United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum, 2011
The United Kingdom alternative vote referendum, as part of the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition Agreement drawn up after the 2010 general election, was a nationwide vote held on Thursday 5 May 2011 (the same date as local elections in many areas) to choose the method of electing MPs at subsequent general elections. The referendum concerned whether to replace the present "first-past-the-post" (majoritarian) system with the "alternative vote" (AV) method. The proposal to introduce AV was rejected by the electorate.
This was only the second nationwide referendum to be held (the first being the EEC referendum in 1975) and the first that was not merely consultative; being "post-legislative" and therefore committing the government to give effect to its decision. It was the first time ever that everyone within the United Kingdom had been asked to vote on a domestic legislative matter which did not involve the affairs of the EC/European Union.
All registered electors over 18 (British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens living in the UK and enrolled British citizens living outside) – including Members of the House of Lords (who cannot vote in UK general elections) – were entitled to take part.
On a turnout of 42.2 per cent, 68 per cent voted No and 32 per cent voted Yes. Ten of the 440 counting districts recorded 'Yes' votes above 50 per cent; six in London, and those in Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh Central and Glasgow Kelvin in Scotland.
The campaign was described in retrospect by political scientist, Professor Iain McLean, as a "bad-tempered and ill-informed public debate".
- 1 History
- 2 Referendum details
- 3 Campaign positions
- 3.1 Political parties
- 3.2 Other organisations
- 3.3 Media
- 3.4 Others
- 4 Campaign donors and spending
- 5 Campaign
- 5.1 Party politics
- 5.2 Row over possible costs
- 5.3 Coalition and minority governments
- 5.4 "One person, one vote"
- 5.5 Safe seats
- 5.6 Majority support for MPs
- 5.7 Existing use of voting systems in the UK and abroad
- 5.8 Proportional representation
- 5.9 Tactical voting
- 5.10 Final weeks
- 6 Polling
- 7 Proposed AV system
- 8 Results
- 9 Aftermath
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
AV and the single transferable vote (STV) for the House of Commons were debated in Parliament several times between 1917 and 1931 and came close to being adopted. Both the Liberals and Labour were in support at various times of a change from non-transferable voting in one-, two- and three-member constituencies. STV was adopted for the university seats (which were abolished in 1949). Both AV and STV involve voters rank ordering preferences. However, STV is considered to be a form of proportional representation, using multi-member constituencies, while AV, in single-member constituencies, is not.
In 1950 all constituencies became single-member and all votes non-transferable. From then until 2010, the Labour and Conservative parties, the two parties who formed each government of the United Kingdom normally by virtue of an overall majority in the Commons, always voted down proposals for moving away from this uniform system for the Commons, which came to be known as ‘First Past the Post’ (FPTP). Other voting systems were introduced for various other British elections. STV was re-introduced in Northern Ireland and list-PR introduced for European elections except in Northern Ireland.
While out of power, the Labour party set up a working group to examine electoral reform. The resulting Plant Commission reported in 1993 and recommended the adoption of the supplementary vote, the system used to elect the London Mayor, for the Commons. Labour's 1997 manifesto committed the party to a referendum on the voting system for the Commons and to setting up an independent commission to recommend a proportional alternative to FPTP to be put in that referendum.
After winning the 1997 General Election, the new Labour government consequently set up the Jenkins Commission into electoral reform, supported by the Liberal Democrats, the third party in British politics of recent years and long supporters of proportional representation. (The Commission chair, Roy Jenkins, was a Liberal Democrat peer and former Labour minister.) The commission reported in September 1998 and proposed the novel alternative vote top-up or AV+ system. Having been tasked to meet a "requirement for broad proportionality", the Commission rejected both FPTP, as the status quo, and AV as options. It pointed out (chapter 3, para 21) that "the single-member constituency is not an inherent part of the British parliamentary tradition. It was unusual until 1885...Until [then] most seats were two-member..." (the English system established in 1276). Jenkins rejected AV because "so far from doing much to relieve disproportionality, it is capable of substantially adding to it". AV was also described as "disturbingly unpredictable" and "unacceptably unfair", although this must be placed in the context of the recent 1997 general election, which had just delivered the Conservatives' worst defeat since 1832, and which several simulations suggested AV would have made even worse for the Conservatives while increasing the majority for Labour.
However, legislation for a referendum was not put forward. Proportional systems were introduced for the new Scottish Parliament and Welsh and London Assemblies, and supplementary vote was introduced for mayoral elections. With House of Lords reform in 1999, AV was introduced to elect replacements for the remaining 92 hereditary peers who sit in the Lords.
At the next General Election in 2001, the Labour manifesto now stated they would review the experience of the new systems (in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the Jenkins report, to assess the possibility of changes to the Commons, which would still be subjected to a referendum. Electoral reform in the Commons remained at a standstill, although in the Scottish Parliament, a coalition of Labour and the Liberal Democrats introduced STV for local elections in Scotland.
In February 2010, the Labour Government, who had been in power since 1997, used their majority to pass an amendment to their Constitutional Reform Bill to include a referendum on the introduction of AV to be held in the next Parliament, citing a desire to restore trust in Parliament in the wake of the 2009 expenses scandal. A Liberal Democrat amendment to hold the referendum earlier, and on STV, was defeated by 476 votes to 69. There was insufficient time in the 2005–2010 Parliament for the Bill to be able to become law before Parliament was dissolved and, as such, the move was dismissed by several Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs as a political manoeuvre.
At the ensuing 2010 general election campaign, the Labour manifesto supported the introduction of AV via a referendum, to "ensure that every MP is supported by the majority of their constituents voting at each election". The Liberal Democrats argued for proportional representation, preferably single transferable vote, and the Conservatives argued for the retention of FPTP. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats proposed reducing the number of MPs, while the Conservative Party argued for more equal sized constituencies.
