Tuesday 26 April 2011

The smart Labour move is a "Yes2AV" vote

Let's assume for a moment that those who wish to vote "Yes" to AV will have already made their decision. Similarly, let's assume that those who wish to vote "No" are equally sure. Whilst opinion polls fluctuate, an average would see the "No" vote just ahead.

The battle will be lost and won by the 22% who are still undecided. In particular, Labour voters are split. It is largely these voters who will ultimately decide the result of the AV referendum on May 5th.

Most are "Meh2AV". They really don't care much either way and overwhelmingly it seems that they plan to vote "No" to hammer a final nail into Clegg's already fairly well-sealed coffin.

Before the inevitable sneers of tribalism and ignoring the facts for cheap political points, remember, these people can't make up their minds. It's arrogant to believe they are ill informed. Many are quite clear of the merits and drawbacks of the "Yes" and "No" arguments, but let's face it, it's fairly hard to get excited by either.

Labour have a job to do. They are in opposition. Their job is to oppose. This government is effectively Tory and whatever case can be made for Clegg and his ministers making the coalition more Liberal, the ordinary voter on the street doesn't see it that way. The Lib Dems have singularly failed to convince the electorate that they have achieved much in coalition - the image of them as Tory lackeys is far more widely held.

In any debate in which a Lib Dem might try to make their case for modifying the worst excesses of a Tory government, someone will always fire back that they are, in fact, propping up the Conservatives; a handy, tag-on-majority allowing policies to pass through parliament that a minority Conservative government would never have achieved alone.

Of course any Labour voter wants to see the end of this coalition. Of course they would love to see it fall apart. That is the very nature of the political system we have. It serves no purpose to snipe that Labour voters should put their head above their hearts and vote "Yes" to AV, that won't persuade anyone.

It is also perfectly understandable that Labour voters might see a Lib Dem implosion as the quickest route to a general election. According to several prominent columnists lately, that is a possibility. There are even rumours that a "No" vote could give Cameron the confidence to call an election this year, in the hope that he could achieve a majority and cut lose his Lib Dem albatross.

That any prominent commentator might fall for this Easter Punch and Judy show amazes me. As local elections loom, what on earth did they expect coalition politicians to do? Of course they were always going to change the rhetoric as they returned to their constituencies. Of course they would want to differentiate themselves from one another and go back to themes that appeal to their grassroots. Tories were always going to focus on immigration or scrounger-bashing; the Dems were always going to fight hard for AV and stress their social reforms.

However, for a moment, let's assume, hypothetically that "No2AV" wins and Cameron is emboldened to go to the electorate. This is the bit that Labour voters don't want to hear :

He'd probably win.

I know, I know, if you're anti-Tory it seems totally and utterly impossible. All we see is the destruction Conservative policies cause, the nasty divide and conquer tactics, the dog-whistle speeches and the race-to-the-bottom economics.

But let's look at some facts. Cameron is easily the most popular of the three leaders. His approval ratings are consistently in the mid 40s, whilst Ed Miliband's languish in the low 30s and Cleggs are only slightly behind in the high 20s. The truth is, people like Cameron. We can sneer with derision and wish it were not so, but it is. They still trust his "Nice Guy Dave" act and incumbents always do well in an election campaign.

Clegg has been the most effective political human shield in history. He has taken all the blows, he has screened Cameron and Osborne from real scrutiny. While Clegg's party have plummeted in the polls, the Conservatives are still broadly polling the same figure they achieved during the 2010 election. It may seem as though the marriage has soured, but in fact the honeymoon is barely over.

With opinion polls showing a scant 5 or 6 point lead, Labour simply do not as yet have the platform to win an election.

I can hear the splutters "But! But....."

Any election would be fought on the economy. Now that the gloves are off, it would certainly have to be a more honest campaign - a simple choice between Osborne's slash and burn and Labours steadier approach. But it would be a grave mistake to think that enough people have turned away from the former. Yes they've started to see the implications of swingeing cuts to our public services, but however much Labour might wish it were different, they don't care enough yet to think that Labour have the answers. All the evidence proves that the Conservatives are currently winning the battle over the need for cuts. They control the narrative, people still talk in terms of deficit reduction not growth.

A "No2AV" vote will only strengthen the Tories further. They will believe, rightly or wrongly that it is a vote for them. Sure, the Lib Dems will be disappointed, some may even resign, but they are so weak already, it will make little difference. In fact, the weaker the Libs get, the more seats the Tories win. However much Labour might feel betrayed by Clegg, they should remember that many Lib Dems do too.

