Spending on AV


                    Yesterday the No to AV campaign claimed that the referendum to change the voting system would cost taxpayers £250 million. This was an eye catching claim.  It did not cheer up many who want public spending brought under control without damaging important services. The cost of the referendum joined overseas aid to more successful countries, and the growing EU budget, on the list of  spending many would like to cut.

                    As it happened the government yesterday brought a Money Resolution to the Commons on the very subject of the referendum. It seemed an ideal opportunity to test out the No to AV claims.  Would it really cost as much as £250 million to hold the count on this item on the same day as local elections? Could it be done more cheaply?

                  The government’s Money proposal was a minor technical matter. They had already secured agreement to the general expenditure. The Minister asked to defend this proposal was unable to tell the House how much the AV referendum would cost. He told us the latest change would reduce the cost, but was unwilling to share with us how much it take off the bill and what the new cost would be. Labour agreed with the government’s motion, so there was no point in dividing the House on it. It was not a good  moment for Parliamentary democracy. Parliament’s strength emerged from a tussle to control the state’s spending and taxing.

                    We learn that the No to AV campaign has less money from donors to spend than the pro AV campaign, and that it is now behind in the polls. Both sides in this argument are going to find it difficult to grab the attention of the public. I do not find my email b ox jammed with messages for and against a change in the voting system. Parliament seems to be spending money on something which is not top of the public’s concerns. MPs are finding it difficult to galavanise electors, or even to explain how the AV system works.


  1. alan jutson
    February 16, 2011

    Yes I agree £250 million (£5.00 per person) does seem a lot of money to spend on setting up a vote when all polling stations are open for the day anyway.

    How is this amount made up?
    Publicity material, meeting rooms, TV adverts, press adverts and the like. Surely it cannot be just overheads !

    How come funding is different for the yes and no campaign ?
    Is the yes campaign being funded by taxpayers, and the No campaign by private business and individuals.

    The price of getting into bed with the Liberal Democrats seems to be getting higher as time moves on.

  2. Mick Anderson
    February 16, 2011

    If ever you wanted proof that Government is for the benefit and flattery of those in Office, this is it.

    We should have a threshold for ANY public election so that a candidate requires 50% of the available vote, not just a method of slicing those votes cast until they can claim that it’s 50%. It should be assumed that those who don’t turn out to vote are witholding their vote – effectively voting against all the available candidates.

    If this leaves lots of seats empty, it’s difficult to see it as other than a good thing.

  3. Mike Stallard
    February 16, 2011

    …Therefore it is absolutely vital that the Lords’ idea of a minimum turn-out – a sort of quorum – is agreed on. Otherwise, our little country is faced with an eternity of rule by coalition which, as we are now seeing, brings forth all sorts of silly ideas when the government ought to be concentrating on serious issues like, say, defence, or, say, education or, say, the scandal of the decadent welfare state.

  4. Duyfken
    February 16, 2011

    My having been deprived by Mr Cameron of a referendum on the EU, I feel no pressure to vote at any referendum on other matters.

    Also, my having lived in and voted (compulsorily) in an AV regime, I find that that provides no obvious advantages to the electorate, and it is cumbersome and more expensive to administer. Within the UK and in the short-term, AV might allow UKIP to have a better showing—a good thing in my view—, but beyond that, it seems like a recipe for weaker government: the prospect of successive coalitions and undeserved leverage being handed to small-minority parties.

    Yes, FPTP would be my choice, but I have no wish to assist Mr Cameron in the light of his failure to support me.

    1. Mike Stallard
      February 16, 2011

      Remember the Greens and the EDL are in there too.

  5. Robert K
    February 16, 2011

    This is the most insidious form of our “democracy”. A technocratic clique is finegling the system to suit their own ends, full in the knowledge that it won’t catch the eye of the electorate until it’s too late. It reminds me of the EU. I wonder why.

  6. CDR
    February 16, 2011

    I have spent a while reading all the in’s and outs of this AV proposal and quite honestly it has given me a headache. Talk about confuddling. How many average people are really going to get their heads around this? The whole thing seems to reflect the current state of the world; confused, muddled and manipulated. Try explaining to someone that their second preference vote may eventually be allocated to someone else. People are dumbed down enough as it is, especially when it comes to anything mathematical; they’ll never grasp this system, which presumably was the reason for doing it all along.

  7. a-tracy
    February 16, 2011

    Do they use AV in Germany and France? If so then that is what we’ll be getting like it or not. Alignment seems to be the new order.

    1. Jonathan
      February 16, 2011

      France has second round voting. If none of the candidates get 50% of the vote, there is a second ballot with just the top two candidates to decide who gets in.

