Will AV change more than football’s three-point turn?

IT was supposed to be a radical change that would make football more exciting.

Until 1981, league points everywhere were allotted on the principle of two per game – two for a win, one each for a draw. It had, if nothing else, a certain arithmetical neatness about it.

Then, in a bid to reward more attacking play, the system of three points for a win was introduced.

At the time I was a football writer in the north-west of England. Sceptical of the logic behind the change, I studied the league tables for the previous season. How different, I wondered, would outcomes have been if the three-points system had already been in use?

And guess what I found? The champions of all four divisions would have been the same; no promotion or relegation issues would have been any different.


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In Division One (what we now rather ridiculously call the Premier League), Stoke and Manchester Cities would have swapped places. Between tenth and 11th.

Going back further, not once since the Second World War would the destination of the League title have been altered by awarding three points for a victory rather than two.

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Looking into it again now, in the 30 years since the change was made, it has put a different name on the title trophy just once.

That was in 1995, when Manchester United would have pipped Blackburn to the Premier League crown on goal difference instead of finishing a point behind.

That climax would arguably have been more exciting under the old system, as Jamie Redknapp’s free-kick for Liverpool would have snatched the title out of Blackburn’s grasp in the dying minutes.

Of course, none of those statistics factor in any differences that might have been made by teams adopting different tactics or attitudes. Such speculation is not only unquantifiable but imponderable.

The three-points rule is now widely in use throughout the world. Jimmy Hill, who is commonly credited with having “invented” it, still insists it revolutionised football.

In fact, any changes it led to were purely psychological and probably very minor. Whether the entertainment value of the game is slightly better or slightly worse as a result is an open debate.

So what do we think of the Alternative Vote?

The LibDems apparently think tinkering with the rules for electing MPs is important enough to keep a radical wrecking government in power for.

Which is slightly ironic when you consider the leader of that government is opposed to it, while the leader of the opposition is campaigning in its favour.

But we will all be asked on May 5 to choose between the existing first-past-the-post voting system and the proposed alternative. So perhaps it’s worth considering just how different they are – and how different might be the governments we’d end up with.

What, for instance, might have been the outcome of last year’s election if AV had been in place?

It’s not quite as simple as plotting football league tables with added win-points. But with the aid of the Electoral Reform Society’s abacus and bead-clickers we can extrapolate from the votes that were cast.

The actual result of the election was: Tories (with 36 per cent of the votes) 306 seats; Labour (29pc) 258 seats; LibDem (23pc) 57 seats; others (12pc) 28 seats.

Under a Single Transferable Vote system (using poll results to gauge where people’s second-choice votes would have gone) the Tories would have taken 246 seats, Labour 207, the LibDems 162 and others 35.

That, not surprisingly, is what the LibDems really want. A form of proportional representation, albeit a slightly fudged one. But it’s not what we’re going to get.

They’ve been fobbed off instead with a choice of switching to the Alternative Vote. And the number-crunchers suggest last year’s outcome wouldn’t have been so different under AV.

It would have given the Tories 281 seats, Labour 262, the LibDems 79 and others just 20. Which, if nothing else, gives the lie to the idea that the change will benefit fringe parties from the Greens to the BNP.

Of course, none of this tells us how differently people would really have voted.

We’ll have to wait and see how that pans out if and when those who bother to take part in next month’s referendum back the ‘Yes’ option.

I suspect strongly that whatever voting system applies at the next General Election, Nick Clegg’s party will be heavily punished for enabling the Tories to do their worst. That’s certainly what they deserve.

But it is interesting to note that under either AV or STV, a Lib-Lab pact would have been able to govern easily without having to muster any coalition of Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalists.

Would that have made any difference to the way we are governed today? It’s an intriguing question to which we’ll never know the answer.

It may seem that switching to AV would change the political landscape as little as three-points-for-a-win changed football. That there’s not much interest because it’s ultimately a trivial matter.

Consider this, though. The Daily Mail has warned that a switch to AV could be the death-knell to Tory government and to David Cameron’s career as PM.

I wish I could be confident they were right in that prediction. But if they are, that’s surely something worth stirring yourself to vote for.

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