Is AV too complex? Ask John Humphrys, who unwittingly made the case against switching
system today, in conversation with David Cameron on the Today programme. It became clear that Humphrys believed that
everyone’s second preference vote would be counted under AV — and Cameron pounced. Here’s the transcript:
DC: If you go to an AV system you start counting some people’s votes more than once. And you end up, in the words of Churchill…
JH: No you don’t. It simply isn’t true that you count votes more than once.
DC: Yes, you count all the votes. You start eliminating candidates, and you count people’s second preferences.
JH: And I have a second preference, as well as you, as well as anyone else. So you don’t count some people’s votes more than others. [laughing gently at absurdity of
DC: Actually, John, you’re wrong. completely wrong. That is not the way it works. It’s complicated…
JH: No it’s isn’t! It’s terribly simple.
DC: If you vote for a Labour candidate and I vote for a Monster Raving Looney candidate and he comes last…
JH: He drops out! Monster Raving Looney has gone.
DC: And my second preference vote is counted
JH: So is mine!
DC: It isn’t! It isn’t! That’s where you’re wrong, That’s quite worrying if the lead broadcaster on the BBC doesn’t understand the system.
JH: It’s even more worrying that the Prime Minister is scaring people…
DC: You don’t understand the system that you’re meant to be explaining to the public. Back to school.
JH: I’ll go back to school and I’ll choose my teacher.
DC: Why would you want to give up [FPTP] to adopt a voting system that’s only used by three countries in the world?
JH: As opposed to a voting system that’s used by no other major democracy…
DC: Try America.
JH: They have primaries in the United States.
DC: We now have primaries in many constituencies in the UK. Again I find it staggering that the lead broadcaster in the BBC thinks our system is not used anywhere else in the
world. You’ve got to change your briefer. Our system is used by half the voters in the world, John. I am absolutely staggered.
This is notable because it’s so rare: Humphrys is normally impeccably briefed, which is why his New Labour victims actively campaigned to have him removed. But all this shows just how complicated
AV is. Cameron’s point was very strong: if John Humphrys, one of the sharpest and most experienced broadcasters in the land, can’t work out what happens to second preference votes, then how are the
public supposed to know? That’s why AV is more tangled and less transparent.
CoffeeHousers will remember when Cameron took on Paxman five years ago. Today is the first time I can remember that Humphrys was bested by a politician — as Paul Waugh tweets, if Blair and Brown were listening they’ll have enjoyed it. All the more reason to vote No to AV on Thursday.
UPDATE: George Eaton at the New Statesman’s blog on what Humphrys meant.