The duncing of a nation: How misrepresentation won the AV referendum.


“a regiment of lies.”

It is unusual for the third party in British politics to be so outspoken against its opponents. It seems even more outlandish to speak against the senior partner of their coalition.

Of course the Conservatives rejoined that the Liberal Democrats are just bad losers. In the local government elections of May 5, 2011, Labour appears to have gained about 10% of the lost 11% in the Lib Dem vote.

And they lost their precious alternative vote referendum by 68% to 32%, a humiliating defeat.

In The Observer, eighth of May 2011, Andrew Rawnsley pointed out that Tories exacted compromise from the Lib Dems for the coalition, and then ran a No campaign against AV, on the grounds that the Lib Dems were breaking their promises in coalition.

This was despite the fact that Australia’s over 80 years with AV showed quite the contrary to the No campaign's assertion that AV leads to more coalitions.

The No campaign also exploited Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's unpopularity with an outrageously unwarranted depiction of AV leading to "President Clegg".

The Lib Dem energy minister Chris Huhne took Tory Cabinet colleague Baroness Warsi to task over her claim that AV helped the BNP. The newspaper the Sun translated this into the caption that AV brings in fascism.
This was despite the fact that the BNP were opposed to AV.

 Ex-leader of the Lib Dems, Paddy Ashdown accused the No campaign of marshalling "a regiment of lies."

As I say, it is extraordinary for politicians to be quite so forthright about each other. It would not only be unusual but unwise to use such unparliamentary language, unless the evidence was clear-cut.

 Had it not been for the fact that nobody really wanted the alternative vote for general elections, anyway, the No campaign’s misconduct could have caused a constitutional crisis.

It would be well advised for any future referendums to be conducted on stringent standards of factual correctness, subject to impartial adjudication by a refereeing body. And there would have to be ample prime time reservations in the broadcating schedules for debates equally represented by both sides.

 The hugely biased Press should be answerable to a pre-Reagan American-style Fairness doctrine. And transparency, as to who are their business backers, is as important in journalism as politics.

The mass circulation press was overwhelmingly biased against electoral reform. The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph, The Times, The Express, all urged No to AV, often with hysterical insistence, right up to and including polling day itself which is supposed to be sacrosanct from campaigning.

The large circulation paper, The Mirror didn't come off the fence till the end of the campaign to support Yes, mirroring the mostly sceptical Labour party. Only The Independent, an ailing paper, taken over for the sum of one pound sterling, consistently supported reform since 2005. The Guardian and its Sunday sister The Observer also said Yes.

 In short, the AV referendum was not a debate but an indoctrination.

Television is supposed to be unbiased but it didn't have that effect. The prime time news programmes passed on the assertions of the campaigners without serious challenge. From the Prime Minister down, falsehoods were allowed to go unchecked.

 For instance, it is nonsense that AV gives more votes to some smaller party supporters than to large party supporters. Everyone has a vote to be counted, tho the candidate with least first preferences be excluded in each successive round, until some candidate wins with an over-all majority of votes.

The real objection to AV is to voters being allowed to vote for other than two parties, without wasting their vote on other than those two main contenders.

 The voting system, as a straight fight between two parties, tho FPTP denied more than this minimum choice, was basicly the only honest argument the No campaign could have led with. They didn’t have the confidence to do so. But the voters themselves may still have voted accordingly. Given the over-whelmingly partisan No-campaign, betraying society's dependence on a constitutional consensus, the referendum result may well largely reflect Labour-Tory tribalism ganging-up on the rest of the voters.

A general election still gives two-thirds of the votes to Labour or Tory. And that is about what won the referendum, on a turn-out of 42%.

 One of the consequences of this referendum’s status quo result may be to see British general election turn-out sink further to American levels of about 50%, with the retention of the duopolistic FPTP system.

 Another warped plank of the No campaign was that First past the post “defends equal votes.”
All FPTP does is confine an election to a single round. Whereas AV conducts further rounds if necessary to achieve a decisive majority of more than half the votes to elect a candidate.

