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How 'AV' made Cameron Tory leader

Michael Crick | 11:39 UK time, Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Conservative MPs today, Tuesday, will stick by the "first past the post" system for Parliamentary elections, as the Commons votes on the government's plans to hold a referendum on whether to introduce the Alternative Vote (AV), in which voters state their preferences - 1,2,3 etc.

But John Strafford, of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, points out that the Tories actually use a similar preferential voting system, a variation on AV, for all their candidate selections and elections of party leaders.

Mischievously, I looked up the voting figures for the Conservative leadership election last time round, in 2005.

Lo and behold, the votes from MPs in the first round were:

David Davis - 62
David Cameron - 56
Liam Fox - 42
Ken Clarke - 38

It was only in subsequent ballots, after the weaker candidates, Mr Clarke and Mr Fox, were eliminated, and David Cameron picked up many of their supporters' second or third preferences, that he won through.

If the Conservatives had used "first past the post" in 2005, then David Davis would have won.


  • Comment number 1.

    As Labour's are fond of saying, you are comparing apples and oranges here. One election had an elctorate of 198, the other will have millions. Comparing the two is blatantly rediculous. AV will lead to even safer seats and an increased in-built electoral bias favouring Labour. If we want proportional representation (which I don't, PR breaks the constituency link and gives all the power to select MPs to the party not the public), then let us have a proper debate about that but let's not kid ourselves that AV would be better for the country. FPTP allows the electorate to "kick the ba*****s out" as someone famously once said.
    What we need are primary contests in every seat so that there is never a safe seat again.

  • Comment number 2.

    av means make 'em avit

  • Comment number 3.

    Don't forget that there was a new round of campaigning after each vote, giving the electorate anpther opportunity to think about their vote.

  • Comment number 4.


    Remember that Davis climbed out of is pram, on a 'matter of principle' BUT THEN STOOD AS A TORY, even though INTEGRITY demanded he re-present himself to his constituents as an INDEPENDENT. That is the test of a true candidate rather than a rosette-stand cipher.

    That he has never denounced the party-games of the Westminster charade, shows he is prepared to accept the evils of Westminster; had he attained the Tory leadership, the imperative of GOING ON and ON and ON wielding power, would have sucked him down into that swamp, unheeding of our despair. Only integrity affords buoyancy.

  • Comment number 5.

    Michael Crick, you are so very amusing.

    It's a shame Cameron wasn't voted in by D'Hont in larger constituencies, because that' the voting system we need.

    Still, voting for an Executive via a Assembly using any system is still comedic.

  • Comment number 6.


    You will be saying he requires narcotics, as a prop to daily life, and to his very wellbeing, next. Can this be the ruddy-faced buffoon of front bench trouser-spillage that we all - what that phrase again . . .

  • Comment number 7.

    Oh Mr Crick - what are you wibbling about?

    The Tory leadership election had less than 200 voters, the UK has tens of millions.

    I keep hearing that you're biased against the Tories - is this an example? It certainly looks like it.

    Perhaps you'd like to post about the impact AV would have had on the recent GEs - according to the Prf from Strathclyde Uni on the Daily Politics it would have given Labour bigger majorities when their vote was falling.

    Now, tell me again - AV is a *good* thing? :-?

  • Comment number 8.

    That wasn't AV, that was a runoff. Much like a selection procedure would work. Internal elections are rather different to general ones. They use a similar run-off system in France and that's how they wound up with Jacques Chirac (and nearly Jean Marie Le Penn).

  • Comment number 9.

    Why don't we just benchmark and copy the best system used by other more 'successful' countries/economies?

    It's 'de rigueur' in the private sector. I think it's officially called 'best practice' by the management consultant gurus (although, if everybody else adopted couldn't then be described as 'best practice' of course!).

  • Comment number 10.

    Repeated rounds of voting, separated by campaigning to the voters which enables them to re-evaluate their vote in light of a reduced candidates list (which is how the Tories elected Cameron), is nothing like AV at all. You're talking nonsense Mr. Crick, in the finest tradition of BBC investigative journalism.

  • Comment number 11.

    Mischievously I looked up the voting figures for Gordon Brown when he became Labour Leader.

    Oh ... there were none!

    So another pro Labour thread falls to bits...

  • Comment number 12.

    There's posts on here, and my email to Mr Crick. We'll see if they bother to correct the entirely false premise of this aricle.

    From: ryan
    Sent: Wednesday, 10 February 2010 2:35:31 AM
    To: michael crick

    Dear Mr Crick,

    You have made an embarrassing elementary error on your most recent blog, which exposes how little you know about the AV system, and is cheap swipe at the Conservative party.

