The AV referendum will be lost

Five reasons why the AV referendum will be lost

Yes to Fairer Votes launched their formal campaign for the AV referendum on 2 April.  Electoral reformers fondly suppose that if only the public were offered a better alternative to first past the post, people would be bound to vote Yes.  This piece does not go into the respective merits of AV and first past the post.  It simply forecasts that AV will be defeated, for the following reasons:

  • The public know nothing about electoral systems, and care even less.  The Constitution Unit did detailed research on public attitudes to different voting systems for the Independent Commission on the Voting System, and we found we were plumbing deep wells of ignorance.  The Yes campaign have a huge mountain of ignorance and indifference to overcome.  The government have given them very little time.
  • Even if the Yes campaign manage to engage people’s interest, they will find it hard to explain the difference between AV and FPTP.  AV is not a proportional system.  The overall result will not be that different from FPTP.  In the 2010 election it is estimated that the Conservatives might have gained 30 seats less, the Lib Dems 20 seats more, and Labour about the same.
  • The public will be confused by the arguments in the referendum, some technical, some contested, some misleading.  Research shows that when the public find political issues difficult or confusing, they look to political leaders that they trust to give them a lead on how to vote.  But the AV referendum offers no easy cues.  The Conservatives will campaign against, the Lib Dems for, and Labour are divided.
  • Clear signals from political leaders will be masked by the elections also being held on 5 May.  There are devolved assembly elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and local government elections in 80% of England.  The political parties will put their time and energies into campaigning in the elections, and not the referendum.
  • This is what happened in Canada, where they held referendums on electoral reform at the same time as provincial elections in Ontario (2007) and British Columbia (2009).  The political parties were silent about the referendum issues, and electoral reform was defeated in both cases.  The same is likely to happen in the UK.

Should the UK adopt the alternative vote system?

A UCL debate on the AV referendum

Monday 11 April 2011, 6.00pm

The UK faces its first national referendum for over 30 years and has an unprecedented opportunity to change the voting system and reshape the future political landscape. The referendum also raises profound questions about electoral reform in the UK.

This debate will provide an opportunity to discuss the arguments underpinning electoral reform and the AV system and to hear speakers from both sides of the argument, as well as insights from an expert panel.

Have your say: questions from the audience will be a key feature of this event.

Speaking in favour of a ‘yes’ vote:

  • Billy Bragg, singer and political campaigner
  • Peter Facey, Chair, Unlock Democracy

Speaking in favour of a ‘no’ vote:

  • Jane Kennedy, National Organiser of Labour No to AV
  • Charlotte Vere, Finance Director / National Organiser, ‘No to AV’

Expert panel

  • Professor Justin Fisher,Magna Carta Institute, Brunel University
  • Peter Kellner, YouGov
  • Dr Alan Renwick, University of Reading
  • Professor Tony Wright, UCL Constitution Unit

UCL Bloomsbury Theatre
15 Gordon Street

To register for this event or to read more about UCL Public Policy, please see our website:

Peers deal on AV vote

After a marathon debate, peers have reached a deal to end the deadlock over plans for a referendum on the Westminster voting system.

Meg Russell on NewsnightMeg Russell appeared on Newsnight to comment (piece starts at 17min).

Click the link below to view on the BBC iPlayer.

BBC Newsnight 31.01.11
Unit research on the House of Lords

Past their bedtime

Pulling an all-nighter is no longer the preserve of students with deadlines or ravers with glow sticks. The Lords have just started the second session of the week tipped to take them up to breakfast tomorrow. The source of this nocturnal behaviour is the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which sets up the AV Referendum and provides for shrinking the size of the Commons. Labour say that Part 2 of the bill, which reduces the number of constituences to 600, will receive insufficient parliamentary scrutiny due to some heavy-handed government timetabling (and the application of a guillotine to the time taken for debate in the Commons), so want the bill split up.

Other than the camp beds, toasties and dedicated newsletter, most of the coverage over the last couple of days has been about filibustering and whether this stretches the conventions of the House. Jim Pickard of the FT Westminster blog observes that Monday’s marathon session saw some meandering speeches that included references to cannibals and prime numbers. But from the few bits of speeches I’ve read from the early hours it’s hard to separate out fatigue, flourish or genuine filibuster. The concern is more about the precedent that this sets. The Crossbenchers are said to be annoyed at Labour peers’ antics – like many others in the House, they jealously guard the principle of ‘self-regulation’. According to the Clerk of Parliaments back in 2005, “There is no tradition of filibustering, and self-regulation encourages orderly progress on all bills.” If the government imposes a guillotine this might signal the end to the authority of the Companion to the Standing Orders, the document that sets out the conventions on which the Lords operates. Even (presumably considerably younger) blog conventions seem under threat – in a spat with Lord Tyler on Lords of the Blog Lord Soley comments ‘This blog is not designed for party political battles’.

Although Mark D’Arcy says there’s still talk of a guillotine down at the Lords, a deal looks more likely. The FT say expect a deal or at least a ‘more nuanced position’ by the weekend: Labour want at least a system of public consultancy over constituency boundaries and the provision for constituency size to vary up to 10 per cent instead of the 5 per cent proposed. A deal would be problematic for the Coalition, as it would give Labour a taste for blood and they might start employing similar tactics on other flagship bills. But it would also be much less costly for Coalition relations than splitting the Bill up. Watch this space.