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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Alternative Vote conundrum

With a referendum due to be held on 5th May as well as Welsh Assembly elections the problem facing the UK Government is how to maintain cordial relations when passions run so high on both sides of the argument within that coalition.

This morning's Independent highlights the problem perfectly with reports of a spat between Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne and his government allies over the language and claims of the No to AV side.

Mr Huhne has challenged Baroness Warsi, as the Tory chairman and a patron of the "no" campaign, to pull the plug on its "scaremongering and misleading" publicity. He attacked the claim that AV would cost Britain £250m, which has been backed by the message that the money could be used to treat sick babies or buy body armour for soldiers, as the "politics of the gutter":

Mr Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, wrote: "When David Cameron launched his 'no' campaign, he said this should not be a source of tension between us or risk breaking the Coalition. It won't, if your 'no' camp now withdraws these disgraceful advertisements and campaigns on facts not fears, substance not smears."

Mr Huhne's letter reflects mounting anger among senior Liberal Democrats, including Nick Clegg, about the refusal to withdraw the £250m claim. The "no" campaign says the figure has been calculated from the £150m price of electronic machines to count votes cast under AV, the £82m cost of holding the referendum, and a further £20m-plus expense of publicity campaigns to explain the AV system. The "yes" campaign insists the figures are flawed but a "no" campaign spokesman said it stood by the figures and described Mr Huhne's attack as a "sign of desperation".

Like Vince Cable I am sure that the coalition will survive if Britain votes 'No', though I do not see how correcting misleading figures are a sign of desperation. If anything the fact that the No campaign has resorted to these smears is a sign of how desperate they are.
I wonder if the "no" side are aware that voters in New South Wales have just elected a new Legislative Assembly using exactly the same AV system we would have here, and it was ballot paper and pencil followed by a manual count without a voting machine in sight.

As the Australians manage to conduct all their AV counts manually, why should it be supposed that we would have to resort to machines? There would simply be no need for counting machines and so none would be purchased, deleting £120 million from the £250 million claim.

As for the rest - what sense does it make to include the cost of the referendum itself as part of the cost of changing to AV? And why whould it be necessary to spend an extra £20 million educating electors on how to cast their votes if the next general election is held under AV, when that is perfectly clearly explained in the booklets which the Electoral Commission is now sending out to every household?


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