 Far from the simple majority system defending equal votes, what it does is make the outcome of the election dependent on which candidates happen to stand.

The alternative vote holds successive rounds to remove the accident of spoiler candidates arbitrarily changing the result. AV gives the result that the voters would want regardless of whether some candidates stood or withdrew.

AV removes some of the more blatant injustices of FPTP. Relative to the two systems, it is no argument against AV that it does not remove them all.

 TV news programmes are repeated, so any campaigning falsehoods, showcased on them, effectively become indoctrination.
Whereas, the only serious AV referendum debate I saw was on late night television, BBC Newsnight at 10.30. Proper debate, of this sort, instead of recycled news time campaign propaganda, might have changed the whole course of the campaign. This was a fairly balanced two-sided debate, wholly lacking in the mass circulation press.

Referendums that protect one side from critical scrutiny are worse than useless to the national interest.
Likewise, allowing one side to spend much more money on reaching many more people with its side alone of the argument again proves nothing but that battles are won by the side with the best logistical support.

 The No campaign (unlike the Yes campaign) refused to make public its financers, not obligatory till six months after the poll. But it is clear from articles in The Mail that it came from Tory party funders. This was a partisan conflict of interest with the national interest.

 Nevertheless, the No campaign claimed - including the Tory Chancellor George Osborne, saying it stank - that the Electoral Reform Society’s support of AV stood to gain from a costly use of voting machines with AV, tho these are not used in Australia and there are no plans to use them.

 According to an article, eighth of May 2011 in Mail on Sunday, by Tim Montgomerie, the alleged cost of AV was the most important of 33 public objections against the new voting system. Yet this supposedly most important objection was phoney.

It would only have been necessary to pay the returning officer's staff for the extra time to count the successive rounds of the alternative vote, and do the job properly that first past the post leaves undone, maybe a couple of million pounds sterling, certainly not £250 million.

The real waste of money is the constant changing of gerrymander-prone single member boundaries. To remedy that would require a multi-member system following real community boundaries and just changing the number of seats per constituency, in proportion with population shifts.

 The No campaign’s determination to be on the offensive was indeed offensive in its false witness. This is fundamentally wrong for all social conduct, as well as towards first principles of political behavior enshrined in a Constitution. The whole point of the rules of the game is that they are agreed on all sides to be free and fair and the means by which any one side can have recourse to remove a jam of disagreements.

Short of that, you don't have a genuine civil society, only a ritual civil war which may degenerate into turmoil.

 The AV referendum exposed the disastrous failure of the Conservative party as a supposedly constitutional party, along with the bulk of the Labour Party, to be more than political barbarians, led by that well-mannered aristocrat and self-confessed “heir to Blair,” David Cameron.

Tories eased their consciences by lauding the referendum result as a triumph for the man, whose top office they pushed into propagandising for them. But it is this condemner of compromise who has most badly compromised himself. The man, who condemned essentially the system of successive ballot rounds, that elected him Tory leader, deserves to be defeated, as he would have been, under First Past The Post.
When a leader becomes a misleader, who will believe he believes anything he says? He has sold the balance of his reputation, to cry wolf, to the politically naive. And all to sink the Alternative Vote.



The duncing of a nation.

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 It is evident that the word-warriors of the No campaign have learned nothing from their folly.

“In Haringey and Hackney humility hardly ever happens,” crowed Richard Littlejohn, in the Mail, 10 in May 2011.

This was because a few London boroughs had dared to offer a slight majority for the alternative vote, as did university towns Oxford and Cambridge, standing out from the rest of the country, like medieval isles of learning in a sea of political illiteracy.

The numeracy of the Alternative Vote at least offers a choice beyond just one candidate over another.

 Littlejohn boasted that he could have told you which London roosts of the leftists would vote for AV.

As likely an explanation is that London elects its mayor with a Supplementary Vote, which gives one alternative vote. And so breaks the superstition of the Labour-Tory tribal tabu on elections that hold more than one round, which is all that FPTP offers.

Since when has Richard Littlejohn, whose catchphrase is: “You couldn't make it up,” ever offered humility?