Election outcome to Queen's Speech
The 2010 General Election held on 6 May resulted in a hung parliament, the first since 1974, leading to a period of negotiations. Honouring a pre-election pledge, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg entered into negotiations with the Conservatives as the party who had registered most votes and seats. William Hague offered the Liberal Democrats a referendum on the Alternative Vote as part of a "final offer" in the Conservatives' negotiations for a proposed "full and proper" coalition between the two parties. Hague and Conservative leader David Cameron said that this was in response to Labour offering the Liberal Democrats the Alternative Vote without a referendum, although it later emerged that Labour had not made such an offer. Negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and Labour quickly ended. On 11 May 2010, Prime Minister Gordon Brown stepped down, followed by the establishment of a full coalition government between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, with Conservative leader David Cameron becoming Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg becoming Deputy Prime Minister.
The initial Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition Agreement, dated 11 May 2010, detailed the issues which had been agreed between the two parties before they committed to entering into coalition. On the issue of an electoral reform referendum, it stated:
|“||The parties will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. Both parties will whip their Parliamentary Parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.||”|
Following the agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, with the new coalition government now formed, a commitment to the referendum was included in the coalition government's Queen's Speech on 25 May 2010 as the Parliamentary Reform Bill, although with no date set for the referendum.
The coalition agreement committed both parties in the government to "whip" their Parliamentary parties in both the House of Commons and House of Lords to support the bill, thereby ensuring that it could reasonably be expected to be passed into law due to the simple majority in the Commons of the combined Conservative – Liberal Democrat voting bloc, due to the fact that the Lords can only delay, rather than block, a Bill passed by the Commons.
Passage through Parliament
According to The Guardian reporting after the Queen's Speech, unnamed pro-referendum Cabinet members were believed to want the referendum to be held on 5 May 2011, to coincide with Scottish parliament, Welsh assembly and many English local council elections, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's prior hope of a referendum as early as October 2010 being unrealistic due to the parliamentary programme announced in the speech.
On 5 July 2010, Clegg announced the detailed plans for the Parliamentary Reform Bill in a statement to the House of Commons, as part of the wider package of voting and election reforms set out in the coalition agreement, including setting the referendum date as 5 May 2011. In addition to a referendum on AV, the reform bill also included the other coalition measures of reducing and resizing the Westminster parliamentary constituencies, introducing fixed term parliaments and setting the date of the next general election as 7 May 2015, changing the voting threshold for early dissolution of parliament to 55%, and providing for the recall of MPs by their constituents.
The plans to hold the vote on 5 May faced criticism from some Conservative MPs for potentially causing a 'differential result' where turnout was predicted to be higher in those places where local elections are occurring, which would 'artificially inflate' turnout on an issue believed to be unimportant to the electorate. It also faced criticism from Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs for the effects it would have on their devolved elections on the same day, while Clegg himself faced further criticism from Labour, and implied lessening support from Liberal Democrat MPs, for backing down on earlier Liberal Democrat positions on proportional representation. Clegg defended the date, stating the referendum question was simple and that it would save £17m in costs. Over 45 MPs, mostly Conservatives, signed a motion calling for the date to be moved. In September 2010, Ian Davidson MP, chairman of the Commons Scottish affairs select committee, stated after consultation with the Scottish Parliament that there was "unanimous" opposition among Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to the referendum date, following the "chaos" of the combined 2007 Scottish parliament and council elections.
On 22 July 2010, the proposal for fixed term parliaments was put before parliament as the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, while the proposals for the AV referendum, change in dissolution arrangements and equalising constituencies were put forward in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which accordingly has three parts – Part 1 – Voting system for parliamentary elections, Part 2 – Parliamentary constituencies and Part 3 – Miscellaneous and general. The Bill contained the text of a proposed referendum question.
The question proposed was:
|“||Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the "alternative vote" system instead of the current "first past the post" system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?||”|
This wording was criticised by the Electoral Commission, saying that "particularly those with lower levels of education or literacy, found the question hard work and did not understand it". The Electoral Commission recommended a changed wording to make the issue easier to understand, and the government subsequently amended the Bill to bring it into line with the Electoral Commission's recommendations.
The Bill passed an interim vote in the Commons on 7 September 2010 by 328 votes to 269
An amendment proposed by Lord Rooker (Independent) to require a minimum turn-out of 40% for the referendum to be valid was supported by Labour, a majority of cross-benchers and ten rebel Conservatives and passed in the House of Lords by one vote. Labour's 2010 AV referendum proposal had not included such a threshold and they were criticised for seeking to impose one for this referendum, while the 2011 Welsh referendum, held under a Bill passed by Labour, also had no threshold, (and would have failed if it had had one, as turnout in that referendum was only 35%). In the latter hours of debate, a "game" of parliamentary ping-pong saw the Commons overturning the threshold amendment before being reimposed by the Lords, and being removed again.
After some compromises between the two Houses on amendments, the Bill was passed into law by 16 February 2011.
The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 provides for the holding of the referendum, and the related changes had it led to the adoption of AV. Passing the bill into law was a necessary measure before the referendum could actually take place. It received Royal Assent from Elizabeth II on 16 February 2011.
The Act has the following long title:
|“||An Act to make provision for a referendum on the voting system for parliamentary elections and to provide for parliamentary elections to be held under the alternative vote system if a majority of those voting in the referendum are in favour of that; to make provision about the number and size of parliamentary constituencies; and for connected purposes||”|
Based on the coalition agreement, the referendum was a simple majority yes/no question as to whether to replace the current First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system used in general elections with the Alternative Vote (AV) system.
