Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Six County Referendum on May 5 – Alternative Vote or First Past the Post?

with 5 comments

Gavin Stamp has published what appears to be an accurate summary of party political opinions about the Alternative Vote Versus First Past the Post Referendum on the BBC website

The six-county summary is interesting – I do not know if People Before Profit has a position – I hope Socialist Workers’ Party members declare a mini unilateral declaration of independence from the London mother-ship – judging from Mark P’s comment

the Socialist Party is a lost cause, this chip will not stray too far from its block!

Boiling it all down, rational supporters of Proportional Representation take the approach of Julian Ware-Lane  :

“What is on offer is either the status quo, first past the post, or AV? All UK voters should choose the better, and fairer, of the two, which in my view is the Alternative Vote”

Others use the referendum to kick the government, for example :

“The Communist Party is opposed to any switch to AV, arguing the system is complex and will reinforce what it says is an already “limited” system of democracy.

It supports the single transferable system as the only way to address the current “democratic deficit”. It says the poll should be treated as a referendum on the coalition.”

Based on experience of many referendums in the part of Ireland governed from Dublin, you should stick to answering the question that is asked. A Vote No in this referendum is a vote for First Past the Post – saying NO because you want something better than AV (Proportional Representation) is pie-in-the-sky politics.

During the debate on the European Union Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, some left-leaners in the Yes camp were very uneasy about the neo-liberal content of the text – they claimed it was possible to cast a “critical yes” vote – most were in the Green Party and God did not Bless their innocence – in the February 25 2011 general election the Greens were wiped from the parliamentary map.

It reminds me of a referendum some years ago in Australia, when the government proposed removing the British monarch as head-of-state, and declaring a republic. One deluded ultra-left propaganda group – I think it was affiliated to the British SWP

– argued for a NO because a republic would still be a capitalist state, “The republic was voted down because people who are against the queen were not convinced of the merits of what was to replace her” etc.

During the failed Dublin government referendum proposal in 1986 to remove the ban on divorce the catholic far-right successfully used arguments such as “We Want Jobs Not Divorce”.

Other readers may enlighten us with more examples of daft ultra- left and ultra-right approaches to referendums.

During the Lisbon Treaty Referendums many of us in the left No Camp took great pains to steer very far away from irrational forces on the No Side – notoriously, the Catholic far-Right hyped up by the slavishly neo-liberal establishment media.

Alan Thornett has written a new contribution to the debate in Britain where he discusses the position advocated by Counterfire :

5 Responses

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  1. Tomas,

    The problem with this, as with your last post, is that you assume that AV is a step towards Proportional Representation or an improvement on First Past the Post, but you don’t bother to demonstrate it or even muster an argument for your assumption.

    Then the rest of your posts consist of sneering at the left across the water for not sharing your assumption. My view, as a supporter of proportional representation, is that AV is actually a disimprovement on FPTP.

    Mark P

    Apr 30, 2011 at 1:41 pm

  2. Mark argues I “assume that AV is a step towards Proportional Representation or an improvement on First Past the Post, but you don’t bother to demonstrate it or even muster an argument for your assumption.”.

    A Baffling Comment.

    Links are quoted extensively, notably Alan Thornett’s articles, where he explains why AV is an improvement compared with FPTP.

    As in public meetings, if somebody makes points I agree with, I try to avoid repetition.

    See also this comment by Neville Bagnall on Slugger O’Toole :

    which I strongly endorse.


    Apr 30, 2011 at 2:39 pm

  3. There’s nothing bizarre about it at all Tomas, given that Alan’s argument is so weak.

    He puts forward two reasons to vote Yes.

    One is that small parties may get slightly higher first preference votes if their votes aren’t seen as wasted because they can be transferred on. There is some merit to this argument. However, the experience of Australia (which uses AV) backs up the counter argument that the real beneficiaries of a non-proportional preference system of voting are so-called “centre ground” parties and that parties which are position to the left (or the right) of the “mainstream” actually find it harder to get elected.

    A left (or Green) candidate would have to out poll not merely the Labour candidate, for instance, but outpoll something approaching the sum total of Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat votes to get elected. This is quite a large thing to trade away for the possibility of a couple of extra percent in a constituency where you won’t get elected anyway.

    The second argument he raises isn’t actually to do with AV directly. It is that a vote for AV does more to open up the possibility of proportional representation at some unspecified point in the future. I don’t accept this as an assertion. I think that both Labour and the Tories are fundamentally opposed to proportional voting and that the Liberals would be perfectly happy to stick with AV once they begin to reap the benefits it offers to “centre ground” parties.

    Further, it’s exactly the sort of argument beyond the bounds of the referendum itself which Alan criticises others for making when it comes to using the vote to damage the Liberal Democrats.

    The arguments of real relevance are the first ones outlines. And which you prefer is a tactical issue to which there isn’t an answer so obvious that anyone on the other side is a fool or a knave as your posts have generally assumed. I think that the anti-AV argument, that it benefits centrist parties and screws those outside the mainstream, is stronger and of more relevance than the sole pro-AV argument, that it gives small parties a bonus in unwinnable seats. But I don’t think someone is an idiot or doesn’t understand the question or is beyond hope because they take the alternative position.

    Mark P

    Apr 30, 2011 at 3:14 pm

  4. Eddie Izzard entertains 6 County Voters for the Yes to Alternative Vote Cause


    May 2, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    • We have been told the PBPA has not taken a position on the referendum, AV v FPTP, May 5, in Northern Ireland.


      May 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm

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