    2. a-tracy
      February 16, 2011

      There is also a very large part of the electorate that don’t vote, Tebbit’s lost millions, would AV with stronger minority parties give those voters the voice they are waiting for?

  8. Brian Tomkinson
    February 16, 2011

    Another example of you all fiddling whilst Rome burns and for what? – to keep Clegg and the LibDems happy and in the coalition government. They then expect it will virtually guarantee them a permanent place as part of future coalitions. If that costs 10,000 jobs it’s no doubt a price Clegg and the LibDems would regard as a snip.

    1. Graham
      February 16, 2011

      I agree.

      Since there is no real political power in Westminster anymore this is another example of idle hands finding work and fiddling with peripheral issues (along with gay rights and many others)

      The electorate is doomed to be badly served it seems forever.

  9. lifelogic
    February 16, 2011

    “Parliament seems to be spending money on something which is not top of the public’s concerns” No change there then.

    The AV will mean that a lot of people can vote for example UKIP second choice Tory without risking letting labour in. Given that in the Euro elections they were the third biggest party they are quite likely to be so in an AV parliamentary vote too. Similarly perhaps Green with second choice Liberal or Labour. It would change much of the balance to a large degree. How will TV time be allocated in relation to these first votes for example?

    I suspect that Labour will tend to be the first vote winner and the Tories will loose many first votes to UKIP.

    I would probably want to stick with first past the post and hopefully we will get a proper Tory party with a full win eventually but the UKIP effect might help move them more to UKIP position perhaps.

    A sensible Tory party is the probably the only hope of avoiding a socialist, non democratic, ever big state EU. Lets us hope it is not too late already.

    1. Pete
      February 16, 2011

      ‘The AV will mean that a lot of people can vote for example UKIP second choice Tory without risking letting labour in. Given that in the Euro elections they were the third biggest party they are quite likely to be so in an AV parliamentary vote too.’

      The UKIP vote tends to be higher in Euro-elections because the EU is the only issue on people’s minds. If you feel that the European Parliament has little power, and we should leave the EU, it is logical to vote UKIP in those elections. In elections for Westminster, there are lots of issues to consider besides the EU, so it’s less tempting to vote for a single-issue party.

      I think AV may make it harder to reform our relationship with the EU. We may end up with permanent coalitions, and considering that two of the main parties are pro-EU, that will make it effectively impossible to change anything. Presumably this current coalition is a case in point; it hasn’t been keen to repatriate powers, and it seems likely that this is a concession to the LibDems.

    2. lifelogic
      February 16, 2011

      I hear the police have now taken to fining people for using their mobile phones while parked in a parking bay if the engine is still running (thus still “in control” of a vehicle). Good to see they are still able to provide these “public services” despite the cuts.

      Got to keep the money coming it to pay those public sector wages and pensions I suppose and the “solved” crime figures up!

      1. rose
        February 17, 2011

        They are using the wrong law: it is against the law to be running an engine while parked, without good cause.

    3. Mike Stallard
      February 16, 2011

      And do not forget the EDL

    4. Alan Wheatley
      February 16, 2011

      If coalition government leads to a referendum with the issue chosen by the minority party, how about a Conservative/UKIP coalition after the next general election?

    5. lifelogic
      February 16, 2011

      BBC financial “expert” explains why putting up interest rates reduces inflation. Something like it slows down the economy and thus stops people putting up prices in the market.

      I would have said it make the pound more valuable through paying more interest and also by showing that the BOE is not content to let it continue to slide in value relative to goods and commodity prices.

      BBC think for you. Just as to the BBC taxation is not “taking money out of the economy” but clearly is good as it is needed for “equality” and for funding public so called “investment”. On the other hand “cutting public spending” is clearly taking money out of the economy (usually too quickly) and thus risking a “double dip”.

      Every question they pose tells you how they all think.

      1. VIVID
        February 17, 2011

        And unlike this blog, one can easily tire of trying to help them with a more realistic way to think as it usually means shouting at the Radio – I guess there is always non-compliance with the tele- tax though! 😉
        Pete Soakell

  10. Acorn
    February 16, 2011

    (Hansard). Mr Redwood: How much?
    You have got to stop intervening and asking sensible questions; this will not endear you to the whips. How the hell can you have a “money resolution”, when nobody knows how much money is to be voted! You would not get away with that trick in a local council meeting. The MP for Rhondda was in fine form and, as a lay observer, you would have put money on his tribe voting against the money resolution. But they didn’t?

    I was going to ask you about “Money Bills”, but I found this from a Lords Committee. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldselect/ldconst/97/97.pdf

  11. Euan
    February 16, 2011

    If you’re going to spend £250 million on a referendum then have it on the EU and pray it’s a no vote. That would be a good use for the money, unlike AV.

