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Priti Patel MP: Why, as a Conservative, I support NO to AV - a response to Mohammed Amin

PATEL PRITI Priti Patel is Conservative MP for Witham and responds here to the article posted yesterday by Mohammed Amin in support of adopting AV.

Unfortunately Mohammed Amin has bought into the Yes campaign’s misleading claims about the Alternative Vote.

While the Yes side like to claim that AV will end tactical voting – a claim that many people would love to believe – this is factually wrong. AV forces voters to vote even more tactically to decide who is in the final round. In a close three-way race, for example, a tactical Labour supporter may be more confident that their candidate can beat the Liberal Democrat than the Conservative candidate, and therefore vote for the Liberal Democrat to ensure he or she makes it into the final round.

So far from ending tactical voting, AV just makes it more complicated. That’s why Dr. Roger Mortimore from Ipsos MORI has said: ‘Under AV there is a real incentive for tactical voting, because the order in which candidates are eliminated affects the result’.

In fact, sometimes AV can even make staying at home tactically better than turning out to vote at all – the ‘no-show paradox.’ In the US, for example, Republicans in Burlington, Vermont would have been better off had some of them stayed home during the last mayoral election that they ran under AV (of course, they’ve since ditched it and returned to First Past the Post). Had some Republicans not voted for their candidate, the centrist Democrat – for whom most Republicans cast their second preferences – would have made it to the second round and beat the left-wing Progressive, who went on to win despite coming second in the first round.

Mohammed refers to the recent by-election in Oldham East – but the result there is a perfect illustration of the way that AV gives the supporters of fringe parties extra chances to have their vote counted, whilst the supporters of mainstream candidates only get their vote counted once.

There were 10 candidates in Oldham East and Saddleworth. As no one won more than 50 per cent of the vote on the first round, there would have been a series of eliminations and redistributions under AV – a minimum of eight rounds before it was mathematically possible for any candidate to reach the 50 per cent threshold. This would have allowed the 67 supporters of the Bus-Pass Elvis Party to have up to eight preferences counted, the 96 people who voted for the Pirate Party up to 7 – and the BNP, who came in fifth, up to three preferences – whilst the nine out of ten voters who voted for either Labour, the Lib Dems or the Conservatives may only have had one vote counted. That’s not a ‘fairer’ voting system in my book!

Mohammed also says that he supports AV because the Conservative Party uses it for leadership elections. Except it doesn’t. The Conservative leadership election involves a series of separate run-off elections – which is very different to a single ‘instant run-off’, as Mohammed admits. Holding separate rounds means electors are able to make an informed decision based on the knowledge of who’s still left in the race. In France’s 2002 presidential election, for example, it was only because of the separate run-off process that voters were able decisively to reject the far-right party led by Le Pen.

Because AV would boost the number of Liberal Democrat MPs – by 32 seats in the last election – it would lead to more hung parliaments. Ok, First Past the Post occasionally yields coalitions (albeit very occasionally, the last being the wartime coalition of 1940-45), but AV would ensure that they become ‘the norm’. As Oxford’s Prof. Vernon Bogdanor has said, this in turn leads to more discarded manifestos, more backroom deals and more broken promises. How can that be the way to restore faith in our political system?

Given that Mohammed’s reasons to vote Yes don’t stand up to scrutiny, it’s hard to see how he can justify spending £250 million for a worse voting system – one which makes voting even more tactical, which hands extra preferences to the BNP, and which gives politicians more power.


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