The question posed by the referendum was:
|“||At present, the UK uses the "first past the post" system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the "alternative vote" system be used instead?||”|
|“||Ar hyn o bryd, mae’r DU yn defnyddio’r system "y cyntaf i’r felin" i ethol ASau i Dŷ’r Cyffredin. A ddylid defnyddio’r system "pleidlais amgen" yn lle hynny?||”|
Date and voting
The referendum took place on 5 May 2011, coinciding with various United Kingdom local elections, the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, the 2011 Welsh Assembly election and the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly election. The deadline for voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to register to vote in the referendum was midnight on Thursday 14 April 2011, whilst voters in Scotland had until midnight on Friday 15 April 2011 to register. Anyone in the United Kingdom who qualified as an anonymous elector had until midnight on Tuesday 26 April 2011 to register. In the vote count, the referendum ballots in England, Scotland and Wales were counted after the various election ballots, from 4 pm on 6 May 2011. The referendum had no minimum threshold on the required turnout needed for the result to be valid.
Anyone on the Electoral Register and eligible to vote in a general election was entitled to vote in the referendum. This includes British citizens living outside the UK who were registered as overseas electors. In addition, Members of the House of Lords, who are not eligible to vote in a general election, were entitled to vote in the referendum, provided they were entitled to vote in local elections.
|Political parties' position on the referendum||For a Yes vote (introduce AV)||No official party position||For a No vote (retain FPTP)|
|Parties elected to the House of Commons||Liberal Democrats
Scottish National Party
Social Democratic and Labour Party
Green Party of England and Wales
Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
|Labour Party||Conservative Party
Democratic Unionist Party
|Parties elected to the European Parliament or regional assemblies / parliaments||UKIP
|British National Party
Ulster Unionist Party
Irish Green Party (Northern Ireland region)
|Minor parties||Liberal Party
Christian Peoples Alliance
Pirate Party UK
United Kingdom Libertarian Party
|Socialist Party of Great Britain
Monster Raving Loony Party
|Traditional Unionist Voice
Communist Party of Britain
Alliance for Workers' Liberty
The coalition partners campaigned on opposite sides, with the Liberal Democrats supporting AV and the Conservatives opposing it.
Despite the Conservative Party's formal position, party members aligned to the Conservative Action for Electoral Reform, an internal party group in favour of electoral reform, campaigned in favour, while a BBC News report described "some Tory MPs" as being "relaxed" about a yes result. Some Conservatives campaigned in favour of AV, e.g. Andrew Boff AM; and Andrew Marshall, former head of the Conservative Group on Camden Council. The Conservative party uses a system of successive ballots to elect its leader, which has been described as a "form of AV" (since the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated in each round), but unlike AV, the candidates are not ranked in order of preference during each ballot.
Other parties represented in the House of Commons
The previous Labour government sought to introduce AV before the 2010 general election. Labour elected a new leader after the general election and almost all of the leadership candidates supported AV, including winner Ed Miliband; Andy Burnham was the sole leadership contender who was more critical of the referendum. The party has, however, voiced opposition to the bill currently providing for the referendum, on the grounds of the inclusion of boundary changes that are viewed as beneficial to the Conservative party.
Plaid Cymru supported AV, but did not take an active role in the campaign, as it focused on separate Welsh votes on the same day. The Scottish National Party, while maintaining its long standing support for PR-STV, also supported a Yes vote in the referendum. Both of these parties opposed the planned referendum date, as they did not want it held at the same time as the 2011 Welsh Assembly elections and the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections respectively.
Among the Northern Irish parties, the Alliance Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) supported AV. The SDLP leader, Margaret Ritchie, announced that her party would actively campaign in favour. Sinn Féin also supported a Yes vote, but the Democratic Unionist Party supported a No vote.
The Green Party of England and Wales voted in favour of joining the campaign for AV in the referendum at its September 2010 party conference. Many leading figures in the party supported the change as a step towards their preferred system, proportional representation. Previously, the party's leader and only MP, Caroline Lucas, had called for a referendum that included a choice of proportional representation. But at their Conference, Deputy Leader Adrian Ramsay argued that "If you vote No in this referendum, nobody would know whether you were rejecting AV because you wanted genuine reform, or were simply opposing any reform."
The United Kingdom Independence Party's National Executive Committee formally announced that it would be supporting Alternative Vote, although they would prefer a proportional system. An e-mail was sent to members informing them that they may vote against AV, but are not allowed to campaign.
The Respect Party also supported proportional representation and campaigned against AV. Rob Hoveman, on behalf of Tower Hamlets Respect, wrote to the East London Advertiser on 24 February 2011 urging a 'No' vote on the grounds that the AV system created an even greater imbalance between votes and seats, and urging a proportional system instead.
The Ulster Unionist Party and Traditional Unionist Voice supported a No vote. The Green Party in Northern Ireland also opposed the change to AV, as they viewed it as a betrayal of proportional representation.
Mebyon Kernow, the Cornish nationalist party, favoured proportional representation and was disappointed that the referendum did not give voters that option. However, leader Dick Cole announced on 1 April 2011 that Mebyon Kernow would be supporting the Yes campaign.
Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservative Party and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats made speeches backing the 'No' and 'Yes' campaigns respectively on the same day, but were thereafter not expected to take much part in the campaigns, although both have been active since.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said he would take an active part in the 'Yes' campaign, while Wales's First Minister and Welsh Labour Leader Carwyn Jones and Scottish Labour Leader Iain Gray both also supported AV. Also supporting the Yes campaign were over 50 Labour MPs including Alan Johnson, Peter Hain, Hilary Benn, John Denham, Liam Byrne, Sadiq Khan, Tessa Jowell, Ben Bradshaw, Douglas Alexander, Alistair Darling, Diane Abbott and Debbie Abrahams. Labour peers supporting the 'Yes' campaign include Lord Mandelson, Oona King, Raymond Plant (chair of Labour's 1993 working group on electoral reform), Andrew Adonis, Prof. Anthony Giddens, former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, former deputy leader Roy Hattersley and Glenys Kinnock, while further Labour figures supporting AV include London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone, Michael Cashman MEP, Tony Benn, and former Labour council candidate and wife of the Speaker, Sally Bercow.
