Getting back into the swing of things, I thought I’d monitor the New Channel’s coverage of the AV referendum campaign on Tuesday. On that day at least (I can’t vouch for any of the others), it seemed scrupulously balanced – balanced number of guests, exactly the same length of interview (well three seconds difference!) for the pro- and anti- spokespersonages, appropriate questions to each side, same number of interruptions, and the BBC even kept quoting an opinion poll showing a significant ‘No’ lead. I wasn’t expecting any of that, but it shows the BBC can do it.

Unfortunately, they often fail to do it – as Evan Davis demonstrated this morning.

Here, staged before an audience at the South Bank Centre (who sounded even less representative than a Question Time audience), Evan hosted a debate between Jonathan Bartley of the Yes campaign and Stephen Parkinson of the No campaign. Evan did much more than host it though. He actively joined in the debate, almost entirely on the side of the Yes campaign. It was effectively two against one.

The interruptions flew at Mr Parkinson, often only seconds (one time just a second) after he had begun to speak. So did the questions. All but one of the questions asked/points made by Evan Davis came from a stance opposed to the No campaign. Transcribing Evan Davis’s words should make the extent of the bias clear:

Questions/comments put to Stephen Parkinson (No to AV):

1 Stephen, you’re against AV. Can we just talk about fairness because it seems keep saying the winner under AV loses which means, you know, the system’s unfair but if the winner loses it’s because the majority of voters don’t want that person to win, they want another candidate instead.

2 The crucial thing is whether you view it as an election where people have one vote and then a few people get another vote and another vote and another vote or whether you view it as a sequence of elections which very cleverly are concocted to be held on one ballot paper, isn’t it Stephen?

3 (interrupting) Well it IS a sequence of elections, it’s a sequence of counts and the person who puts their first preference and that’s not knocked out gets their first preference counted again.

4 (interrupting) And some get their first preference counted twice!

5 (interrupting) But it uses something similar. Most systems, even the American presidential election, uses something where you wangle the candidates down to a run-off between two effectively, or some sort of run-off, they do it on the X Factor, they do it on Big Brother, they do it in the American presidential election with the use of primaries, isn’t that what everybody does?

6 (interrupting) But I mean that’s just true. It’s not going to make a difference in most seats of the UK, is it? I mean that’s just telling you it doesn’t matter which way we go..

7 One issue that has come up is the issue of whether people understand AV. Can I just ask the audience here if you think you understand AV and what it entails? And how many say you don’t understand it, it’s too complicated? So again about 98% of people understand it. That has been a bit of your campaign hasn’t it Stephen, a little bit of scaring people with the complexity of it all?

Questions/points put to Jonathan Bartley (Yes to AV):

1 Jonathan?

2 Jonathan, let me put this to you. Does it not encourage the candidate who is the most banal and least offensive to always win and you end up with a government that is sort of the lowest common denominator?

Not very even-handed, is it?

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15 Responses to NOT SO EVAN-HANDED

  1. NotaSheep says:

    ‘Not very even-handed’ but entirely predictable.


  2. john in cheshire says:

    I have a very strong dislike of evan davis. His insincere bonhomie, his oeleaginous voice, his very infantile presence on the today programme, his jokiness, his bias. Just about everything he is, is what an impartial presenter should not be. And that is the problem, he thinks he’s more than just a presenter of news. He thinks he’s as important as the news and as intelligent as the the people he interviews. And he’s just not. Brian Redhead he isn’t and never will be.


    • ltwf1964 says:

      and he’s alleged to have a bolt through his knob…….

      the old boyfriend must have some sphincter on him by now……


  3. deegee says:

    Any suggestions why the BBC should be strongly backing AV?


    • hippiepooter says:

      They believe it will mean the Conservatives out of Government in perpetuity.  Under the AV system proposed, at constituency level only, it could well be true.


  4. David Preiser (USA) says:

    Excellent work, Craig.  It’s very clear.  Questions 2, 3, and 5 seem to be explaining the pro side of the argument, telling Parkinson where he’s wrong, rather than asking him to clarify his side.

    What really bugs me is #5 where Davis compares this AV scheme favorably to US elections.  Which is utter BS.  The primaries he’s referring to are within one party, for voters of one party only (exept for a few states which have “open” primaries) to decide who is the ultimate candidate for that party to stand against the ultimate candidate(s) of the other party or parties.  It’s not the same thing at all.  Davis either doesn’t understand there’s a difference or is deliberately trying to muddy the waters so the audience fixes only on the positive side.  Yet another example of the BBC’s failure to grasp US issues properly and instead misinform the public.

    Oh, the irony when Davis then asks if the audience understands AV.  Not with your help they don’t, BBC.  Hands up all those who noticed that the BBC is using the exact same Narrative with AV as they did with Lisbon when the public isn’t on side.

