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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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Vote for nutters and you can vote twice

I don't have terribly strong views on the alternative-vote referendum that Britain holds this week. But I found this radio exchange on the BBC between John Humphreys and the prime minister, David Cameron, remarkable. If even Humphreys does not know how the system would allow the second votes of extremists to be counted more than those of moderates (and he clearly does not), then it does not sound like a comprehensible system.

DC: "...you start counting some people's votes more than once".

JH: "No, you don't. That simply isn't true, that you count some votes more than once."

DC: "Yes, you do. You count all the votes, and then you start eliminating candidates and then you count people's second preferences."

JH: "And I have a second preference as well as you or anybody else and you count them again as well, so you don't count some people's votes more than others."

DC: "You are completely wrong. That's not the way it works. It's complicated."

JH: "No, it isn't, it's terribly simple."

DC: "You are wrong. If you vote for the Labour candidate and I vote for the Monster Raving Loony candidate and the Monster Raving Loony comes last, my second preference is then counted again."

JH: "So is mine."

DC: "No, it isn't. That's where you are wrong. It is quite worrying if actually the lead broadcaster on the BBC doesn't understand the system. You don't understand the system you are supposed to be explaining to the public. I do think that's worrying. Back to school."

JH: "I will go back to school, and I will choose my teacher."