    PS Good on George Osborne for refusing to sign EU accounts. About time.

    1. lifelogic
      February 17, 2011

      Can we not put an EU vote on the same ballet paper at no additional cost please. Then the £250M would be a bargain.

      1. rose
        February 17, 2011

        Hear, hear. But how to get it through the Labour House of Lords?

  12. norman
    February 16, 2011

    Let’s hope the No to AV are saving all the big guns for nearer the day.

    I’d be all for proper full PR, or list candidates such as in the Scottish / EU elections, but AV would be disastrous for those of us on the right, draining first and second preferences to UKIP, who still wouldn’t have a chance of an MP, whilst the left consolidates in Labour / Lib Dem.

    1. Keith Underhill
      February 16, 2011

      I don’t think you understand how av works

      1. norman
        February 17, 2011

        See my explanation below on how I believe it will work. If you need it explained any more clearly reply and I’ll help you out.

    2. Christopher Heward
      February 16, 2011

      How do you mean ‘draining’?

      Say you had one left party (say Labour), and two right parties (say Conservatives and UKIP). 45% of the population are left-leaning and 55% to the right. That 55% splits to 35% for Conservatives and 20% UKIP. So initial results would be:

      Labour 45%
      Conservatives 35%
      UKIP 20%

      Under FPTP Labour win.

      Under AV – and assuming UKIP voters put Tories as their second choice (and vice versa) – that 20% would then go to the Conservatives in the second round (because no one got 50% in first round and UKIP with the least votes were eliminated). This means the result of the second round would be:

      Conservatives 55%
      Labour 45%

      So under AV the Conservatives would win, contrary to a Labour win under FPTP.

      So this demonstrates that Conservatives shouldn’t be worried about being 2nd or even 3rd choice behind smaller parties, just so long as one of those parties isn’t a serious contender.

      And this demonstrates why AV looks much better.

      1) No more tactical voting. You don’t need to predict what other people will vote for.
      2) No more ‘split votes’, where similar parties get half the votes and both lose.
      3) There are more opportunities for parties to represent the opinions of voters, rather than just having two or three big parties who very loosely encompass a broad spectrum of voters. It may be if UKIP keep doing well then the Conservatives see that ‘no to EU’ is popular and are encouraged to move further that way.

      In contrast, the only possible positive of FPTP I can think of is that you only have to write one thing on the ballot paper. But then there is a large downside of that – you just vote for one particular party, probably the one you’ve always voted for or who the papers told you to vote for, rather than having to look through people’s policies so that you can decide how to order your preferences (and let’s not forget you can always just write ‘1’ and leave the rest blank!).

      1. norman
        February 17, 2011

        In your example, that’s fine.

        In real life, 35% vote Labour, 35% tory, 20% Lib Dem, 5% UKIP, 5% BNP (very roughly).

        So we have 35% + 5% 1st and second for UKIP & Conservative, against 35% + 20% Lib Dem & Labour. Of course, not every person will vote that way but you’d imagine that more Lib Dems will second Labour than Tory, and more Labour will second Lib Dem before Tory.

        In fact, tactically, it would make perfect sense for Labour to put Lib Dem second (and vice versa) so you increase tactical voting.

        1. Mark N
          February 19, 2011

          In real life the AV election would be split up into 600 seats most of which would not come close to reflecting the national vote share.

          If it makes perfect sense for your vote to reflect your preferences then that does not represent tactical voting. Tactical voting is where you vote for party A over party B despite preferring party B.

        2. Christopher Heward
          February 20, 2011

          the thing is in your example, if BNP were eliminate first, it may be all their votes go to UKIP, and then they get eliminated and they all go to Conservatives, which leaves Conservatives 45%, LAbour 35% and Lib Dems 20%. So as long as a quarter go Tory they;ve won anyway.

          The thing is, the Lib Dem share only becomes relevant once all the other parties below them have been eliminated, so if anything the Tories have an advantage if they are behind small parties like UKIP and BNP than behind bigger parties like Lib Dems.

          Secondly I’d dispute that all Lib Dems would vote Labour over Tory. I would vote Lib Dem first choice and Tory over Labour, mainly because I believe in a smaller state, which the Liberals (who dominate the party now rather than the Social Democrats) and the Conservatives tend to be more so than Labour.

          Finally, if Tories and Labour got identical shares then Tories couldn’t really complain about losing any more so than Labour could?

  13. waramess
    February 16, 2011

    Just an expensive marketing campaign to let us know they do listen.