The Liberal Democrats supported a Yes vote and many individual Liberal Democrat politicians were active in the Yes campaign. The SNP leader, Alex Salmond, supported a Yes vote. UKIP are supporting a Yes vote and their principal spokesmen on the campaign will be William Dartmouth MEP and party leader, Nigel Farage MEP.
Supporting the no campaign were both senior Conservative (William Hague, Ken Clarke, George Osborne, Theresa May, Philip Hammond, Steve Norris and Baroness Warsi) and Labour politicians (including John Prescott, David Blunkett, John Reid, Tony Lloyd, John Healey, Caroline Flint, Hazel Blears, Beverley Hughes, Paul Boateng, John Hutton and Lord Falconer). The Conservative Party announced that seven MPs (Conor Burns, George Eustice, Sam Gyimah, Kwasi Kwarteng, Charlotte Leslie, Priti Patel, Chris Skidmore) and two former candidates (Chris Philp, Maggie Throup) would act as party spokesmen in the No campaign. Overall, most Labour MPs supported the No campaign rather than the Yes campaign, with other notable opponents of AV including Paul Goggins, Ann Clwyd, Sir Gerald Kaufman, Austin Mitchell, Margaret Hodge, Lindsay Hoyle, Jim Fitzpatrick, Dennis Skinner and Keith Vaz. Also supporting a No vote were crossbencher and former SDP leader Lord Owen, who supported the No to AV But Yes to PR campaign.
Conservative politician Michael Gove was initially mistakenly announced by the No to AV campaign as opposing AV, but his advisers stated that he had never been involved in the campaign and had not yet made up his mind. Over five Labour MPs announced as opposing AV were also found to have been wrongly included: for example, Alun Michael is supporting a 'Yes' vote, while Meg Hillier did not lend her name to either campaign.
Some Conservative politicians did support AV, including John Strafford, a former member of the Conservative party's national executive, who chaired the Conservative campaign in favour of a Yes vote.
AV campaigning organisations
Two campaign groups were established in response to the proposed referendum, one on each side of the debate. NOtoAV was established to campaign against the change to the Alternative Vote and YES! To Fairer Votes was established to campaign in favour.
Political reform groups
Compass supported the change to the AV and urged the Labour Party to do so too. It prefers a switch to a more proportional system, but viewed AV as superior to FPTP. ResPublica supported the change to AV and urged the Conservative Party to do so too. Policy Exchange opposed the change to AV. Ekklesia supported the change to AV.
A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research in January 2011 was very critical of FPTP's flaws, while a report in April 2011 came down in support of AV over FPTP. However, the IPPR also previously called for a wider choice in the referendum and favours Alternative Vote Plus over FPTP or AV.
A number of academics entered the debate, either in mainstream media or through blogs and social networking.
Those in favour of AV included Timothy Gowers (Cambridge), David Held (LSE), Patrick Dunleavy (LSE), and Helen Margetts (Oxford), Thom Brooks (Newcastle University), Alastair McMillan (Sheffield), and Ben Saunders (Stirling).
Dan Felsenthal (LSE) criticised AV as "deeply flawed", though he also described it as "a minor improvement on the current first-past-the-post system".
At a March 2011 Voting Power in Practice annual workshop, held at the London School of Economics (LSE), 22 voting theory specialists voted to select the "best voting procedure" to elect a candidate from a selection of three or more. First past the post received no votes, compared to 10 for AV, although another system, Approval Voting (not on offer in the referendum), received 15 votes.
On 11, 29 March historians, including Niall Ferguson, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Andrew Roberts and David Starkey, wrote to the Times expressing opposition to the adoption of the Alternative Vote.
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth support the Yes! To Fairer Votes campaign, as do the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, Operation Black Vote, the New Economics Foundation, 38 Degrees and bassac. Educational trust The Constitution Society has also worked to increase public awareness of the issues involved in the debate.
The Guardian, The Independent, the Daily Mirror, and the Financial Times supported the change to AV. The Sun, the Daily Mail, The Times, the Daily Express and The Daily Telegraph opposed AV. The Economist supported a No vote, but does want to see reform of the current electoral system. The socialist daily the Morning Star urged a No vote on the basis that AV would be no more fair than FPTP; the paper argued for the Single Transferable Vote instead.
Campaigners and celebrities
Supporting the 'Yes' campaign were campaigner and musician Billy Bragg; broadcaster and Labour peer Melvyn Bragg; campaigner and actress Joanna Lumley; Labour supporter and broadcaster Tony Robinson; designer and ethical fashion campaigner Amisha Ghadiali; Annette Lawson, chairwoman of the national alliance of women's organisations; and Simon Woolley, director and co-founder of Operation Black Vote. AV is also supported by Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper, and journalist Polly Toynbee. Billy Hayes, of the Communication Workers' Union, also campaigned for a Yes vote.
Celebrities supporting a 'Yes' vote included comedian David Mitchell, comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, author Naomi Alderman, playwright Bonnie Greer, comedian Francesca Martinez, actress Helena Bonham Carter, Oscar award winning actor Colin Firth, actor and Liberal Democrat supporter John Cleese, comedian Stephen Fry, actor Art Malik, John O'Farrell, actor Richard Wilson, editor and writer Rowan Davies, broadcaster Greg Dyke, co-founder of the Ministry of Sound James Palumbo, actor and comedian David Schneider, Kriss Akabusi, Chris Addison, Josie Long, Benjamin Zephaniah and Honor Blackman. Comedian and actor Steve Coogan also supported a Yes vote.
