AV is not PR: this much I understand

So it’s payoff time for Ramsay McClegg. The Tories have finally thrown a bone to their human shield allies in the form of a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV), to take place on May 5th.

In return for services rendered, the Lib Dems get a long-awaited shot at an electoral system that’s supposed to more truly reflect their performance in the general election, with the number of MPs elected tallying more closely with the percentage of the overall vote. It is plainly unfair that a relatively large turnout of the LibDem’s electorate always results in a pitiful clutch of seats in Parliament.

However, because AV is not even a watered down form of Proportional Representation (PR), which most progressives see as fairer than the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system, it comes with a whole host of problems even worse than FPTP.

AV is the coalition vote.

AV encourages consolidation of coalitions into two blocs and in the UK is more likely to lead to permanent centre-right coalitions unless the Labour Party and the Greens do a deal (see this Australia post).

Can you imagine what it’ll be like for our government to be in permanent coalition mode with the Lib Dems swinging power for ever and ever? Or an emulation of Italy’s system of unelected conservative coalitions which returns Berlusconi to power again and again? Not so much the image of a boot in the face as a custard pie in the mush in perpetuity.

The May 5th referendum is a sham. Why only give us the choice between FPTP and AV? Why so scared of proper PR?

My understanding of the situation, following fairly idiot-proof discussions with a very patient Paul Anderson, is that some versions of PR still allow a consituency to elect its MP according to whoever gets the majority of the votes, as in FPTP. But the Additional Member System (AMS) kicks in by having a top-up list at the regional level which makes the final tally of MPs reflect their overall support in the electorate.

AV does not have regional top-up seats.

In Anderson’s new website, AV Is Not PR, he explains why AV is not proportional:

Without regional top-up seats, the alternative vote is not a system of proportional representation. AV, used in Australia, retains single-member constituencies from first past the post but changes the marking of ballots to ‘1, 2, 3’ and so on in order of preference. If no candidate gets 50 per cent of first preferences, the second preferences of the candidate with the fewest votes are added to the other candidates’ totals. This process continues until one candidate has more than 50 per cent of the vote.

So the weakest candidates get their second preferences to count more heavily than everyone else’s. Under AV, some voters are evidently more equal than others.

AV is a sham. Even Nick Clegg once wrote it off as ‘a miserable little compromise’.

Anderson quotes a letter in the Independent from Antony Brown, Thomas Lundberg, John Cox and Brian Wilson:

AV is not proportional and can exaggerate landslide elections. In 1997, for example, it is probable that Blair would have had a majority of over 200 with AV. It exaggerates the tendency of our current system to direct voters into a two-sided competition. Smaller parties, such as the Greens, are no more likely to be elected than today.

AV gives minority parties greater electoral leverage but without democratic accountability. A minority party can barter with larger parties, urging its supporters to give the larger party their second preferences in return for policy concessions. Smaller parties should be heard, but transparently and after receiving a mandate.

Expect even more sleazy back-room deals and horse-trading than usual.

AV is not a step toward the fairer system of PR, but a dead end we’ll be stuck in for a long time.

Vote No to AV on May 5th.

Others on the left arguing against AV include Socialist Unity.

Madam Miaow says … visit Anna Chen’s website here:


Anna’s food blog here:

5 thoughts on “AV is not PR: this much I understand”

  1. Cheers for the info – it's all very dry isn't it? But, such is the stuff that determines our futures, so as well to get some understanding. Only thing that bothers me about voting no is that Cameron is recommending this – and I'd hate to be thought to be following his 'lead'… I don't suppose abstaining or vote spoiling would do it?

  2. Hi Bilus, yes, this is a subject so tedious that my eyes usually glaze over at the mere mention of it. But I thought it was high time we all focused and thought about what it is we're being asked to vote for.

    Took me a while but I think I have a handle on it. And I'll be voting no.

    One galling thing is indeed who the No Vote bedfellows are. But, as I just commented elsewhere, quoting George Orwell, sometimes a thing is true even if the Daily Telegraph says it is.

  3. Good one mate. That's one of the reasons why i view the 'Take Back Parliament' movement as a sellout.

    My main concern is for the 'minority' parties. Won't AV further push them into the background. Won't people become more accustomed to viewing them as NGOs to get the major parties to give a little whilst they continue to take more? 'Charitable inflation' is what i call it.

    Is the nation where the 'mother of all parliaments' so unready to take the smaller step of refining their electoral system and getting proper PR now as opposed to the larger step taken in the past to bring about universal enfranchisment?

    Are 'radical moves' only for the Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, etc, whilst we ensure that they don't get too 'radical' by lowering the bar over here when it comes to what a democratic electoral system means?

    I'm in complete agreement with yourself. Good one!



  4. If this was PR I be out on the streets shouting vote yes, but lets be honest this is just second rate to help the Liberals get into power but the mess it would make, AV is not the answer.

    I was watching late last night on TV my dam legs were hurting the wife had phoned the nurse so I was waiting for my pain killing injection, when the chap on the Welsh TV said if we had AV at the last election then Brown would have won, I nearly choked.

    Today i was reading after I had an email, people in wheelchairs will not get any points in the new WCA and will not be deemed disabled if they can move the wheelchair themselves, blind people who use a guide dog will not be placed onto JSA same with deaf people who can read and write.

    And then I remember this afternoon I had to listen to Miliband tell us labour will walk the next election.

    Then I was told to night anyone on DLA it will no longer be paid for people who retire, but if you carry on working you will be allowed to carry on claiming.

    I will be voting no to AV, yes to Wales having more law making powers, and then I'll be burning my labour card.

    By the way Wales has decided to keep EMA for people in college.

  5. Thanks for this post,Madam Miaow, I'm much clearer in my head about AV now. AV is not PR: beware of cheap imitations (or miserable little compromises!)

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