  14. Heinz Geyer
    February 16, 2011

    AV alone will not change much. Also irrelevant to ask how much the AV campaign may cost, it is pittance in comparison to total budget. One has to ask what are the costs of a dysfunctional democracy where voters are reduced to box tickers at the discretion of the sitting government or once every five years. The remoteness of government (and it is not much better in most ‘Western’ Democracies) due to this pseudo-democracy can only be ended by a system of Direct Democracy

  15. A.Sedgwick
    February 16, 2011

    It is an example of the utmost political hypocrisy that a referendum on a mickey mouse subject can be conjured up with the utmost priority and the most important issue of a lifetime is denied such a vote.

  16. English Pensioner
    February 16, 2011

    As far as I can find out, there is no democratic country which has the AV (or some other type of PR system) which does not have a coalition government. If anyone is aware of one, I’d very much like to know, but most of Europe, Israel and Australia (and probably others) have PR and have coalitions. In Australia, it’s the Greens calling the shots, just like the LibDems here.
    Regardless of its merit, I cannot understand why the LibDems want AV. They are reluctant coalition partners, most of the party members seem to be against the coalition, yet they seem to be prepared to condemn themselves, and everyone else, to a permanent coalition. But then I’ve never managed to understand their woolly thinking, so I’m not surprised!

    1. rose
      February 17, 2011

      Even worse for the Liberals: in many marginal seats where they come second or third but where there are significant fringe parties, 50% +1 may be reached before the Liberal second preference votes have even been counted; so they would be disenfranchising themselves in favour of UKIP and the EDL on the one hand, and the Greens and the BNP on the other, just when they thought they would be the tail wagging the dog.

    2. Christopher Heward
      February 20, 2011

      How many first past the post systems don’t have a coalition or minority government currently?

      Basically the USA in terms of the first world.

      Canada is the only other first world nation using FPTP from what I can see and they’re minority currently apparently.

      Beyond that it’s the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, Pacific Islands, Central Asia, Southern Asia, and North Korea.


      And anyway, what’s wrong with ‘hung Parliaments’?

      If we have a majority Government, as far as I can see, it ends up being 4 years of doing whatever the guy who wrote the manifesto or the leader of the party. I’m not so sure most people commenting on this post are happy that because of majority Government Tony Blair/Gordon Brown could do whatever he wanted within reason for 13 years. I don’t really care that it was Blair, I just think we’d be better off with a Parliamentary system for decision making rather than Government/Cabinet/Dictatorial structure, which is what you seem get with majority Governments.

  17. Peter Lloyd
    February 16, 2011

    The tone of the comments of the No to AV camp seem wrong and the campaign is therefore starting off on the wrong foot.

    1. There is going to be a referendum – it is too late to start saying no one wants it! If the Conservatives were that against it then they should never have signed up to the Coalition agreement – they did so time to move on

    2. The decision to campaign negatively around Nick Clegg personally, particularly dragging in the university fees issue is a mistake and is very unlikely to work. It is also an insult to those who think there is a problem with the way our democracy works and want some change. Is it right that Tony Blair’s 35% of the vote should translate into 55% of the seats in Parliament? AV won’t change that completely but we might end up with someting better reflecting the votes.

    3. The cost. Firstly, there is a commitment to have the referendum so the cost has to be borne – it’s been decided. People won’t vote No because the cost was high. The cost is being defrayed in part by conciding the referendum with the local elections which might end up hurting the “No” campaign ironically as the usual government unpopularity might mean more Yes votes to get change and to protest.

    4. Public interest. It is a big mistake to equate MP’s inbox on the subject with a lack of desire for change. People have many things to worry about and some of them are much bigger than the voting system, but the turnout may surprise people on the upside. It is clear that people care deeply about the quality of politics on offer in the last 20 years but haven’t found a way to express it. The referendum is a chance to do that however limiting it may be

    5 Legitimacy. The referendum itself may help all politicians regain some respect from the people merely from the fact that they are deigning to consult the people on an important issue.

    6. The No campaign should foucus on why FPTP is better but shouldn’t argue that coalitions won’t happen under that system. They happen because the share of the vote of the two main parties combined has been in significant decline from over 90% post war to around 65%. If you are a democrat you should care about that being reflected in Parliamentary representation in Britain and accept the will of the people.

    Reply AV would have given Blair a bigger majority

    1. Denis Cooper
      February 17, 2011

      AV may or may not have given Blair a bigger majority in 1997 – the models of what would have happened under AV are not reliable – but if it did then what practical difference would it have made, when his majority under FPTP was in any case overwhelming?

    2. Peter Lloyd
      February 17, 2011

      It may have done, as it might also for Mrs Thatcher when she was winning elections, but you can’t be sure because whatever poll analysts say they have to make many assumptions about how people make their choices when they make their judgements. This is unknowable.