    Under the AV system, as practiced in Australia, voters cast their ballot _once_, nominating their preferences for candidates. If no one candidate reaches a simple majority, the lowest polling candidate is withdraw and the second preference votes (for those people who voted for the lowest polling candidate) are distributed among the other candidates. This process of elimination continues until a candidate reaches a majority after preferences are counted.

    I believe the Conservative leadership election was conducted in rounds. The outcome of each round was known to voters before the next round of votes was cast, and it is with that context that a fresh ballot was held until MPs elect a leader my simple majority. This is _not_ AV.

    This is simple stage 1 political science.

    Can you please delete your erroneous blog post, or make an immediate correction. It is misleading and only serves to cast the Conservatives in a negative light, which in this case on the basis of your logic is entirely misplaced, unjustified, and wrong.

    Yours Sincerely,

  • Comment number 13.

    @ryanw: You spoilsport, it's only a bit of fun.

  • Comment number 14.

    The Tory leadership election is not AV as there is a fresh ballot for each round and votes do not carry forward from round to round.

  • Comment number 15.

    Are you aware that the Conservative leader is elected by Conservative Party members, not MPs?

    Under First Past The Post, Davis and Cameron would have gone striaght into the final ballot of members. Which is exactly what subsequently happened.

    So AV did not make Cameron leader. The result would have been identical under First Past The Post.

  • Comment number 16.

    Michael - David Cameron wasn't elected by the MPs, he was elected by the party membership so your post is nonsense really. There were two separate and distinct electorates for the candidate & leadership elections.

    The candidate selection was done on round by round basis (sort of AV), and gave membership two candidates to select (sort of FPTP).

  • Comment number 17.

    Utter bull I'm afraid, Mr Crick. The first round was a ballot to eliminate the fourth-placed candidate. To claim that the vote would have been the same had it been a FPTP ballot for the winner is psephological ignorance of the worst kind.

  • Comment number 18.

    Why is Michael Crick allowed to continue as Political Editor to Newsnight when there is invariably political bias in every blog or report he makes? Surely he should be subject to some form of editorial control even by the weak standards of the ECU or BBC Trust.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think it's a fair point to highlight the fact that Cameron is totally against electoral reform while his party used a different system to the one the electorate uses. IF the conservative party had used FPTP as implemented in the UK local/general elections, and the vote tally remained the same, Cameron would not have won.

  • Comment number 20.

    I take it Labour use AV as proposed to select their leader then.

  • Comment number 21.


    But where was God when Dave was promoted? jehovah would surely smite Westminster with fire and Brimstone.
    (Actually - to clarify - the smell of 'Sulphur' after lighting is due to the plasma converting Oxygen to Sulphur, giving the illusion that God is applying Brimstone.) None of the Westminster trolls would pass scrutiny by God, and he would certainly not guide the voters so dextrously as he does when the cardinals vote a Pope into ofice - which is proved BEYOND DOUBT.

  • Comment number 22.

    This is a BBC site right? You know one guided by being fair and impartial?

    This whole blog seems a corner of the Labour Party spin and lies unit. Political Editor? Do you need to colour in a picture with the special crayons to get that job because it seems you don't have a grasp of how politics works.

    Very weak.

  • Comment number 23.

    The issue concerning reform must first include attracting people with a strong desire and drive to serve the community then other matters such as professional hours and pay and a busty fulltime work programme in addition to modernisation then the matter of a fair and just electoral system and other changes, much the same as proposed on my website with a few examples in the following:-


