To AV or not to AV

This Labour leadership contest should sound the death-knell for the alternative vote (AV). A system that was ostensibly designed to allow the party to elect its “least bad” choice has instead led to a hopelessly complex situation in which ‘Anyone But Corbyn’ voters are relying on guesswork and dodgy data in order to come to their decisions. 

Now that the four leadership campaigns have shifted into the ‘Get Out The Vote’ phase of the election, more and more discussions during the daily phone banking drives are revolving around how the respective supporters of the three moderate candidates should cast their second and third preferences in order to prevent a Corbyn victory. This is something that Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper have even actively encouraged in separate interviews.

Yet it makes for some pretty dire conversations. As a phone bank volunteer myself, I can testify to the fact that AV is a particularly soul destroying means of voting. I’ve had people nervously ask my advice on how they should cast their second and third preferences to minimise the chances of Corbyn winning – requests I can only answer with recourse to a host of dubious data sets (Liam Byrne’s being only the most recent) and my own personal hunches. I’ve also had people sigh down the receiver when asked to use three preferences rather than just two, frustrated at having to cast a vote for a third candidate they do not support, do not trust, and do not believe in. One person even went so far as to say they’d don “rubber gloves and wear a nose peg” before voting for their least favourite ‘Anyone But Corbyn’ candidate.

Here lies the rub with AV. In this contest, it is forcing voters to undergo all manner of moral contortions in pursuit of an outcome they do not even want to see. It could also result, in a scenario whereby Corbyn is narrowly beaten on a second or third round of voting, in the election of a leader whose position was only secured through the ‘lending’ of preferences by the supporters of other candidates – much like how Corbyn was put on the ballot in the first place by the ‘lending’ of MP nominations. We’ve all seen what that has done for the perceived legitimacy of his campaign. Imagine what it would do to the legitimacy of the leadership of one of the non-Corbyn candidates elected by a razor-thin margin.

All forms of tactical voting leave the voter feeling shabby. I know, I tactically voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2010 – a sin for which I still haven’t fully forgiven myself. When it comes to AV, I also have to hold my hands up and say it was something I campaigned for enthusiastically in 2011. Never again. In this most polarising of leadership contests, one small blessing would be to not have to wear those gloves and nose pegs when the voting starts. Unfortunately, it’s the one blessing this election cannot give. 


Louie Woodall is a Young Fabian Executive Committee member 

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