Supporting a 'No' vote were television presenter Esther Rantzen, scientist and Labour peer Lord Winston; nightclub impresario Peter Stringfellow, cricketers David Gower and Darren Gough, Olympic rower James Cracknell and F1 boss Sir Frank Williams. Actor and television presenter Ross Kemp also backed the No vote.
Also supporting the 'Yes' campaign were several Church of England bishops: Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Rev Michael Langrish; former Bishop of Woolwich, the Rt Rev Colin Buchanan; Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith; Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer; Bishop of Beverley, the Rt Rev Martyn Jarrett; Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the Rt Rev Nigel Stock; Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Rev Alan Wilson; Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Michael Perham; former Bishop of Derby, the Rt Rev Peter Dawes; and former Bishop of Thetford, the Rt Rev David Atkinson.
Anti-corruption campaigner, former broadcaster and independent MP, Martin Bell supported AV. A group of leading businesswomen and campaigners published a letter in The Guardian backing a Yes vote on 28 April 2011, with signatories including Alexandra Shulman (editor of Vogue), illustrator Daisy de Villenueve, writer Gillian Slovo, human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy, Hilary Wainwright (editor of Red Pepper), journalist Isabel Hilton OBE, Professor Jacqueline Rose, writer Jay Griffiths, broadcaster Joan Bakewell, Rabbi Julia Neuberger, fashion designer Patsy Puttnam, journalist Polly Toynbee, Professor Janet Todd (President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge), Chair of Young Labour Susan Nash, activist Tamsin Omond, financial consultant Tessa Tennant, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, gynaecologist/campaigner Dr Wendy Savage and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
Campaign donors and spending
By around the beginning of May, the Yes campaign had spent £3.4 million compared to £2.6 million by the No campaign.
The Yes campaign revealed that they had raised £2 million (as of 15 February 2011), with 95% coming from two donors, the Electoral Reform Society and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. The Yes campaign also received five-figures sums from Alan Parker, who is close to both Gordon Brown and David Cameron, and Paul Marhsall, a donor to the Liberal Democrats.
There were initially accusations in the press that the No campaign was refusing to publish details of their donors and the yes campaign was quicker than the no campaign in doing this, but subsequently said on 18 February 2011 they would do so before the referendum date. However, they had not done so by 28 March 2011 when the Yes campaign published an updated list of all donors of over £7,500 and launched a petition calling on the No campaign to do the same.
The No campaign released a list of donors on 9 April 2011, which included several major donors to the Conservative Party, including Lord (John) Sainsbury, Michael Farmer, Lord Harris, Lord Fink and Lord Edmiston. In total, the No campaign had raised by that date £1.8m in donations of over the declarable limit of £7,500 from 41 donors, with the largest being from philanthropist Peter Cruddas, founder of the CMC spread betting firm, who gave £400,000.
The Guardian newspaper identified 42 of the 53 named donors to the No campaign as donors to the Conservative party, while one, the GMB union, is a donor to the Labour party, and nine were not identified in official donor records. The remaining donor is official funding from the electoral commission. The donors include seven Conservative peers. They quote Margaret Beckett, a leading Labour No campaigner, as saying this situation is a "necessary evil".
While the Yes campaign has released figures of all donations over the declarable limit since it was set up, the No campaign has not declared any donations prior to the referendum bill receiving Royal Assent, as they are not required to do under the relevant regulations. David Blunkett, a No campaigner, has called on the No campaign to do so.
The initial part of the campaign was overshadowed by continuing Parliamentary battles over the introducing Bill, which had threatened to delay the referendum date. Launching their campaign supporters of AV argued that the need for candidates to campaign for later preferences will encourage candidates to appeal to a broader cross-section of the electorate. They have also pointed out the declining number of people voting for the main two parties in the UK over recent decades.
The Yes campaign sought to present their campaign as being on behalf of members of the public. The No campaign sought to play on the unpopularity of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, and to present the referendum as an opportunity to punish Clegg at the polls. They also claimed that Clegg described AV as "a miserable little compromise" before the 2010 general election. The fuller quote says "I am not going to settle for a miserable little compromise thrashed out by the Labour party" and Clegg later explained he was talking about negotiations between the two parties. However, the Conservatives rejected the possibility of introducing PR in coalition negotiations, leading to a referendum in which the choice was between FPTP and AV.
While officially supporting a No vote, the Conservative Party leadership reportedly initially held back on campaigning and advised major Conservative Party donors not to donate to the No campaign. However, this position changed in January 2011 and the leadership became more involved, with requests to donors to fund the No campaign and staff and party headquarters becoming directly involved in campaigning.
In mid-February, the prime minister, David Cameron, and the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, made opposing speeches advocating a 'No' and 'Yes' result respectively. Clegg argued that AV would mean "fairer votes" and that FPTP produced more safe seats, and linked these to the MPs' expenses scandal. He said that AV would encourage politicians to work to appeal to more of the electorate rather than just their core supporters. He stated that "I think this [AV] is a natural evolution which reflects the fact that politics is no longer now, as it was 50 years ago when everybody was very happy to plump for the blue corner or the red corner, people want more choice now."
Cameron, in contrast, argued that FPTP delivers more accountability and claimed it reduces the number of "hung" parliaments. He insisted that "when it comes to our democracy, Britain shouldn't have to settle for anyone's second choice." He also made the  claim, on the 3 May 2011 BBC Radio4 Today Programme, that AV would undermine the fundamental principle of "one person, one vote". Despite the coalition parties being on different sides in the campaign, Cameron insisted that "whatever the result", the coalition would continue.
