Looking at the likely voting figures for LibDem candidate Brian Paddick, former Mayor candidate for UKIP Damian Hockney suggests that there is still no sign of voters using the voting system for the Mayor election imaginatively.
“The whole point with this system is that it allows you to vote for your completely preferred choice and at the same time for one of the ‘main’ two without wasting your vote. I think that voters still do not understand it,” he says, “and of course it is not in the interests of the two parties most likely to win that voters do understand. Someone needs to let the voters what they can do.”
As a voter, you might ideally like a Green, LibDem or UKIP candidate to win, but you feel you “know” your candidate will not be elected, In a first past the post system, you often vote tactically – maybe to vote for what you might regard as the “least worst” of the two most likely to be elected. Over time, people do this almost instinctively in a two horse race.
Why else would a by-election in Winchester, where Tory and LibDems were the frontrunners weeks after the 1997 landslide national victory for Labour, have resulted in landslide and Labour almost losing its deposit and winning a far lesser share of the vote than only weeks earlier? Labour voters went for their “least worst” option out of one of the two most likely to win and did not vote for their man because they “knew” he wouldn’t win.
But the London Mayor election is entirely different. You have two votes, one for your favoured candidate and a second for the candidate you would like to win if your favourite does not win. And that second vote is immediately counted as if it were your first vote once your preferred candidate is knocked out of the race in the first round.
And there is absolutely no point in giving a small party your second vote if you want to have an impact. You give them your first vote because once they are eliminated your second vote has exactly the same status as your first vote, as long as it is a vote for one of the two frontrunners.
We all know that Livingstone and Johnson will be the two in the run off. But wouldn’t Green voters, for example, rather have given their candidate those 300,000+ wasted second choice votes as first choice last time (putting her not far behind second placed first round candidate Ken Livingstone)? And then voted for one of the two most likely to win as their second preference? Both votes would then really count for something. And it would have an enormous impact on every aspect of the election.
It is quite clear from the rules that your second vote effectively counts as your first vote after your favourite candidate is eliminated, but it is also clear that the voters can’t quite believe it. It is supposed to encourage you to vote for the party (however unlikely to win) that is truly your first choice: but polls and results appear to indicate that voters still (after three Mayor elections) often don’t appear to be going for their first choice first.
This logic of the system should really throw up almost the opposite of the experience of the LibDems as detailed in the polling – you would assume that the 20%+ of the voters who opted for the party in London in the General Election, run on first past the post, might turn out for the LibDem candidate in the London Mayor election and actually be joined by others who now know they can vote for the LibDems safe in the knowledge that their alternative vote (for Livingstone or Johnson) has equal weight in preventing which of the other two “main” candidates they might not want to win.
Instead, it seems that people often still vote for someone who is not their first choice because they can’t quite believe that the second vote is anything other than some sort of vague gesture of preference. Most of us who have been involved in these elections with a smaller party have heard: “I was going to give you my first vote, but I put Ken/Boris first and gave you my second vote because I didn’t want Ken/Boris/ to get in”. It is as if no-one quite believes that your alternative vote counts, or that it has some downgraded junk status. Aaaaargh.
And of course there is always the problem that carefully planned rules on media coverage by state radio and tv and forced on all broadcasters appears to be a systemic way of ensuring that the “minor” candidates are prevented from access to practically any television or much radio – media, as we all know, is vital for the process of letting people know who those candidates are.
If you only think that three candidates are in the race, it makes you think twice about voting for a suppressed voice. And then in a double whammy the candidates are barred from writing independently to all voters through spending rules designed to eliminate alternatives from being able to contact potential voters. But people are increasingly aware of this in a small way and will still vote for their smaller party candidate even though he/she is forced to be invisible during the campaign by these unholy alliances against democracy.
And of course LibDems are part of the favoured status granted by the BBC when it formulates the rules as to who is allowed to appear on television and stops “minor” candidates from appearing. So the lack of democracy in broadcasting and the enforced invisibility of most of the candidates is not the only reason for the anomalies in voting.
Now admittedly, there are many who would indeed say: “Well Ken is my favourite candidate and Green is my second”, and so it’s logical then to cast the vote that way, even though the second vote simply makes a point that there is a reserve of goodwill and potential support for that candidate which stretches to that number. It has some value.
But hundreds of of thousands of voters actually gave wasted second votes last time to Greens, UKIP and LibDems when they would ideally have wanted to put them first.
A big first vote for minor parties has little risk and is probably something that the voters would actually like to deliver. It is also tailor made for the LibDems but we seem to be drifting further towards a first past the post mentality with this election rather than any gradual dawning of its potential.
The advantage of voters following the logic of the system is that its proper application really does allow you to vote for your first choice, but allows the built-in fallback for the cautious. And of course it creates a much more interesting election.
How many of us really think that a dull re-run of the 2008 Mayor election is going to get a good turnout? Those tedious and dull tv debates, the endless forced coverage every night on local news, offering all of the very worst aspects of bad journalism and puff coverage for the three “main” candidates.
It would really liven things up if voters realised what they could do and that polling showed, for example, that a sizeable proportion of that 13% who gave the Green candidate its second vote was going to give its first vote to them to add the the miserable three per cent in current polling.
Never mind what that might do for LibDem prospects and also those of UKIP. It would also add real pressure on the undemocratic state media rules, as at the moment the shadowy formulators of them can get away with claiming that there is no demand for the electorate to look at or hear alternative voices like the Greens and UKIP.