my fifth favourite candidate wins, can I be said to support him, want him to win? 'Support' in this context does not mean 'I want X to win'. Rather, it means nothing more than 'I don't object to X as much as I hate Y'."

Given that we currently are used to seeing campaigners saying "Don't vote for your party, they can't win here. You have to vote for us otherwise you'll just be letting in that other lot that none of us want", being able to express your preferences in order is a MASSIVE improvement.

OK, let's say your 5th choice wins, and your vote went to him. That means that whoever came 2nd would have been your 6th, or 7th choice. You preferred your 5th choice out of all those who were available at the last round. BUT, a large number of people also put him 1st and 2nd. You don't get to win on 5th choices if you haven't already got loads of 1st and 2nd choice votes. Also, anyone who loses on 5th choices needed them too. They weren't able to get a majority on 1st and 2nd choices and were competing for the same 5th choices but didn't succeed. AV takes everyone's views into account and narrows down the candidates until one gets a majority.

Where AV and FPTP produce different winners, the winner under AV would win a head to head between the two because the winner under AV has a majority who prefer him to the winner under FPTP. 

"Ben, do you not understand how bizarre it is that on the one hand you want people to be able to vote how they want to and not be 'forced' to vote tactically, yet on the other hand you urge people to vote for AV even if they prefer FPTP as it shows desire for 'change'?"

If you prefer FPTP, you prefer FPTP and voting No to AV will allow you to keep it and that is what I would expect you to do. However, FPTP is a massively inferior system to AV and the only people who would prefer it are the ones who stand to lose from fairer votes. They just happen to support a party that benefits from it. I'd warn them though that nothing is permanent. All parties wax and wane in terms of success. Polices change, leaders come and go, and situations and needs arise to which different parties are suited at different times.
It would be foolish to choose a system that is inflexible just because it suits one at the present. AV gives powers to the voters allowing them to vote for what's needed at any time. It's not the best system, but it is the best system currently on offer. If you don't like AV compared to FPTP you wouldn't like any of the PR systems either.