Row over possible costs
The No campaign launched with a claim that choosing AV would cost £250 million. However, this figure was criticised on several grounds. For example, it included an estimated £82 million for holding the referendum, that would have applied whatever the referendum outcome, and failed to take into account costs saved from holding the referendum at the same time as other elections. The £250 million figure also included £130 million for the cost of electronic voting systems, although these were not used by the largest country then using AV, Australia, and there were no plans to use such machines if AV were introduced in the UK. (The referendum actually cost about £75 million, below estimates made at the time, according to the Electoral Commission.)
Labour MP Douglas Alexander described the figure claimed as a "lie". A Channel 4 News Fact Check concluded that the specific claim that AV would require electronic counting machines, the main component of the £250 million figure, was "fiction". Dr Alan Renwick likewise dismissed the suggestion that voting machines would be required, saying "The No camp [...] say that AV would require expensive voting machines. [...] that is just plain false."
The Treasury stated that the adoption of AV would not lead to any spending cuts. Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury and a supporter of AV himself, stated in a leaked letter that, "The Government has no plans to reopen departmental spending review settlements as a consequence of a Yes vote in the referendum on AV." He also told the Independent on Sunday newspaper that, "I don't expect to see any increase in the cost of holding a general election if the British people vote yes. There's no good reason to believe that even under a new voting system an election would need to be more expensive."
The No campaign launched a series of advertisements in regional newspapers based on the £250 million figure. The Yes campaign described these as "shameful", a "smear" and "lies", and complained to the Electoral Commission and Advertising Standards Authority, both of whom stated that they did not have powers to regulate individual adverts in the campaign.
On 5 May, David Blunkett, one of the Labour Party former-government ministers who had supported the No Campaign, admitted that the £250 million figure used by the No Campaign had been fabricated, and that the No campaign had knowingly lied about the figure and other claims during the campaign.
Coalition and minority governments
Supporters of a No vote claimed that AV would lead to more coalition governments, but models of recent UK elections suggest that this may not be the case, The BBC had modelled the possible effect of AV on every general election since 1983 and concluded that the overall result would not have changed in any of them. Paddy Ashdown pointed out that in the twentieth century Australia had fewer hung Parliaments under AV than the UK had under FPTP. The report of the Independent Commission on the Voting System, issued in 1998, stated that "There is not the slightest reason to think that AV would reduce the stability of government; it might indeed lead to larger parliamentary majorities."
During the referendum campaign a BBC Newsnight special on the referendum suggested that AV would lead to a small increase in the number of hung results and Dr Alan Renwick, author of A Citizen's Guide To Electoral Reform, wrote in Total Politics magazine that "AV makes election results more volatile, exaggerating landslides on the one hand and making coalitions more common on the other." However, Professor Dennis Leech of Warwick University has argued that coalitions will not be any more likely under AV. Professor Vernon Bogdanor stated that:
|“||AV would probably make little difference in most general elections. ...By helping the Lib Dems – the second choice of many voters – AV makes hung parliaments more likely. But the effect would probably not be very great. AV would not have transformed the result in any of the twelve postwar elections that yielded large working majorities. But the parliaments of 1951 and 1992 might have been hung, and AV might have given Labour a working majority in the indecisive elections of 1950, 1964, and February and October 1974.||”|
Channel 4 News FactCheck summarised the position as follows:
|“||AV would not lead to permanent hung parliaments and coalition governments. The best academic research we have suggests that AV wouldn’t make big landslides a thing of the past, and nor would it make hung Parliaments more likely ..hung parliaments are indeed more likely in the future. But that will be the case under both AV and FPTP.||”|
"One person, one vote"
The No campaign argued that some people would get multiple votes under AV, and that the system was therefore contrary to the principle of "one person, one vote" (which they adopted as a slogan of their campaign). This was rejected by Ipsos MORI, Channel Four News and academics attached to the Yes campaign.
The Yes campaign argued that AV would be fairer, and that it would reduce or even eliminate 'safe seats', making MPs work harder. This was contested by the No campaign, again with reference to Australia. This view was supported by Dr Alan Renwick, who stated that "AV wouldn't significantly change the number of safe seats. Even the claim that AV would make a big dent in the number of safe seats goes further than the facts support." However, the New Economics Foundation think-tank, which supported a Yes vote, published modelling showing that with the introduction of AV the number of very marginal seats would have increased from 81 to 125, and the number of very safe seats would decrease from 331 to 271, although there would also have been an increase in the number of quite safe seats. The Foundation found that, with FPTP, the average number of seats changing hands per election was 13% and this could rise to 16% under AV, modestly increasing voter power overall, but concluded "that neither system is very good at translating votes into electoral power."
Majority support for MPs
The Yes campaign argue that AV ensures that every MP is supported by an overall majority (more than 50% of the voters). In its Guide to AV, Mori-Ipsos states "this is not really true, but maybe it’s a defensible simplification". AV ensures that a candidate is elected with the support of 50% of voters who have expressed a preference between the final two candidates in the contest. If some voters have indicated that they are indifferent between the final two, by not ranking either of them on the ballot paper, then the winner may be elected with the support of less than 50% of all votes cast.
Professors Rawlings and Thrasher state that "the claims that AV will guarantee local majority support can only be validated if every voter is compelled or chooses to cast a full range of preferences. There seems little prospect of that happening in a general election conducted under AV in the UK." Channel Four FactCheck states that it "is right that candidates will have to aim for 50% of votes, though it is true that some candidates will end up being elected on fewer than 50% of all the votes cast."
