Sunday, 8 May 2011

No to AV: A Warning From History

I've said this before, but I'll say it again, the No to AV campaign succeeded - by a staggering margin - on the basis of a few simple lies, many of which were contradictory and many of which applied to FPTP even more than to AV, so let's imagine that They decide to call UKIP's bluff and have an In-Out Referendum on the EU (which the Lib Dems were minded to do a few years ago when others were calling for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty).

All the "In" campaign has to do is to think up a few simple lies and stick to them. Here are my top ten suggestions (largely culled from that infamous Top Fifty list) to get the ball rolling, I'm sure They can think up plenty of others:

1. Three million jobs in the UK depend on EU membership.

2. The EU guarantees [human rights, maternity rights, environmental standards, employees' rights, peace, stability, equality etc].

3. The EU spends £x billion a year on [infrastructure, environmental protection, research and development] in the UK.

4. If we leave the EU, they will be able to impose their rules and regulations on us without us having any say.

5. If European countries pool their sovereignty, we are then better able to stand up to the USA or China

6. People will need a visa each time they want to go on holiday, they will not be entitled to free health care if they fall ill abroad.

7. It will be much more difficult for British citizens to find work in Europe or to buy a holiday home there.

8. Only extremists and fruitcakes like UKIP, the Communists and the BNP are in favour of leaving.

9. People who want 'out' are all narrow-minded Little Englanders and racists

10. The 'Out' campaign is financed by [somebody people don't like].
You can of course dismantle each and every one of those, but it would take a couple of paragraphs or a few minutes of explanation each time to do so, and it requires a modest grasp of logic and economics to understand them, for example, the counter argument to item 1 is:

"Sure, about ten per cent of our output is sold to Europe, but:

a) We sell a lot of stuff to countries outside the EU without having to be in a political or economic union.

b) Other EU countries sell more to us than we do to them, so a trade war would hurt them more than it hurts us.

c) The EU has signed up lots of free trade agreements with countries outside the EU, it's not going to be too difficult to wangle one of these for the UK under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

d) The international trade-to-GDP ratio of the UK is relatively low, i.e. our economy is eighty per cent domestic.

e) Yes, we have to import oranges from hot countries because it would be idiotic trying to grow them ourselves, and everybody buys electronics made in PR China, but what is there which we absolutely have to import from a Member State of the EU? And if there is nothing which we absolutely have to import
from them, we don't really need to sell anything to them either; so we'll eat more of our own lamb and beef and less German sausages or Dutch cheese.

f) Norway and Switzerland seem to manage OK. Norway has lots of oil for a small population, but what does Switzerland have? Plenty of fresh water and lovely mountain scenery is all."

Each of the points a) to f) then inspires more counter-propaganda, which you then also have to laboriously take apart, and even if you did convince somebody on item 1, you still have another nine to go, and when you've done all ten, they'll just think up new ones or re-hash old ones which you've already covered, and so on ad infinitum.


Shiney said...

Despite the potential for lies and disinformation I reckon a 'Yes to EU Exit' campaign would succeed as Brits are generally anti-EU.

Plus the 'YesToAV' campaign suffered a lot from the 'its a pinko liberal/Left Wing' plot idea, meaning the Tories could get the NO vote out.

ukipwebmaster said...

Very good points - We better start planning now!

Charlie B. said...

My credentials:

1. I voted for AV, and am in favour (in priciple) of more proportional systems.

2. I voted Conservative in local elections (no UKIP candidates so no need to consider them, I'm afraid)

3. I received nothing through the post from either side about the referendum - or it got thrown away with the Labour stuff. I didn't read anything much in the papers about it one way or another that I would take any notice of, evident lies included.

4. There was no debate on TV between the opposing sides, and there were other, party political elections taking place (just).

4. 70% of people support Labour or Conservatives, and could (rightly) see that AV would principally benefit LibDems and other parties they don't vote for. Why would they want that? It is not in their interest.

5. Very few people vote according to ideas about "right" OR "fair" or anything more sophisticated (like an analysis of hypothetical outcomes). A few lies on either side make no difference.

6. Why would Labour voters take any notice of Tory lies?

7. Why did Labour voters take no notice of their leader and all their official party statements?

8. A referendum sprung out of nowhere was no way to run an attempt at constitutional change, and the LibDems are responsible for that.

I would have very much liked to change the system, so I take no pleasure in saying any of this. But it should have been obvious from the start.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Sh, lots of opinion polls show people split 50/50 on the In/Out question, but propaganda from either side is fairly low level. In the end, most of the newspapers will say whatever the Tories (or Labour) say, so once they ramp up the "In" propaganda, it's all over.