 The editor of the Mail on Sunday, 8 may 2011, said there was "nothing seriously wrong" with first past the post.

 A New Zealand opinion poll, on 9 May 2011, showed that younger people favored the recent Mixed Member Proportional system, and older people prefered the former FPTP. This finding suggests that people tend to accept uncriticly what they are used to.

 I know that this is true of myself. As a young student, unwilling to study voting method, which I thought I knew all about, because I watched election night, I didn't see anything wrong with the existing system of elections.

The general public and the Mail editor haven't had my advantage of having no choice but to study the subject, that being what students are supposed to be for.

 But there is one huge difference between my foolish ignorance and theirs. My prejudice was over 40 years ago, when electoral reform was nowhere on the horizon. And the Liberal party was a joke.

While I spent a lifetime of solitary study on the subject, there has been a more or less continuous public campaign against the iniquities of first past the post, and many vote system "tinkerings", as the right wing press would call them. But they are none the wiser.

 Wilful ignorance towards electoral reform encourages wilful ignorance to the public interest in general.

 I once saw a silly polemic of a caption (in The Guardian) that the country "needs bad teachers."
A bad teacher can ruin a subject for a child, demoralise the child into thinking that they are no good at something - or anything - that they might be able to do perfectly well, and pretty well blight their young life.

 That is a misfortune but a least it is not a sabotage of one's education.
Imagine you wanted to go on a course to be educated in some subject.

And in response, you are told that it is much too expensive for you. Moreover, you are told the subject is much too difficult for you. And finally to put you off completely, you are told that the head teacher and his college, you will have to go to, are the ones you loathe for their deceptive prospectus.

 This is how the No campaign conducted themselves against the alternative vote in the referendum. As told by Tim Montgomerie, their three main arguments were that it was too costly, too complicated, and too Nick Clegg.

No matter to the No campaign that these three arguments manage to be both false and irrelevant; all that mattered, to them, is that their lack of scruples won the referendum for them.

They made little attempt at all to educate the public, so that they could make up their own minds. Their campaign was one long tirade of misinformation, deception and denigration.

They were not even bad teachers, they were just mindless anti-teachers, not educators but duncers and stupefiers.


The No campaign’s antics brought-up a disagreeable memory of misconduct in my childhood. A school dinner, not to my taste, made me relentlessly bad-mouth it to put-off an undecided child from eating.

I was punished, tho arguably school dinners are punishment enough in themselves.

Obviously, inflicting, on others, ones childish prejudice, against something we are not used to, is nothing to be proud of, and the anti-reformers have shown themselves to be guilty of that.



Why the liberal elite get it so spectacularly wrong. by Tim Luckhurst, 14th May 2011.

This is a sanctimonious article centred on the mere 10 constituencies that had AV referendum majorities.

I cannot do better than quote the following comment:

"Never again should a tiny, incestuous elite be allowed to impose its wild, unrepresentative delusions on middle Britain." What a ridiculous summary. The AV campaign was supported by wide cross-sections of society. My mother, a small business owner who doesn't know the meaning of the word 'elite' supported it, as did many ordinary people all over the country, who saw it as a much more common sense system than FPTP which wildly favours the Labour/Conservative axis. The reason it failed was because the Tory party machine and Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate, including the DM, organised themselves actively told lies about AV. And because of that we will be stuck for another generation with a voting system that routinely returns the same MP in the same constituency at every election in safe seats, and routinely gives parties winning about 38% of votes an absolute majority over all other parties in the House of Commons. Just stop telling've won the referendum already

- Rob, Cardiff, 15/5/2011 03:34

(Rob of Cardiff may be forgiven for apparently confusing the Murdoch press with The Mail, described as "The black-top Sun.")


This comprehensive refutation:

A-Z of rubbish arguments from No to AV.

For a record of how the AV referendum campaign was conducted, I wrote innumerable comments especially on the articles of the right wing press, and on the infamous No-campaign leaflet, which I have collected on my page, The Straw Man referendum on the alternative vote in the UK.

 Richard Lung.
14;15;18 May 2011.



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