In the most recent general election roughly two-thirds of MPs were elected with less than an overall majority. Rawlings and Thrasher predict that 'more than four out of ten' MPs will still not have majority support under AV. Ipsos Mori state "It is certainly true that in many constituencies ..MPs elected under AV will have the support of a higher proportion of voters than they did under FPTP".
Existing use of voting systems in the UK and abroad
The No campaign argued that only three countries use AV. They also stated that the Australian public wish to do away with AV, a claim that is contested. Three nations use AV for parliamentary elections: Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. However, AV is also used internationally for many other forms of election.
AV is used for Irish presidential elections and for by-elections in the Republic of Ireland, and in some local elections in New Zealand. In the United Kingdom, AV is used by MPs to elect the chairs of select committees, the Speaker of the House of Lords and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. AV is also used in by-elections to select hereditary peers for the House of Lords. A variant of AV called the supplementary vote is used to elect the Mayor of London and of other UK cities. A related system called the exhaustive ballot is used to elect the Speaker of the House of Commons. AV is used for various elections in the United States (see AV in the United States).
AV is used by many private organisations in the UK, for example in the leadership elections of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, while the leadership elections for the Conservative party use the related exhaustive ballot. AV is also used by the Royal British Legion, and in certain trade unions and student unions. In the US, AV is now used to decide the winner of the Oscar for Best Picture.
A method similar to AV, called the two round system, is widely used internationally. For example it is used to elect the National Assembly of France and the Presidents of eighty nations. It is also used to elect governors and mayors in many US states. The United States also uses primaries, followed by a second round, for the President, House of Representatives and the Senate.
PR-STV is another related system. It uses a preferential ballot like AV but is used for elections in multi-seat constituencies. It is used for national elections in the Republic of Ireland, Australia and Malta, and for other purposes in many other nations.
The No campaign stressed that FPTP is used in over fifty countries, with a combined population of approximately 2.4 billion people. FPTP is used for legislature elections in the United States, India and Canada, as well as other non-G20 nations. It is used for presidential elections in twenty countries, and for various forms of election in 45 others (35 of these are Member states of the Commonwealth of Nations or British Overseas Territories).
Some opponents of AV saw it as a stepping stone towards, for them unwanted, proportional representation, while some supporters of proportional representation saw the referendum as a lost opportunity that will delay a move to proportional representation. Both positions have been described as "entirely speculative". An Evening Standard editorial described the result of a 'No' win: "the issue of electoral reform will be shelved for a generation." Whereas Dr Thomas Lundberg, an electoral systems specialist at Glasgow University, wrote in a Political Studies Association paper: "Anything that reduces the ability of small parties to win seats – a process that has been going on since the 1970s at British general elections – could be detrimental to the prospect of a PR transition. Because AV raises the threshold to victory to 50 per cent plus one vote, small parties, which often win seats on low vote shares, might be threatened unless they can win significant numbers of transfers from voters who prefer other parties."
Tactical voting means that a voter supports a candidate other than his or her sincere preference, in order to get a relatively desirable outcome. No meaningful voting systems can eliminate tactical voting (under the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem) and situations in which AV is susceptible to tactical voting can be demonstrated. The Yes to AV campaign argued that, under AV, such scenarios were rare or theoretical. The independent market research group Ipsos MORI has published a guide to AV. This states that the scenario in which tactical voting might influence the outcome of an AV election "is very easy to demonstrate in the case of AV and is unlikely to be especially rare". It is however true that, under AV, it is harder for the tactical voter to know what effect he is going to have so the prevalence of what is strictly defined as "tactical voting" may be reduced under AV.
First-past-the-post is a monotonic voting system, while AV meets independence of clones and mutual majority criteria. A major criticism levelled against AV was that a voter voting for a candidate could cause that candidate to lose the election when otherwise he or she might have won it.
AV and the BNP
The British National Party (BNP) supported a No vote in the referendum. In response, Conservative chairman and No supporter Baroness Warsi described AV as "a system which rewards extremism and gives oxygen to extremist groups". In response, the Yes campaign launched advertising with the slogan, "Say No to the BNP, Say Yes on 5th May" pointing out the BNP's opposition to AV. The Channel 4 News FactCheck concluded the Yes campaign were correct, saying:
|“||AV is highly unlikely to help the BNP win any seats, and the secondary votes of BNP supporters alone wouldn’t swing a seat for any other party – going on last year’s results.
In fact, in a very divided constituency, the BNP arguably has a better chance of winning a seat under First Past the Post than under AV.
They go on to quote the BNP deputy chairman Simon Darby, who said: "AV is a retrograde step – it's worse than what we've got now[.] We are never going to get our feet under the table under the AV system." The No2AV-Yes2PR campaign website countered that "AV does confer a subtle benefit on extremists like the BNP: increased legitimacy. AV enables people to cast ‘free’ protest vote safe in the knowledge that they can they cast a second preference for the party they actually want."
Professor Dennis Leech of Warwick University has argued that extremists like the BNP are more likely to win under FPTP, but he has also argued against the notion that AV automatically favours centrists:
|“||while AV prevents the kind of undemocratic result that often occurs under FPTP, and always ensures that the winning candidate has at least some kind of majority support, it has nothing to do with proportional representation. It does not follow that centrist or compromise candidates such as the LibDems will be more likely to win – only that the least popular cannot win. A centrist candidate such as a LibDem will still need enough first preference votes to stand a chance.||”|
The final weeks of the campaign were marked by an increased rancour, with a battle of words between members of the Coalition Government. For example, Liberal Democrat energy secretary Chris Huhne threatened legal action over "untruths" that he claimed were told by Conservative Chancellor George Osborne that new voting machines would be required by AV, despite these not being used in Australian elections under AV and no plans to introduce them. The No campaign countered, quoting a senior returning officer (Anthony Mayer), that voting machines would be essential with AV if results are desired as quickly as today, rather than counting over the weekend after a general election. See the Row over possible costs section for a fuller discussion.