UWM, yes, the only message which people seem to understand is "The EU costs us £48 million a day" which is either a crass simplification or a wild understatement. We need at least ten simple bullet points like this but we also need counter-propaganda, which of necessity is much more complicated and boring.

CB, good points all, agreed apart from 5. The No campaign convinced people that AV was frightfully complicated (when in fact it is far simpler than systems used for A, W and NI assemblies.

As to Labour supporters, I got the impression that their MPs and presumably their members and supporters were split 50/50-ish. Any residual ideas about a 'progressive alliance' with the Lib Dems went straight out of the window a year ago.

Bayard said...

I have to agree with Charlie B. If it had been a knife-edge result, then the lies could have swung it, but the truth is, AFAICS, that most people don't give a shit about electoral reform, they didn't know what it was all about, so, if they could be bothered to vote, they voted for the status quo. I strongly suspect that if we had AV and were having a referendum on changing to FPTP, the result would have been the same.

This doesn't apply to the EU. Most people know what the EU is, the idea of us being ruled by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels is very deep-rooted, nourished by years of governments blaming Brussels for every unpopular decision, and they are aware that membership of the EU is very expensive.
Also the Yes2EU propaganda can be countered with No2EU propaganda, equally hard to disprove, like "If we leave the EU, all those Poles, Bosnians, Romanian gypsies etc. won't be able to come over here and take our jobs or live a life of luxury on the welfare state." Or "The Yes2EU campaign is being supported by German bankers, so they can force the British taxpayer to bail them out when they lend money to countries like Greece and Portugal." Or "The 'Stay In' campaign is financed by [somebody people don't like]. etc etc.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, NOW That's what I call propaganda!

"If we leave the EU, all those Poles, Bosnians, Romanian gypsies etc. won't be able to come over here and take our jobs or live a life of luxury on the welfare state." or "The Yes2EU campaign is being supported by German bankers, so they can force the British taxpayer to bail them out when they lend money to countries like Greece and Portugal."


Chuckles said...

M, Rather than shenanigans and conspiracy theories, the small, non-random and non-representative sample from whom I've heard, all said that they had more important things to worry about than Westminster Wankfests.

Times are hard, people are struggling, and at such times people haul up the drawbridge, and go for the status quo. The country is also pig sick of the years of the disengaged Tone and successors constant interference in their lives, so there is also a very large dose of - 'Stop bothering us with irrelevances. Piss off and leave us alone'?

Mark Wadsworth said...

Ch, yes that is true, but which way would this swing an In-Out referendum? Better the devil you know, or try something different?

dearieme said...

A chance to vote agin the LibDems and Millibum without voting for the Conservatives? Hurray!

Trooper Thompson said...

This is a good post. If there ever was a referendum on leaving the despicable EU, there would be huge propaganda from the Federasts, and it could easily be lost. Most people don't give a monkey's toss either way, despite a passive euroscepticism.

DNAse said...

My constituency voted a majority "yes"! So since we are keeping FPTP I demand that we get to vote with AV at the next general election! Now that would be a real example of "localism" and probably a good "in" for electoral reform as other areas could see that something different was possible and that they were missing out.

The way the Euro has screwed up has got to be a plus for an EU exit. It is so obvious now that a unified currency cannot work across different political regimes.

Chuckles said...

M, My WAG would be that an EU in/out referendum would have similar percentages in favour of leaving yesterday.
Probably much easier to encourage a north of the border referendum, as I read somewhere that if if Scotland exits the Union, we're automatically out of the EU?

Sackerson said...

Sadly, I think you're right, Mark. As I've just commented on Angry Exile's latest OOL piece:

"The other bit, when you have a demos operating a democracy, is curbing the demagogue. The Daily Mail’s front page on Thursday was a twisted disgrace: “Vote No To Stand Up For Democracy”."

DBC Reed said...

Dread to think what would happen if there was a referendum, or even an election, featuring LVT.
To be honest the latest turn of events : the Royal Wedding followed by Thursday 5th May have convinced me that we have not just a nasty right-wing government but also a nasty right-wing electorate that expects governments to keep interest rates low to protect their massive personal debt (not all of it inflated mortgages).

Paul said...

I'm coming to the conclusion that people just don't care. They fear change. Any change. Even if it's positive change. Talking to people I know I see a deeply anti-democratic streak that's been bred into them. I don't know what you can do to fix that. Any discussion of any political issue automatically gets shut down. I think the populace want dictatorship.

Bayard said...

"I think the populace want dictatorship."