    3. rose
      February 17, 2011

      Your main points Peter are right: don’t lose sympathy by negative or futile arguments. Just concentrate on explaining why AV is unfair and FPTP is fair. The British are famous for their fair-mindedness and it makes them a pushover for cynical campaigning; that is why they put Blair in – because it was only fair to give the oppostion a chance etc. Just concentrate singlemindedly on convincing them AV and the PR which would follow, are intrinsically unfair. At the moment they are being convinced any form of PR or reformed system is fairer than what we already have, because the true merits of FPTP aren’t being spelled out. And FPTP’s main strength, that you can get the government out, should be made much mopre of.

  18. Tom Pride
    February 16, 2011

    “Parliament’s strength emerged from a tussle to control the state’s spending and taxing.”

    Well, yes and no John.

    It was to control the King’s spending by those likely to pick up the bill. Now it’s politicians with careers on the State teat supposedly controlling the spending of other politicians. A majority of the former being elected on the same party platform as the latter.

    It doesn’t work anymore, does it?

  19. Denis Cooper
    February 16, 2011

    The No2AV campaign didn’t claim that the AV referendum would cost taxpayers £250 million.

    Their claim was that switching to AV would cost taxpayers £250 million, made up as follows:


    1. Cost of the referendum itself – £90 million.

    2. Cost of electronic counting machines allegedly required for AV but not for FPTP – £130 million.

    3. Cost of “informing the public how the new system works in time for the next general election” – £26 million.

    Regarding 1. it’s already been decided to have the referendum and the cost will be the same whether the answer is “yes” or “no”.

    Some may say that it’s the wrong referendum, or even that we shouldn’t have referendums at all, but it’s absurd to urge people to vote one way or the other in a referendum on the grounds that it costs money to hold it.

    Regarding 2. there are no grounds for believing that a move to AV would require the introduction of vote counting machines.

    For example, why should Wokingham rush to get vote counting machines if we changed to AV?

    Last time JR got 53% of the votes while the LibDem only got 28%, so it’s very likely that even under AV it would still only need a single counting round, and at most a few very quick further counting rounds to reallocate small numbers of ballot papers from the independent and minor party candidates would be enough to settle it.

    Matthew Elliot of NO2AV referred to the position in the US to support his claim that vote counting machines would be necessary:


    but the American he selectively quoted has said:

    “Matthew Elliott utterly distorts what I said in my talk in London last month about the rise of the Alternative Vote in the United States.”

    Regarding 3, part of the £90 million will be spent by the Electoral Commission to make sure that people know what they’re being asked to decide in the referendum, so why should it later be necessary to spend another £26 million telling them how the new system will work?

    It would only need amendment of the directions given to voters at polling stations and on the ballot papers.

    The £250 million figure is a complete fantasy; the reality is that it may cost a few million more to hold a general election under AV rather than FPTP, mainly because the tellers would have to be paid for the extra time required for the count.

    Reply: I gave the government Minister the opportunity to set out the official figures, which he declined to do.

  20. Iain Gill
    February 16, 2011

    if we need to spend money i suggest we cut the so called aid budget to countries with nuclear weapons to pay for it, and put up the price of ICT visas significantly to compensate for the outrageous tax breaks ICT visa holders get and their drain on our schools and hospitals

  21. Freeborn John
    February 16, 2011

    EU-sceptics should vote for AV to weaken the duopoly on power of the old parties. But nobody who wants the UK out of the EU should cast a 2nd-preference vote for the Conservatives. Rather one must hope that
    (i) AV is a stepping stone to PR which will make it impossible to ignore the EU-sceptic majority and,
    (ii) the Tories learn the lesson in the 2010 election; i.e. that they cannot win elections with the current mix of disingenuous pro-EU policy and cast-iron promises that turn out to be lies.

  22. Derek Buxton
    February 16, 2011

    Why worry, the whole thing is a distraction, designed simply to keep the voters from waking up to just how much they are being ripped off by this sham government. As a great man once said “we have an imperfect system, but the others are worse”. Imagine if more of the green nutters get into parliament, how many old people dying will they accept?

  23. Neil Craig
    February 16, 2011

    This £250 million figure seems to be the same sort of scaremongering that led the europhiles to assure us that 2 million jobs (I think it was 2 but it might have been 10) depended on us staying in the EU.

    The fact that the charmless Margaret Beckett, front person of the No campaign has, at least so far, refused to participate in a public debate on the subject suggests that they are relying on lies like the above, vigorously stirring up apathy, that the vested intersts (ie the money) don’t want it & that there may be some vestigal loyalty from Lab/Con supporters. It will be interesting to see if the state broadcasting corporation wiill go along with this – I am told they have banned the use of the term “electoral reform” from the airwaves which does not bode well for a free debate.