Huhne was reported to have strongly criticised Conservative colleagues at a Cabinet meeting in early May 2011 for the No campaign's material. However, one of the key No campaign leaflets he targeted, showing a newborn baby with the slogan "She needs a maternity unit, not an alternative voting system", was developed by Dan Hodges, a Labour Party campaigner working for NO2AV.
Leading members of the Labour Party on different sides of the campaign also stepped up to campaign for the votes of Labour supporters, including a major newspaper interview with Peter Mandelson in which he called for a Yes vote and a major advertising campaign by the Labour Yes to Fairer Votes group, both arguing that Labour voters should vote Yes because of Conservative support for a No result. However, the No campaign responded by pointing out that a majority of Labour MPs oppose AV (130 out of 255 opposing AV, 86 in support). In the last week a grassroots campaign featuring Reform Cat in the YouTube video "Is your Cat confused about the referendum on the voting system on the 5th May?" which was released on 27 April 2011, gained more views than either official campaign videos.
|Poll was taken
on behalf of
|Was actual referendum
|Would not vote
|ComRes||Independent on Sunday||No||2010-05-13||59||32||N/A||10|||
|ICM||Yes to fairer votes||Yes||2010-11-28||48||35||N/A||17|||
|ComRes||Independent on Sunday||Yes||2011-02-10||40||30||N/A||30|||
|ComRes||Independent on Sunday||No||2011-02-10||40||30||N/A||30|||
|ComRes||Independent on Sunday||Yes||2011-03-10||34||37||N/A||28|||
|ComRes||Independent on Sunday||Yes||2011-04-15||37||43||N/A||21|||
|ICM||Guardian||Yes||2011-04-17||42||58||N/A||N/A||||Includes Northern Ireland|
Proposed AV system
Under the alternative vote system proposed in the referendum, voters would still be electing just one candidate associated with one geographic constituency. Instead of simply voting for one candidate on the ballot paper (with an 'X'), the voter would instead be asked to rank one or more of the candidates in order of preference. If after first preferences have been counted, no one candidate has a majority of the votes cast, then the bottom candidate will be eliminated and votes for that candidate are transferred to each voter's next available preference. The process continues repeatedly until one candidate reaches a majority and wins. The system proposed was a form of "optional preferential voting", in that voters would not be obliged to rank every candidate in order of preference in order to cast a valid vote.
Schedule 6 of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill proposes to amend Paragraph 5 of Rule 29 of Schedule 1 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, so that the instructions to the voter displayed in ballot boxes would be changed from an instruction to vote for only one candidate, to read:
|“||"Remember—use 1, 2, 3 etc at this election—this is an election using the alternative vote system. Put the number 1 next to the name of the candidate who is your first choice (or your only choice, if you want to vote for only one candidate). You can also put the number 2 next to your second choice, 3 next to your third choice, and so on. You can mark as few or as many choices (up to the number of candidates) as you wish. Do not use the same number more than once. Put no other mark on the ballot paper, or your vote may not be counted."||”|
According to the Electoral Commission, the votes were first counted in 440 local counting areas across the United Kingdom. Except in Northern Ireland, the results from these local counts were relayed to twelve regional counting areas to be officially announced by the Regional Counting Officers. Scotland and Wales were each classed as one regional counting area, so votes in those areas were counted and declared locally within Scottish Parliamentary and Welsh Assembly constituency boundaries before the results were declared nationally. Northern Ireland was also classed as a single regional counting area but its votes were counted and declared nationally as one unit. In England, the votes were counted and declared locally at district council level, and those results were carried over to the nine remaining regional counting areas. The national result for the whole United Kingdom was announced at the Platinum Suite at the Exhibition Centre London (ExCel) by The Chief Counting Officer (CCO), Jenny Watson, at 1 am on Saturday 7 May 2011 after all the counting regions had declared their results.
Ahead of the last results from Northern Ireland, the result was confirmed as a "No" as it was mathematically impossible for the "Yes" voters to outnumber them.
|United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum, 2011|
|Invalid or blank votes||113,292||0.59|
|Registered voters and turnout||45,684,501||42.20|
Results by region
|Region||Turnout||No vote||Yes vote||No %||Yes %|
|East of England||43.15||1,298,004||530,140||71.00||29.00|
|North East England||38.73||546,138||212,951||71.95||28.05|
|North West England||39.10||1,416,201||613,249||69.78||30.22|
|South East England||44.31||1,951,793||823,793||70.32||29.68|
|South West England||44.6||1,225,305||564,541||68.46||31.54|
|Yorkshire and the Humber||39.92||1,042,178||474,532||68.71||31.29|
Further details of campaigning decisions emerged after the referendum result with Dan Hodges reporting that the Conservatives had endorsed the No campaign's targeting of Nick Clegg, although they had originally opposed the idea. Hodges also reported that an aide of David Cameron secretly met No campaign leaders in a hotel room in order to stop the Liberal Democrats finding out the scale of Conservative involvement.
The Coalition Government continued and sought to present a united front after the fractious campaign. Former Conservative Cabinet minister Michael Portillo criticised Cameron, saying he "forgot the importance of courtesy" towards Clegg and the Liberal Democrats and, thus, the survival of the Coalition, when he joined what Portillo called "the disgraceful No campaign".
On 8 July 2011, the Alternative Vote Provisions were repealed, bringing the statutory process that had initiated the referendum to an end.
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- The real father of the "Sick Baby" posters, by Joe Murphy. Evening Standard, 4 May 2011
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- Referendum on the voting system for the UK Parliament (Electoral Commission)
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