I think you're right. It's the political classes who don't want it, as they want to be in with a chance to get their mitts on the levers of power. The populace have no political power outside general elections anyway, under our "democracy" (which is not a democracy, but an elective oligarchy), so they'd be no worse off under a dictatorship.

Mark Wadsworth said...

D, you mean in an In/Out Referendum?

TT, thanks.

Ch, yes, if referendum were held without notice, we might vote to leave. But they'll have to announce it weeks or months in advance, and there'll be plenty of time for propaganda as outlined in my post.

S, that's the sort of thing I mean.

DNA, we aren't in the Euro, but still seem to have ended up bailing them out, so maybe add that to the 'Out progpaganda list'

DBC, this government is indeed very nasty, but they are no more right wing than the previous lot.

P, most people either don't care or are actually anti-democratic. They hate 'the government' while believing every word the politicians say, wail about paying taxes without ever thanking them. And those who do care all want different kinds of dictator. It's a mess of contradictions.

Old BE said...

MW, your premise for both the AV and EU referendums is that most people are too stupid to think about the question and make their own mind up. Perhaps this is why you think UKIP doesn't do as well as you think it should, too?

Have you ever considered the possibility that most people simply don't agree with you?

Paul said...

I've actually said to people who wail about paying taxes that they'd want some sort of nightwatchman state. They can't agree in their own heads what sort of country they'd want to live in.

Do they want a welfare state or not? How big do they want it to be? Do they want freedom of the press or authoritarianism? And if that's the case, what kind of authoritarianism?

Authoritarianism is only a positive experience, on the whole, for those that don't disagree with it in any way. So us lot would be the first to go.

As you suggest, I think it's the classic case of "I want fascism but I don't want someone else's fascism".

Anonymous said...

Try these points :

1. From 2000-2009 Britain’s cumulative trade deficit with the EU was around £260 billion.

2. In terms of share of world trade the EU is in long term decline. In 1980 the EU accounted for 36% of world trade, by 2010 this had fallen to 26% and by 2025 it is estimated that the EU’s share of world trade will be 15%.

3. In 2010 Britain paid a membership fee of £19.7 billion to remain a member of a protectionist customs union where further EU directives and regulations burden the British economy with additional costs estimated at around £100 billion per annum

4.Over the last ten years, British trade with the world outside the EU has grown significantly faster than British trade with the EU.”

5. “Less than ten per cent of the British economy is involved in exporting to the EU .Yet EU regulation is imposed on the more than ninety per cent
of the economy which is NOT involved in exporting to the EU”

6. Britain cannot sign a trade deal without EU approval and yet Norway and Switzerland , outside of the EU but in EFTA, are part of EU trade deals and can develop their own trade deals without the EU

7. Britain should look to the commonwealth - 55 independent, democratic
countries that already account for over a third of global GDP and
40% of the world's labour force. The EU currently accounts for around 9% of the worlds population and this will decline even further by 2050.

8. Britain does not have to be in the EU to trade. The EU will soon have Free Trade Agreements with 80 per cent of all the non-EU countries in the world. Several non-EU countries already export more to the EU than does the UK.

9. Around 70 per cent of Swiss foreign trade is with the EU despite Switzerland not being in the EU . For the UK the comparable proportion is around 40 per cent.

10. The EU Common Agricultural Policy costs each British family around £100 extra per month in extra food costs.

11. EU laws around climate change and renewable energy will add around £1,000 extra to household bills.

Anonymous said...

Completely agreed of course (as I said on my own blog).

The only real solution to this is to get a UKIP government elected, so that we can make the rules on the referendum.

Charlie B. said...

If I might make so bold, I've always thought the best answer to most of issues of fact, opinion and morale voiced above is to read "The Federalist Papers" by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. But I do have the highest possibe regard for the USA and its political culture.

Charlie B. said...

PS Greece up the shit again, and Germany in despair about it all.

*Sniggering noises like Muttley makes when Dick Dastardly really screws up*

Anonymous said...

The ballot paper was confusing. A lot of old people would vote not the way they wanted.

Look at why the Scots over decades went fro home rule. Why? Because the existing system didn't represent them adequately.

Ironically when Scotland get a majority in favour of an independence a party, England reinforces the system that is leading to the breakup of the Union, shooting itself in the foot.

Anonymous said...

Talking to people about this AV vote I get the impression it was a vote of no confidence about the LibDems rather than a fair election system.

We have the Single Transferable Vote in Ulster right now!!!! It works. Look at what it has achieved there.

Anonymous said...

This vote on AV proves the average person is not capable of understanding such things and no such vote should ever been done again.

Found A Voice said...

That was pretty much what my local Tory MP wrote to me.