    1 Introducing a modern government administration system, merging and forming 300 constituencies, with one upper and one lower house representative, a total of 600. Parliamentary terms fixed at four years with upper house election at half term of lower house.
    2 Introducing a transferable vote election system, or some other form yet to be devised by the best academic brains in the country, that is fair and just to the electorate, but secures strong government, possibly via a winner bloc vote system.
    3 Professional pay and business hours for all 600 member, including 35 hour, five day week, eight weeks holiday per year, and supply of job descriptions for all parliamentary candidates, with a contract of employment (temporary four year posts), for all successful upper and lower house members.
    4 All upper and lower house backbench members serve on powerful fully financed Parliamentary Committees, mandated with legal powers and staff to investigate and conduct research and subpoena witness and documents, in order carry out respective duties. Committees will replace heads and senior staff of supervising/regulating Quangos, Watch-dog and Of-watch bodies. Consumer complaints previously dealt with by press, media and consumer groups will be supported by parliamentary committees.
    5 Setting up a suitable number of Regional Authorities, (possibly ten) elected every four years, in addition to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with capped administration limits, responsible for administering their respective regions to the satisfaction of their electorate and the nation.
    6 County/Local Councils absorbed into their respective Regional Authorities, who take over all administrative duties, following suitability, value for money fit for purpose study, with only satisfactory staff and offices taken over. Note; RA’s will not employ any none elected officials or pay their high salaries, which will cease as County and Local Councils are phased out.
    7 All Whitehall ministries and departments undergo value for money fit for purpose review and all Ministries found unsuitable are abolished, with any survivors divided up and transferred to Regional Authorities, other than essential (slim versions) government Ministries and Departments, with capped salaries for senior posts and officials. Health, Education, and Police services, transferred from central controls to RA’s who will be responsible for their respective region, with optional trade union representation within RA’s.
    8 The practise of an incoming Prime Minister to create the gift and promote backbenchers to miscellaneous posts with increase privileges ceases, with PM’s able to appoint his/her Cabinet and appoint other limited number of voluntary unpaid minor posts. Opposition leaders are also limited to appoint only shadow cabinet posts, other posts unpaid voluntary positions. Efforts made to reduce Downing Street powers and restore these back to Parliament.
    9 Replace outdated Bank of England with UK Industrial Bank (UKIB), based upon British designed German Bundasbank, which has served Germany well. Note; Had the Bank of England been modernised dependence upon a services economy replacing manufacturing by the Thatcher government would have been strongly resisted and Banks gambling with savers money would not have been permitted.
    10 Introducing a massive reindustrialisation programme, to revitalise Britain's ailing manufacturing base, combined with trade training, in conjunction with Regional Authorities providing favourable bases and inducements attracting industry here and abroad. Plus providing free fully equipped Innovation Workshops and Advisors, to exploit innovative ideas and set aside sufficient money to finance only the best ideas that financial services failed the nation for generations.
    11 Introduction of USA style anti-trust laws, prohibiting monopoly and cartel practices, and force competition into markets, thereby drastically reducing prices for goods and services. Parliamentary Committees governing such matters will ensure that all anti-trust laws are not breached and mandated to issue fines under penalty of imprisonment for failing to pay fines. Abolishing premium telephone lines and standing charges of utility companies, and regulating energy supply companies.
    12 Introducing a limited form of national service on a deferment basis, that excludes further education students and fully employed people contributing towards the economy, with recruits eligible for call up drawn from unemployed people at the age of eighteen. National service will also include full education and trade training for recruits.
    13 Classification of serious street criminals and drug fuelled criminals as, Street Crime Terrorists, and setting up a national Para-military style anti-street crime terrorist police force, equipped with sufficient manpower and intelligence gathering equipment, to bring street crime terrorists before special Street Crime Terrorists Courts and guilty sent to strict military style Correction Camps, that includes education and trade training.
    14 MPs' must serve voter/consumer interests with a mandate to drastically reduce direct and indirect taxes and prices for goods and services, thereby increasing disposal incomes for the general public.

  • Comment number 24.

    Given how hapless Gordon brown is, I imagine that AV will cause the elimination of Labour as a mainstream political party.

    In Australia, Labour (ALP) has long wanted "first past the post" - mainly because while they tend to do best on first preferences, they do pick up second and third preferences ie the combination of the anti-Labour vote is quite strong.

    In the UK, parties like the BNP will pick far more First Preference votes than the mainstream parties will find comfortable (as will the Greens, UKIP and other parties yet to be formed).

  • Comment number 25.

    It's actually more complicated, and interesting than this. If the Tories had used FPTP rather than AV back then, I suspect at least one of these candidates wouldn't have stood. They'd have done a lot of horse-trading, sounding of colleagues and the like. Davis would definitely have stood, with maybe Liam Fox as his deputy. Clarke would probably have gone for it, as one last shot. It's even quite possible that Cameron wouldn't have stood, assuming he had no chance.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    I don't think Michael Crick understands voting systems.
    Now remind me , what system did Labour use when Brown was appointed leader ?

  • Comment number 28.

    If David Davis would have won , that is a great argument for first past the post.

    Now, Dear Michael, remind me how Gordon Brown was elected party leader and Prime Minister ?

  • Comment number 29.

    On average, in the 2005 General Election 25,858 votes were required to elect a Labour MP and 44,241 for a Conservative MP, whilst a Liberal Democrat MP required 98,484 votes.

    That's why Labour opposed electoral reform until they suddenly realised they might need LibDem help to form a majority government. It also proves that the LibDem complaint that the Conservatives oppose PR or AV because they will lose out is rubbish; they would have plenty to gain from either system.

  • Comment number 30.

    PS You're forgetting one important thing here Michael (and others): voters react to the system. If the Conservative MPs had dealt with a first past the post vote, would they have voted the same way? In an AV system you gauge secondary support so harbour hopes that a weaker candidate in the first round might pick up support in the second (and oh look, that's exactly what happened, DOH!). With FPTP, there is only one round, one chance, one vote.

    Schoolboy stuff, people. Use your brain.


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