May 2011

Conservatives contradict themselves over AV

I spotted a Conservative trailer in Surbiton yesterday, with a poster that said "No to AV - because we can't afford it"


Is that the main reason the 'No' campaigners want to give usfor voting against AV? If so, they are bonkers! AV will not cost a penny more than the current voting system.

No - I'll revise that. It is not bonkers, but seriously misleading. And it is the Government (or at least, the majority partner in the Coalition) that is effectively misleading people about their own intentions.

They have said quite explicitly that they will not be introducing electronic systems to deal with Alternative Vote ballots if there is a Yes vote. Indeed, it isn't necessary. Australia has been carrying out parliamentary elections by AV for many decades and has never used electronic methods for voting or for counting the votes.

And yet the Conservatives are trying to tell us that AV will cost a lot of money because of the electronic systems that they claim will be necessary!

Managing an election using AV will cost no more than managing one using FPTP.

AV or not AV?

I spent Easter weekend in Northern Ireland and was intrigued by the posters for the Stormont Assembly elections, which all encouraged people to number their preferences. Over there they use Single Transferable Vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies - so the ballot paper would be rather like the ones we get here for local elections, with three names from each of the larger parties plus some independents. Voters rank them 1, 2, 3, 4 etc instead of by using a maximum of three crosses. (Incidently, it was absolutely essential to get proportional representation at Stormont, which is why they used STV and not First Past The Post).

STV and AV are both preferential voting systems, in that the voter numbers the candidates in order of preference. AV can be used in constituencies where there is only one winner, whereas STV is more suited to multi-member constituencies, such as local council wards.

From some of the debate about the referendum you might imagine that preferential systems are totally alien to British politics. In fact, they are already widely used.

Next year for the election of the Mayor of London, we will use a version of AV with just two preferences.

In Scotland they use STV for local council elections. Wales in considering doing the same in the future.

And, as mentioned before, the Assembly Members in Northern Ireland are elected by STV. They also use STV for elections to the European Parliament.

You probably hadn't noticed, but intriguingly, there are two ballots going on in the House of Lords at the moment, and they both use AV. One is to fill a vacancy in the small number of remaining hereditary peers, and the other is for the Speaker in the House of Lords.

And to cap it all, the leaders of the Labour and Conservative parties are both elected using a variation of AV - indeed, if FPTP had been used for the Conservative leadership, David Davis would now be Prime Minister, not David Cameron, who trailed behind on first preferences.

Odd, isn't it, that Parliament uses AV for its own elections and yet a sizable number of Parliamentarians are trying to tell us that it is not suitable for the rest of us!

MP's superinjunction

According to the Guardian and Private Eye (two impeccable sources), one of the two MPs in the Borough obtained a superinjunction - the sort of gagging order where no-one is even allowed to mention that it exists. The reason that I can comment on it now without fear of legal retribution is that the injunction was lifted in March.

Zac Goldsmith MP, his former wife Sheherezade and his sister Jemima Khan were granted a superinjunction in December 2008. This was to prevent the Daily Mirror and other papers from reporting that their email accounts had been hacked. When the injunction was lifted a couple of months ago it was replaced with an order which still forbids anyone to mention the person who did the hacking, but at least we can now acknowledge that there was an injunction.

However, according to Private Eye (not available online - you'll have to buy it) when the injunction was lifted 'the judge strongly censured the trio for allowing what was meant to be a temporary measure to extend for more than two years longer than was necessary, a "serious breach of the undertaking for which there is no good excuse" which created "interferences with freedom of expression and derogations from open justice".'

Zac Goldsmith has today admitted that he took out the injunction. He claims that the it was necessary because we do not have a robust privacy law in the UK, which he is now campaigning for.

I do agree with him about the need for some kind of privacy law, but the right to privacy does have to be balanced against freedom of expression and the public good. Since I am not allowed to know the contents of those emails that were hacked I cannot judge where the balance lies in Goldsmith's case. But I do know that superinjunctions are beyond the means of most of his constituents, who cannot afford to protect themselves from press intrusion.

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