Let me try the counter arguments:

1. 6 million jobs would be created by leaving the EU

2. The EU usurps long-standing British rights of freedom and sovereignty

3. The EU costs £x billion more than gives back to the UK

4. If we leave the EU we will be free to decide which rules and regulations we would like to adopt

5.Britain has the world’s 5th largest economy and 4th largest military; sharing this with the EU dilutes our influence and strength

6. Visas will be reintroduced to properly control our borders and healthcare will be provided under reciprocal arrangements.

7. The resulting richer Britons will be better able to buy properties in the EU and our talents would remain in demand

8. Only extremists and fruitcakes that wish to you to be undemocratically ruled over support the EU

9. People who want ‘in’ are narrow-minded apologists ashamed of their proud British heritage.

10. The ‘In’ campaign is funded by the EU, which is against its own rules (see Ireland).


Mark Wadsworth said...

BE, I'm perfectly well aware that I disagree with most people on most things, although I'm in line with people's general EU-scepticism.

Paul, I think most people want e.g. a welfare state, but they simultaneously support means-testing and the contributory principle, which are more or less diametrically opposite.

AC, yup, which is why They had to make sure that we didn't get AV, that was just pre-emptive and not of greater relevance.

Anons, the voting systems for S, NI and W assemblies are far more complicated than just FPTP and they seem to 'work'.

FAV, that's more like it :-)

Old BE said...

And yet you still think that the vast majority of people voted "no" because they were swayed by bullshit propaganda and not because they were not convinced of the benefit of the proposed change...

Mark Wadsworth said...

BE, there was bullshit propaganda on both sides, and the No side managed to convince people that there was no particular benefit. So it's a circular argument.

My point being, how the counting system works is a secondary issue (which is what the No people focussed on), and it's unlikely that it would lead to a very different outcome.

What matters is for people to be able to cast conscience, comedy and compromise votes (which is what the Yes people didn't particularly emphasise, they reckoned it would change the outcome).

And don't forget that the No side (the Tories) rigged the whole debate by choosing an alternative to PR which they found easiest to attack.

AntiCitizenOne said...

Well Paul,

I'd like no welfare "failure reward" state.

I'd like a nightwatchman GOVERNMENT, just simple administration of the country.

Of course I'd like a large also LVT and CD to replace the above two concepts. i.e. The CD allows people to buy the services they need, and since the cost of government is deducted from everyones CD equally
it tends to prevent the metastasis of the government.

AntiCitizenOne said...

On AV. Glad it lost.

Sort out the party problem (eg MP private voting ) to improve representative democracy.

I think YesToAV aligned itself with the political narcissistic classes who like themselves more than anyone else likes them and this ensured the people of the UK gave them a kicking.

Anonymous said...

Happy Europe day!

James Higham said...

Well, it's all over now.

Anonymous said...

@AntiCitizenOne said...

"On AV. Glad it lost."

Why would anyone not want a system which is fairer!

Anonymous said...

@Charlie B..

"70% of people support Labour or Conservatives"

It is more like just over 60% now. PR has to come in ASAP. A proper system not the minimally PR AV, although that is the first rung of the PR ladder.

If my memory is right, didn't Gordon Brown offer Clegg the STV without a referendum last May?

Germany has PR and it works very well indeed.

Paul said...

Anonymous @ 9 May 2011 / 17:19: Germany has PR and it works very well indeed.

I saw a question on a German political quiz with this very same statement. I found it really difficult to comprehend from a British context, so in a British context, I voted no.

Can any of our Germanophiles/German residents/German readers enlighten us?

For the record, I was placed in between the FDP and Die Republikaner.

wv: lyinge (I'm not!)

Mark Wadsworth said...

Paul, I lived there a while, o I'm doing this from memory: Germany has full party list PR for its Bundestag elections, with a separate list for each Bundesland.

Each voter gets one vote, and you can tick your chosen party list (in which case who gets a seat is decided by how high up you are - like the UK does at the EU Parliament election).

The wrinkle is that each party list shows every single candidate, so if there's one individual you really like, you can vote for him or her specifically. Quite how many do this and what effect it has I neither know nor care.

There is a 5% hurdle for each Bundesland, and it "works" in the sense that most people are happy that 'their' party got X% of the votes and the same % of the seats (or slightly more if other parties get < 5%. Nobody questions this - it's just a simple fact that seats are allocated on party vote share, end of. If your party gets < 5%, well tough, try again next time.

AntiCitizenOne said...

> Why would anyone not want a system which is fairer!

Cos I can read what Condorcet wrote and AV's not actually any fairer, just more complicated.