When I first turned up to the venue, I was treated to tables covered in Yes Campaign paraphernalia. I was kicking myself for not bringing any No2AV leaflets, but due to not living in Canterbury for four years I had stupidly forgotten the traffic situation and was therefore slightly out of breath, I probably wouldn't have had time to prepare anyway.
The debate kicked off with Daniel Hamilton for the 'No' side and John Ault for the 'Yes' side giving their opening bit.
The usual issues were called upon, for the Yes side John opened up by saying he wouldn't pick AV if he had a choice, but
*AV would make MPs work harder
*AV would prevent MPs from only targeting safe voters
*AV would end safe seat and jobs for life
*That the No campaign think you're stupid
He informed us that 64% of people that didn't vote in the GE10 would be voting for them and that AV would prevent MPs from only targeting marginal areas..........
At this point, I must say his buddying up to the audience was still making me smile, "Who here has a job for life?" ... but as the evening went on this general quiet amusement turned into a rather uncomfortable feeling..similar to how you feel when your parents tried to relate to you as a teenager.
It became very clear from the off that the Yes speakers argument was very much 'Aren't politicians bastards!'. He made several comments likening the 'Yes to Fairer votes' campaign to the suffragettes and the fight for universal emancipation and continued to tout the claim that AV gives power back to the people (Which the main funder for YTFV, The ERS, disagrees with).
Daniel Hamilton then stepped up to the plate. He spoke about
*FPTP producing stable government
*FPTP produced a more proportional result in 3/4 of the last elections than AV
*FPTP produces safe seats because the people vote for them
*That under AV 4/10 of all elected will get less than 50% of the total vote
*That while AV is easy to vote with ( Any one can rank 1-2-3-4 after all) that it produces some weird results, like when it can benefit your candidate more if you vote against them sometimes.
*Av would cost £250 million (I disagree on this>)
*That AV IS tactical voting in all but name built into a system
*Fringe votes would decide some of the seats
I know that looks like I have written more of the No points than I did the Yes. This is only because that is all that was said.. but in many different ways.
Then we came to the questions.
Q. Will the referendum be the only one seen in our life times if we vote no?
John - Yes
Daniel - Don't know
Well obviously 'Don't know' is the honest answer there. I wouldn't have guessed that I would have to defend FPTP against AV this year if asked a year ago. We cannot really know what will happen. The electoral system we use wasn't really spoken about until now so as long as the pressure is kept after the 'No' vote, I see no reason why we won't see STV or something similar on the manifesto of one of the main parties...though of course, I don't know.
Q. Would having Primaries be better than a change to AV?
John. Maybe, but that is up to the party to decide
Q. Will AV see the end to short term change in policy
This question seemed to be a bit of a strange one as it has nothing to do with AV or FPTP.... the only way to not have a change in policy is to not have a change in government.
At this point I must admit my note taking takes a turn for the worse so will go through the rest of the points I remember as I do.
The issue of cost came up and in a different question the 'right' cost.
Now as a No supporter I cringe when I hear the £250 million price tag..even if we use the counting machines, which I don't think we will especially not with the fuss that has been made, the largest part of the remaining money is on the referendum..with the remaining money being on education.
The cost argument only works if, like me, you would consider AV a waste even if it were free....
Both sides made the point that elections should be as cheap as they can be without limiting effectiveness.
Another question was about whether the debate had been made worse by it being made political...
The Yes campaign attacked the No campaign for using the imagine of Nick Clegg...then it was deathly silent as no-one mentioned the Dinosaur/Nick Griffin campaign from the Yes side.
The issue of Fringe groups was brought up and as a No supporter who doesn't go along with the 'AV will lead to BNP' nonsense, I was happy to find out that Daniel would match my view on this.
We then were treated to an over passionate promise from John that he "wouldn't let the BNP get a seat"...which I thought was nice of him...except of course that as he said he was an advocate of PR ...which would let the BNP get at least a few seats....
Another logical fallacy. Not due to AV but because of a rather over passionate speaker.
Then we got on to coalitions..
Coalitions are tricky. They can in some circumstances work..in others not, but my concern is that I believe coalitions will lead to unaccountability..
Example, in the last half of the 20th century in West Germany the Free Democrats had on average 9% of the vote.
However due to the wonders of coalitions they were in Government 86% of the time...with 19% of the cabinet posts....
No... coalitions aren't for me.
John claimed that coalitions aren't more likely under AV...even though I have never seen an independent analysis that agrees with him.
He goes on to point out that in Australia they have had less hung parliaments and less coalitions.
I mean HONESTLY WHAT??!!
Firstly, out of the 44 elections held since their introduction of AV, 22 of them were coalition governments! Secondly, because of the permanent coalition, Australia is effectively a two party state (which was also denied by the 'neutral' host..but not by any other commentator I have ever heard from) ...so in order to get a hung parliament, you have to, in effect, do the equivalent of flipping a coin and have it land on neither heads nor tails....which funnily enough, they did at the last election. (72/72).
The usual nonsense was rolled out
"All the parties use AV to select their leaders"
...the survey says...EH EERR!
Only Labour (that brought us Ed Miliband instead of David Miliband) and Lib Dems (Nick Clegg) were elected by AV. Cameron was elected by a hybrid Exhaustive run off MP nomination with a FPTP member vote..(for those that want to compare it to FPTP, Cameron won 65% of the total vote at first pref..meaning he would have won under FPTP and if it was under AV, it wouldn't have gone further than first round).
"No longer will we have an MP that most people are against"
Nope, in fact I have seen elections where the winner got 37% of the TOTAL vote under AV. (NSW NEWCASTLE 2007).. that means that 63% of people not only not wanting them as a first choice..they didn't want them as a 1st,2nd,3rd,4th,5th,6th,7th and 8th choice (it went to 8 rounds). In fact 40% of all elections, like we have said , are likely to have a MP with less than a majority...now yes 60% at the moment have less than a majority now..but that is just from the first preferences...to have everyone have to choose between you or nothing ..and a majority still don't pick you..well, that is bad.
To Sum Up...
Nothing new happened at this debate, the same arguments, the same nonsense and the same lies, mixed in with what , to me at least, a very non-independent independent host. This was reflected in the before and after poll hardly changing.
I know this will sound biased but Daniel, to me, was by far the better speaker and stuck to the issues instead of going off into utopian rants, unlike John, Daniel was respectful of his opponent and neither pulled silly faces at everything being said by the other speaker or started conversations with the host instead of listening to his opponent.
A rather disappointing night really, though it was nice that people were getting engaged with the issues.
For an alternative Yes To Fairer Votes Version of the same night, I would encourage you to read this blog