No, if there is to be any chance of destabilising the coalition, then it is Cameron who needs to be weakened, not Clegg. He needs to be seen for the loser he is. A PM who couldn't win an election or a simple referendum on electoral reform will face terrible difficulties within his own party and Cameron knows this very well. Rumours circle that Cameron could not go on, that the Tory knives would be sharpened. Already, senior Tories are stating that there will be no further concessions to the Lib Dems if they lose the AV vote. They smell blood.

The Libs face a terrible set of local election results. The kicking so many Labour voters want to inflict on them is not in doubt. There will be plenty of Liberal recriminations, doubts and despondency on the morning of May 6th. Labour will almost certainly pick up whole swathes of council seats up and down the country - in the north and Scotland Lib Dems are facing almost total wipeout.

If we throw in a Lib Dem AV kicking too, the Tories will be stronger, more smug and more confident. Yet again, they will escape unscathed. Yet again, the Libs will take the knocks and the Tories will unite round Cameron a little more.

Of course, many Labour voters will make their decisions based on the merits or drawbacks of AV. For those who don't really care though, the smart move is a "Yes" vote. Voting "No" is just a vote for Cameron's Conservatives and a vote for the status-quo.


  1. I disagree with you in this. The smart move is for a No vote. The truth be told, Cameron would probably win a majority if he went to the polls now: referendum or no referendum. It would, though, be a huge political risk to do so. People would rightly argue that it shows that Coalition politics has not worked. It would serve to bolster the Lib Dems, probably at Labour's expense.

    AV, as it stands, is unfair for the simple reason that it fails to take into account that 2nd, 3rd, 4th preferences do not take into account the fact that you are not placing the same value on each candidate that you are numbering. If you were did then you would need to put a 1 next to each of them. To use the chocolate example, if I ask for a Mars bar, and if not a Twix, and if not a Milky Way, then if you come back with a Milky Way it will satisfy my hunger, but (and here's the point that illustrates why AV is unfair) it won't satisfy my disappointment at not having a Mars bar. This is why I believe that in order to work fairly, subsequent preferences in AV should be weighted when the votes are transferred, to reflect the fact that not all preferences are the same. If that was done, then more people would probably vote Yes.

    Incidentally, my preferences are for PR then FPTP then AV under the current proposals. If AV incorporated the weightings it would be AV then PR then FPTP.

  2. This was very well written and it keeps you engaged throughout. Thanks, that was an interesting read.

  3. Hi Sue,

    Good post.

    I actually have already voted No having considered that it is the right thing to do.

    I came to this issue on the principle of which is the right system, not how it suits my party (Labour).

    I am with RichSwitch. I'd vote:

    1. PR (AMS or STV)
    2. FPTP
    3. AV

    AV, for me, is the worst of all worlds.

    I really hope No wins, and Labour offer genuine PR in 2015.

  4. ....another thing Sue.

    I agree about the weakness of Labour's position. I have already written off Ed for winning the next GE.

    It's the one after then I'm mentally aiming for.

  5. "To use the chocolate example, if I ask for a Mars bar, and if not a Twix, and if not a Milky Way, then if you come back with a Milky Way it will satisfy my hunger, but (and here's the point that illustrates why AV is unfair) it won't satisfy my disappointment at not having a Mars bar."

    ...but neither does "First Past The Post" - where you can try to ask for a Mars, but then often get no actual say in what you eventually get _at_ _all_, even when most people don't want what you _do_ get. AV fixes that problem, at least.

    The idea that second and third preferences unfairly carry the same weight in AV is a little confusing too - they don't even get counted unless more people _didn't_ want the FPTP "winner" than _did_. Where there's a strong consensus against the FPTP "winner", then AV delivers what people voted for. It's only where there's no real strong consensus at all that AV can seem a little arbitrary - but still less so that FPTP.

    You can't make lower preferences count for less in AV - it's exhaustive ballot without the pain of having to turn up day after day to vote in person. But in each round, each person must (and does!) have one vote - making lower preferences count for less at the point where they need to be counted would break one person one vote.

    One argument against the point made in this blog is that unseating Cameron may not necessarily unseat the Tories. They could lurch to the right, and still win. Depends how you think the country would vote if the "nice guy Dave" image was removed. On balance, I think he's still an asset to them, so Sue is probably right.

    More simplistically, I think the Tories must believe AV would be bad for them overall - they seem quite scared of it now that the referendum hangs in the balance.

  6. Problem is, even if your right, and youo probably are about a Tory win. I just do not like AV. Its not about just the next election, this referendum will change they way we vote for decades.

  7. I agree with the earlier comment and have already written Ed Miliband off.

    I support no to AV to give the Liberals a kicking. Only when Clegg's head and his "yes men" are on a plate will I lighten up on the Liberals and only then if they join the fight to destroy the Conservatives, their friends, and their friends friends.

    This is the sound and proven military strategy.