    1. Denis Cooper
      February 17, 2011

      It was 8 million at one point, and NIESR Director Martin Weale condemned the deliberate misrepresentation of the findings in the original report:

      “It’s pure Goebbels. In many years of academic research I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts”

      “Britain in Europe’s claims are absurd. Nobody could plausibly believe the figures. As the experience of the 1960s indicates, there is no reason why being outside the EU should necessarily involve mass unemployment.”

  24. david englehart
    February 16, 2011

    i am probably going to be unpopular but how come i and hundreds of thousands of other small business people are having to pay wages and loose productivity because a chinless wonder and his spoilt girlfriend are getting married.
    i am a solicitor and we have 12 fee earners.if they were to manage 4 hours work in a day,a forlorn dream of mine,at say an average of £200 per hour i have effectively lost £9600 from my bottom line.
    it wasnt my fault the banking system collapsed through a combination of clinton taking his eye off the regulatory ball and having his eyes elsewhere or for the subsequent trailor trash lending that brought us to our knees.
    however i will end up paying heavily for this and i dare not retire even at 67 for fear of the future.also i like my work but it is more fun to blame it on someone as well.
    so please spare me days off for a boring wedding which just adds to my misery.
    asking the french when in paris how they like propping up the greek zorba the greek lifestyle and saying it is their turn to bail out the irish is some small consolation as they can be quite articulate on these matters.
    however if it is jobs we want then dont punish small business and why on earth have we a left wing lib dem in charge of such an important job as business secretary and cant we get on with forgiving david laws.after all he was just a bit shy about his sexuality.mandelson was creative on a mortgage application form and he was forgiven in no time.

  25. Christopher Heward
    February 16, 2011

    Dear John,

    Apologies this is a similar post to my one replying above, but I thought you may not have seen that.

    You seem a staunch supporter of FPTP and I wanted to ask ‘why?’. I’m not saying you shouldn’t, I just want to know your reasons.

    I can see three main reasons why AV looks much better.

    1) No more tactical voting. You don’t need to predict what other people will vote for.
    2) No more ‘split votes’, where similar parties get half the votes and both lose.
    3) There are more opportunities for parties to represent the opinions of voters, rather than just having two or three big parties who very loosely encompass a broad spectrum of voters. It may be if UKIP keep doing well then the Conservatives see that ‘no to EU’ is popular and are encouraged to move further that way.

    As a consequence of these three, votes should be much less about ‘the party’ and more about the policies and integrity of the candidates, which in turn means there is more reason to engage with constituents and demonstrate how they have represented them in the house. I can only see this being a positive thing.

    In contrast, the only possible positive of FPTP I can think of is that you only have to write one thing on the ballot paper. But then there is a large downside of that – you just vote for one particular party, probably the one you’ve always voted for or who the papers told you to vote for, rather than having to look through people’s policies so that you can decide how to order your preferences (and let’s not forget you can always just write ‘1’ and leave the rest blank, if you want that simplicity).

    Please could you explain the reasons you have for wanting to retain FPTP?

    Also, in terms of the £250m, this comment article from the Financial Times gives a breakdown of the ‘No to AV’ figures and shows how the cost is likely to be less than half that figure: http://blogs.ft.com/westminster/2011/02/spotlight-on-no2av-claim-of-250m-cost-of-electoral-reform/

    Thanks very much for your thoughts.

    Kind regards,

    Christopher Heward

  26. Alan Wheatley
    February 16, 2011

    I suggest that the government should tell us the extra cost of an AV election. The counting is inevitably a more complicated process that will take longer. I also suspect it is more error prone, and I predict there will be more calls for a recount: on the first choice count, and then on the second choice count and so on.

    If there is a change to AV then I suggest the first election held under that scheme uses computerised voting. While this will incur a capital cost it should significantly reduce the running costs thereafter.

    Puts the kibosh on the election night TV studio jamborees, of course, but you can’t have it all ways!

    1. Denis Cooper
      February 17, 2011

      Australia doesn’t use machines for voting or for counting votes under its AV system.

      We could certainly stick with manual counts. On average the counts would take longer, and therefore the tellers would have to be paid more. However where the count would take longer it wouldn’t be enormously longer, a matter of hours. There were 50,000 tellers for the last general election, so you could estimate the extra cost for every hour added to the average time they were needed.

      AV is used for by-elections to the Irish parliament, and here’s an example from 2009:


      Votes were cast and counted exactly as they would be cast and counted here – and NB the count is manual.

