Tuesday 3 November 2009

How the X Factor twins make the case for electoral reform

Not everything about the X Factor would meet with the approval of UN-mandated Next Left election observers.

In particular, we would express grave concerns about the failure to provide a separation of powers to protect the judicial process from partisan influences.

Endemic conflicts of interest are created by the managers of the acts doubling up as the judges who decide which of the two least popular acts are eliminated each week. (This would be very much like a video referee panel of Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti voting on a controversial decisive goal controversy in injury time of an important Premiership match between two of their teams).

But there is one way in which the X Factor can illuminate the debate about electoral reform.

The very brainy Daniel Finkelstein of The Times cautions those who have seen The Sun's report on the X Factor voting, with the talentless "tone deaf" twins John and Edward in the lead, against drawing the conclusion that they are on track to win.

If the Fink is sure that John and Edwards won't win the X Factor then anybody who gambles against that advice has only themselves to blame.

Finkelstein points out that the incredibly talentless act are the "marmite candidates" and so are among the least likely to pick up votes as other candidates are eliminated.

It's that leading the voting when there are 10 candidates - as there were on the weekend the Sun refers to - is meaningless. It may involve having little more than 10 per cent of the vote.

The question is whether, as other candidates are eliminated, John and Edward's proportion of the vote has the capacity to rise much. And I am pretty sure it doesn't.

But Finkelstein does not draw out an obvious point about his argument.

John and Edward would win a first past the post election for X Factor champion - even if the vast majority of the audience prefer another act to the terrible twins.

If Finkelstein is right, they will lose, because the multiple weeks of the show introduce transferable voting (in this case by multiple ballots, week by week), though a broadly similar effect would be held by holding an Alternative Vote style transferable ballot.

In this way, the X Factor seeks to pick a winner with majority support, not an act which might have just 10 or 20% of first preferences. (This is also how each of the political parties - including the Conservatives - select their own candidates, again to find a winner with 50% of the vote).

Indeed, with four candidates left in, a tight X Factor race might look something like the 1992 General Election result in Inverness:

Liberal Democrat 26.0%
Labour 25.2%
SNP 24.7%
Conservative 22.6%

But nobody would think it right for X Factor to declare a winner, without finding out which of the remaining acts had the most support.

We look forward to both David Cameron and the Labour first-past-the-post campaign making the case that John and Edward should now be declared X Factor winners.

But I think it is right that you need to win a majority to have the X-Factor - and suggest it is a principle from which Westminster might learn.

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