Having been lulled into a state of torpor by the two inept unfunny broadcasts on the alternative vote system (I’m not sure which tickled my fancy more: the No to AV campaign idea that people are too stupid to count and write numbers or that I would care what Rik Mayall thought (he’s not been the same since the accident though, has he?); or the Yes to AV approach hectoring passers by shouting at them in the manner of a drunk man accosting you with a tale about “thembastturzz” as you make your way to the train station) I have kept a close eye on the sophistication of the respective campaigns.
Today, the Conservative party unveiled its new No to AV poster. They used popular national figure Baroness Whoshe – a plain speaking northern soul, whose manner comfortably fails to disguise her hidden shallows – to unveil the poster (pictured)
The poster attracted my attention for two reasons. First, it features a boxing match – traditionally, a contest between two people. Secondly, I noticed the clever use of words. What is happening in this poster you see is that “the loser” can win under the Alternative Vote system. That is the power of grammar. The carefully positioned definite article makes clear that there is only one loser: the loser. I therefore, using all my powers of skill and deduction (as you would if completing a spot the ball contest (and by the way a prize of a subscription to my twitter feed if you can find the ball in the poster above) I surmise that the implication of the poster is that in a contest between two people the loser may win under the Alternative Vote system.
This is, of course, cobblers. There are many flaws in the Alternative Vote system (not least that it forces apparently rational people to pick up megaphones and shout at passers by or fat people in restaurants) but the one thing it does not do is impact on a two person contest. In those cases the loser very much remains the loser because the winner has more than 50% of the votes.
The poster is then based on a misrepresentation – a grammatical and metaphorical flaw that renders it misleading. I therefore made this point to prominent No to AV campaigners on twitter.
To Tom Harris MP, the erudite intellectual behemoth from southern Glasgow, I sent this:
Sadly, the avuncular Mr Harris declined to reply.
I then posted a general tweet bemoaning the poor grammar.
“Maybe I’m doing #no2AV an injustice. I’m sure someone from their RTing machine can explain how loser can win a 2 person contest under AV. “
This prompted a reply from the finance director of the No to AV campaign, Charlotte Vere.
She replied - confirming my own understanding of the position
“@loveandgarbage A two person contest under AV is FPTP. “
So I replied drawing her attention to the grammatical inaccuracy:
“@CharlotteV Not only is the poster grammatically incorrect it implies that in 2 person context the loser can win. Which is impossible in AV “
For reasons best known to herself she replied as follows:
“@loveandgarbage Except the winner/loser in boxing is decided by judges for which read voters. “
I had no idea what that meant. So I used the opportunity to make a poor joke combining elements of debating and boxing – or deboxing I like to think of it:
Keen readers will have noted the double meaning of “knockout blow” there. All of my debating skills finely honed by conversing with drunk men shouting at me on the way to the train station underpinned that rapier like wit.
She then doubted her boxing knowledge - understandable given the way in which boxing was being used as an impossible analogy for an election under the alternative voting system,
“@loveandgarbage Judges do decide who wins in boxing don’t they? “
Resisting the temptation to deploy all of my legal knowledge to explain what judges do do (and they don’t tend to decide boxing matches unless of the unlicensed variety, bare knuckles pounding on bone and flesh, in specialist bars (at least if you believe certain series of crime novels)) I instead decided to engage with the flawed metaphor and tried to point out why it was flawed:
.@CharlotteV But the judges are deciding between TWO people. They don’t award it to a third person who happens to be passing by. “
“@CharlotteV When there is not a knockout (which has happened in the poster). “
“.@CharlotteV The poster says “the loser” (meaning only one loser) can win. If there is only one loser there are only 2 contestants.”
That prompted this reply
“@loveandgarbage But that is not what the poster is saying. “
And that is hardly seemed worth arguing any further – because that was what the poster was saying on account of the grammatical ineptitude and flawed metaphor.
I did, later in the day, give the No to AV team the benefit of my wisdom and advice
(by which I meant they could say “a loser”) but by then it was too late. Baroness Whoshe was at the launch of the poster and had unveiled it.
Luckily, I don’t care one way or the other about the vote. The fact that Tom Harris and Peter Stringfellow are agin AV tends to persuade me to vote yes, but it might just be one more paper to spoil with a drawing of a giant elephant holding a flag when I make my way to the polling booth come election day.