      I’ve added up the total number of sorting and counting operations the tellers would have performed during the eight successive counting rounds:

      1. 28,412
      2. 203
      3. 528
      4. 676
      5. 893
      6. 3,621
      7. 4,420
      8. 6,537

      Total = 45,290

      In the first round, the count of the first preference votes, the tellers had to sort and count all 28,412 valid ballot papers, just as in the single count under FPTP.

      Because of AV they had to carry out 16,878 additional operations in the subsequent seven rounds, breaking up the pile of each eliminated candidate in turn and reallocating and counting those ballot papers.

      Therefore the sorting and counting work of the tellers had been increased by 59%, so eg if it took four hours under FPTP that would still only be extended to less than seven hours under AV – assuming of course no increase in the number of tellers employed.

  27. stred
    February 16, 2011

    The last election was lost because of the inbuilt bias to Labour in the iner cities, with fewer voter per MP. Let us hope that any change does not give the Socialist soakers of the enterprising a permanent majority. If so, we are lost.

  28. Alan Wheatley
    February 16, 2011

    Further to my earlier comment, upon reflection the capital cost of moving to computerised elections could be quite small.

    The Returning Officer could run it on his existing lap top. There already exists a secure high speed broadband link within local government, which extends to the schools. So getting polling station data back to the returning officer is simple and incurs no capital cost.

    There will need to be computer terminals in polling stations, but this would be a good way to re-use redundant PCs as something low-spec will easily do the job. There are probably loads being ditch within government as we speak.

    The major capital cost will be the secure software, but logically it is a trivial task and existing security techniques can be used.

    My one concern is the enormous cost of paying the consults!

  29. Patrick Wood
    February 16, 2011

    I do not see why there needs to be a referendum on AV at all becuase neither party in government was voted with an AV referendum referenced as a policy; the Liberal Democrats advocated STV whereas the Conservatives did not advocate any electoral reform. I understand the necessity of compromis for the coalition to take shape but surely this is a compromise in which no-one wins? The Liberal Democrats do not think AV is proportional enough (largely because it isn’t proportional at all, less so than FPTP) whereas the Conservatives prefer the status-quo. There is no need for an AV referendum since no major party had a mandate to introduce (although Labour did favour AV+).

    I also do not think that a referendum is necessary because it undermines the role of our elected representatives. They are there to debate, scrutinise and vote on our behalf and referenda go entirely against the idea of representative democracy.

  30. Mr J Leslie Smith
    February 16, 2011

    The Lords are being sensible over these AV plans. The Lords are insisting a clause is added to only validate any referendum if forty percent ( 40%) of voters actually vote that day for it. Sensible politics. No one wants this silly AV vote right now, we have far bigger issues to worry us.

  31. wab
    February 16, 2011

    It is not just the AV vote that is not being discussed in the media (presumably, as you say, because nobody cares about this, except for the chattering class). It is also the changes to the number of MPs, a fairly major change to Parliament that barely rates a mention in the media. Although some people seem to think that AV will help the Lib Dems, it is not obvious (unlike PR, which would help the Lib Dems). But the changes to the number of MPs (in particular in terms of Parliamentary boundaries) is likely to be of benefit mainly to the Tories, which is presumably why the coalition put together this tawdry bill linking the two concepts.

    If the AV referendum passes, let me predict that it will make very little difference to the outcome of any election (in terms of the seat allocation), and further, and more importantly, it will make no difference to the public perception of Parliament or to how well the country is run. It is just window dressing to keep the Lib Dems happy.

  32. Vanessa
    February 16, 2011

    The AV system is the most unfair and unproportional of any system. Once you put in all your choices we could always get someone who is everyone’s second choice voted in. That is completely unacceptable and is much more likely to keep on creating badly fitting coalitions. The first past the post system, while not perfect, is much better than the AV system which is the worst of all evils.

  33. grahams
    February 16, 2011

    Conservatives seem very odd. In 2003 the party voted for the Iraq War against its instincts and its electoral interest because the leaders thought it was the right thing to do. Now you have voted to spend up to £250 million to ensure that there is never a Conservative government again.
    One hopes the referendum will be rejected firmly in England, as would be necessary for an overall No vote. But looking at the forces arranged on both sides, I would not bet on it. The Yes camp, with newly popular Labour and unpopular Liberals as well as the entire “modern” liberal establishment on board, looks to be better at communicating with the people, especially young people, than the No campaign. Am I also right in thinking that the Prime Minister has agreed not to campaign actively?
    Hope I am wrong. If AV goes ahead, there will be lots of wonderful, meaningless manifestos and we can forget about any decisive programme to reverse England’s decline. Let the Civil Service and the European Commission rule while “modern” politicians bicker furiously about the positioning of the deckchairs.

