Tuesday 15 February 2011

If Britain can't afford democratic reform, how could Egypt or Zimbabwe?

Why is the No to AV campaign mimicking the Taxpayers Alliance at its silliest?

‘The simple fact is our country can’t afford AV.’

So says Matthew Elliott, founder of the Taxpayers Alliance, from which Britain's leading right-wing advocate of slashing public spending to as little as possible has taken what he calls a 'short sabbatical' to head the No to AV campaign to block electoral reform.

The GDP of the United Kingdom is $2.189 trillion or $35,100 per capita.

The GDP of Egypt is $500 billion, or $6200 per capita (136th in the world).

How ex-President Mubarak must now regret that he did not have Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayers Alliance advising him to make a 'we can't afford free and fair elections' speech to the protestors in Tahrir Square.

Elliott's argument about the costs of democratic reform would surely work much better in the Egyptian case than Britain.

It should certainly be seized on by Robert Mugabe next time the Movement for Democratic Change, and our Foreign Secretary William Hague, are pressing the case for fair elections in Zimbabwe. (Have you noticed how they almost always ignore the cost of holding them when they do that?) With Zimbabwe's GDP at just $400 per capita, how Elliott's Taxpayers Alliance must approve of the efficiencies to be generated by the much cheaper method of declaring a result without bothering to count the ballots.

How daft indeed he must think the people of Botswana, for stubbornly insisting on spending the money needed to hold free and fair elections, despite the size of their economy.

The anti-AV campaign mocks Fiji for being 'obscure' - a small country which uses AV. Its GDP is $3154 billion, or just $4300 per capita.

Is it really now the official "argument" of the no to AV campaign that Fiji can afford AV but that Britain couldn't afford it, even if voters decided it would be more democratic?

Here's another modest proposal to reduce the deficit. When we hold elections under first-past-the-post, why not just count half the votes, bin the others, and then project the result? As long as you got the sampling right, you could pretty much always get the right winner. Think of the savings on those employed to stay up late.

Matthew Elliott should very much like that idea too.

Perhaps it is not an enormous surprise that Elliott should choose to launch the anti-AV campaign with implausibly silly figures about the cost of AV elections. Since the No to AV launch has all of hallmarks of a TPA special, could this also be seen as the moment that the Taxpayers' Alliance finally jumped the shark?

Switching from X to 1, 2, 3 voting might cost £250 million, say the No campaign, if you were to decide it would need "expensive counting machines", double the number you first thought of (by chucking the referendum costs which apply whether we vote Yes or No too), and then ignore the fact that they count the AV votes by hand in Australia. QED. Still, the Daily Mail and Telegraph tried to take it seriously.

The AV referendum gives us a democratic choice about whether we think our democracy would be better if we could express multiple preferences - voting 1, 2, 3 - under AV, or should keep X voting under first-past-the-post.

There are arguments for and against this change. In a democracy, whether Britain could afford to count the votes really isn't one of them.


Tacitus said...

My biggest fear about the AV vote is whether we obtain a big enough turnout for the result to be declared valid.

Sure there will probably be a turnout of around 50%, but is this a true representation of the beliefs of the electorate?

Whether campaigning for a "Yes" or "No" result, activists must ensure the highest possible turnout. Otherwise the opposition will always say the result isn't a full representation of the public view.

Read my blog at http://bit.ly/eLwJ9p

cim said...

"When we hold elections under first-past-the-post, why not just count half the votes, bin the others, and then project the result?"

Interestingly, if you only count one randomly selected vote, while the result in any one constituency becomes somewhat unpredictable, the result across the nation as a whole is on average proportional.

A (mostly) proportional system, maintaining a strong constituency link, which makes it easy to chuck out unwanted MPs and completely eliminates tactical voting, while being extremely quick and cheap to count? Something for everyone there.