    Having said that, I’ve been thinking myself that a better way than AV would be to have run-off elections if nobody gets 51% of the vote.  Say the top two vote-getters have a second round, regardless of party affiliation.  That way one of them is guaranteed to get more than half the votes, thus eliminating the entire “fairness” BS argument for AV.


    • john in cheshire says:

      David, I actually think that we should adopt some of the old Greek methods; for example, no one who wants to be a politician should be allowed to stand for election. But then I think that should apply to a lot of so-called public service ‘jobs’; such as social workers and bbc news presenters.


  5. hippiepooter says:

    Evan Davis may be proof that anyone who has a vestige of journalistic integrity soon loses it when they come to the TODAY programme.

    Personally, I’m in favour of electoral reform, but not what this Lib Dem proposal will mean.  If you only have AV at Constituency level there’s every chance the Lib Dems will win any excessive number of seats in proportion to their share of the popular vote at national level.  They will always be ‘kingmakers’.

    Noone votes for a hung parliament.  We need a system of voting that will determine this, and if it is the case the public dont want it, then we need a two party run-off at national level.  We certainly shouldn’t have the system the Lib Dems propose when they stand to win a greater percentage of seats than their popular vote.


    • john in cheshire says:

      Having just read Atlas Shrugged, I am convinced, more than ever, that FPTP is the only option for voting systems. Coalitions, just like committees never make the correct decisions. Compromise is never satisfactory. A political organisation should stand and fall by its policies and decisions. Coalitions are a subversive means of perpetuating the current layer of excrement that now purports to govern on our behalf.


    • deegee says:

      We certainly shouldn’t have the system the Lib Dems propose when they stand to win a greater percentage of seats than their popular vote.  
      Why on earth not? Ignoring preferences and ideology as reasons for opposing or supporting the Lib Dems, why should a party winning 23% of the votes only win8.8% of the seats, as at the last election? If they doubled the number of seats they win (assuming the same percentage of the vote) it would still be 2/3 of their share of the popular vote.  
      For the record, constituency votes always favour parties whose support is heavily geographically concentrated as with Sinn Féin who won five seats with 0.6% of the total vote i.e about the same percentage of seats as their percentage of the popular vote or Democratic Unionist (8, 0.6%) over parties with larger but more spread out support as the UKIP (0. 3-1%).  
      I doubt that the changes they propose will make so much difference in Lib Dem strength. Only turning the country into one super electorate, as in Israel would do that.


      • hippiepooter says:

        I guess we may have a different understanding of what the AV system being proposed means.

        The point I’m making is, potentially, if we just have AV at constituency level, the Lib Dems could get 23% of the popular vote nationwide, but exceed that share of seats using AV at constituency level only.

        Secondly, if it is the will of the people that we have a run off between the top two parties at national level to decide who governs, instead of having a hung parliament, then if the Lib Dems get less a % of seats than their first preference vote nationally, so be it.  Why should they be allowed to be kingmakers against the will of the people?


  6. London Calling says:

    The LibDemsAV problem occurs because we are running a three party race when we need only two – The Right Party and The Wrong Party. In a two horse race one or the other will always get more than 50% of the votes. Then after a couple of terms of making a mess of everything, we swap them around.

    Or we would have but for the orange-ones whose boast is that they are preventing the Right Party from pursuing the policies on which they won the most votes. The problem is not how to give the orange-ones more seats, but how we get rid of them altogether and get back to a two horse race. The alternative is the current paralysis that is the Cleggerons.


  7. cjhartnett says:

    Oh for crying out loud!
    Is there ANY opinion programme on the BBCs unwatched channels that does not feature Polly Toynbee as one of its talking heads?

    Flicked through the Freeview detritus that wheels around like so much washing on spin…and there she is holding forth on-I`d guess-the Royal Wedding.

    No doubt she`d rail at todays “internships”-thank you Bill Clinton!-as drivers of “inequality and privilege”. Yet that surname of hers sounds vaguely familiar to those of us who saw the rise of the soft left-liberal project with Marxist roots back in the 60s.

    No doubt her kids will be sailing under her flag of convenience in some shape or form in Beebland or its subsidiary branches-probably under daddys name which is much more common in the surname stakes.Funny when these types choose to use their dads/husbands name when it might throw us off the trail…I call Cherie to the stand Your Honour!

    Jenni,Libby,Polly-three witches up by the blasted Heath( Ted?).

    Nurse-withold that HRT now before these drawer liners of agonised privilege infect the next generation of sistas from Tuscany that affect to come from Barnsley or Liverpool!


    • ltwf1964 says:

      she’s on speed dial

      position 1,2 or 3 by the looks of things

      she’s got a face that could sour milk….a humourless lefty harridan