  34. Johnny Norfolk
    February 16, 2011

    To me AV takes the power away from the people and gives it to party leaders to strike up deals that bear no resembelence to their party manifestos that people voted for. This is not the time for wasting time and money on this.

    1. Denis Cooper
      February 17, 2011

      That’s assuming that AV would always result in a hung Parliament and a coalition government, but in fact there’s no convincing evidence that it would even increase the frequency of hung Parliaments.

    2. Christopher Heward
      February 20, 2011

      How many people even read the manifesto?

      And what of they break their promises as a majority Government (which they do)? We wait another 4 years? And then everyone forgets by then and they vote for who they always voted for (or who they think they should vote for based on what everyone else does, because they have to vote tactically?)?

      At least under AV they’d be encouraged to read the manifestos so they know how to order their preferences, rather than voting based on their favourite colour or who their parents voted for (or the opposite party if they’re feeling rebellious…).

  35. Alan Wheatley
    February 17, 2011

    Some are arguing that AV ensures that all MPs will be elected in accordance with the wishes of the majority of voters. This is a poor argument because it values all non-first-choice votes as of equal value to a first-choice vote. It would not be credible for a MP to claim majority support where a first-choice majority was for other than for the MP.

    How about weighting non-first-choice votes? Thus, second-choice votes would be weighted at 50%, third-choice votes at 25%, and so on. This arrangement gives prominence to first choice votes, as we have with FPTP, yet allows minority opinion to have some influence on the outcome, as we do not have with FPTP.

  36. Graham Gillis
    February 17, 2011

    The” No to AV Campaign” started this week.
    The Sun says no, The Mail says no, both say it’s too expensive. Labour mostly say no, conservatives say no and Clegg says he really wanted PR.
    The point is that the machinery is in place for a referendum and the Irish “about turn” is proof that an EU referendum can be rigged.
    To rig a referendum, first create a problem, or reinvent an old one.
    THE VOTES FOR PRISONER’S BILL. An issue abhorrent to the British Public.
    The idea of murderers and rapists being able to vote uses extreme examples to make the point, no mention of the prisoner who didn’t pay their TV license.
    This issue was around when Cameron lost what should have been a walkover election. He had broken his cast iron promise and knew at this point that the EU membership issue would not go away without a referendum.
    An assault on the Court of human rights is underway. Add in the sex offenders register issue to stir it up. I believe Cameron will manipulate anti EU feeling enough to justify adding an EU referendum onto the AV one, at the last moment.
    Once the EU referendum is in place, Cameron will win his battle with the Court of Human rights, and fight to keep EU membership.
    Cameron needs a snap referendum. Lord Pearson recently asked for a cost analysis of EU membership. It was refused. When they were in power, Labour repeatedly refused such requests. The sums will not add up. The arguments for staying in will not bear lengthy scrutiny.

  37. Barbara
    February 17, 2011

    I thought the official ‘argument’ against an EU referendum was that it would be too expensive; it simply couldn’t be afforded.
    How come there is money for this one, then?

  38. Bazman
    February 18, 2011

    Just do it all by the SKY/Virgin TV set top boxes. We could have a referendum on everything. Politics are quite difficult and require often independent thought by uneducated and educated people who have never read a book, so just simplify the whole system to the four coloured buttons. Probably already thought of and abandoned.

  39. Anne Palmer
    February 18, 2011

    How dare any Present Politician that is taking ever more money off us by paying more for almost everything we buy, people losing jobs and some their homes, decide now is the time to spend money on this fanciful scheme that in the end will do no one any good at all. I used to vote Conservative, and it took me a long time to realise that they too wanted to be paid and voted for as if they are making all our laws. They obviously do n ot and even the Sovereignty of Parliament is questionable to say the least.

    Now? If I can’t vote for one person only which is what I want to do, I will be voting for THREE political Parties that want out of the EU? Probably in this order, UKIP, BNP and the Monster Raving Looneys if they are still around, if not the Greens will have to do.

    1. Graham Gillis
      February 20, 2011

      The Monster Raving Looney Party is thriving.
      Unlike Liblabcon, Greens and BNP.
      I have yet to hear what they would like to waste our referendum budget on.
      I am confident that they will out Looney AV not EU, but it won’t be easy.

  40. adam
    February 19, 2011

    we know that ‘federal union’ supports AV

    ergo, the anti EU crowd need to be against it

    1. Graham Gillis
      February 20, 2011

      UKIP are officially for AV.
      Members vote at their own discretion, whilst asked not to campaign for NO.
      They have not advised members on campaign for a boycott of this expensive farce.

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