This May the British electorate face a choice as to whether they want to keep FPTP or adopt the AV system of elections for members of the lower chamber. Overall this as exciting a decision as helping Ken Barlow choose a tie, but the campaign has become a bit heated lately and wherever I sense an argument I’m straight in, as regular readers will well know (all one of you – hello mum).
The whole premise of the debate is being framed by ‘Yessers’, they will to you that AV represents a ‘fairer’ vote. They will tell you that AV is fairer, it is more democratic and as we get closer to the vote in May, that you’ll be more attractive to the opposite sex (probably).
In 2011, after a year of abuse the word ‘fair’ has about as much meaning as the word ‘progressive’ and an apology from Richard Keys. ‘Fairness’ as a concept is bloodied, bruised and begging to be left left alone, but still Yessers can sometimes talk like they have a monopoly on fairness.
However, let’s look at it this way, if you give everyone of voting age one vote each, with the candidate that gets the most votes winning, that sounds like a pretty fair type of democracy to me.
Some people live in areas that have large populations of voters for a single party, but that is democracy. It does not mean a vote has less value, it just means that in democratic terms that constituency/region should return a candidate for that party. In fact, if we want fairness shouldn’t we be giving candidates with bigger majorities a larger vote in parliament? (No, of course we shouldn’t)
It’s simply not the case that AV is fairer, as there is no set definition of fairness. What AV is, is an attempt by those who don’t like the results they get to change the system in their favour. If voters are too bunched up do something about boundaries (more on that later), do not chuck away a perfectly democratic system.
We need also to think about the potential results that we could have. We could end up (indeed we will end up) in a situation where a candidate who has the most votes is beaten by candidate who has mopped up second & third choices etc. How is it fair that the candidate who is wanted by the most constituents does not win the seat to someone who is no.2?
This is the real reason the Lib Dems want AV, it is not for fairer votes or to be more democratic, it is because they know they will benefit the most from 2nd options at a national level. A Tory is unlikely to put Labour as their 2nd option, they are likely to put a Lib Dem, a Labourite is unlikely to put a Tory as their 2nd option, they are likely to put a Lib Dem (bit less now I assume). The Lib Dems will campaign hard for AV because they believe it is they who will benefit most by mopping up 2nd options and this must be prevented.
If it were about democracy, do we believe they’d be going for AV in the lower chamber? Like it or not, the lower chamber IS democratic. If the Lib Dems cared so much about democracy, if they cared about reform would they not have held out when they were in a massively strong position during the coalition negotiations to have forced through real reform?
Why tinker with the lower democratically elected chamber whilst we still have the House of Lords? Much as Yessers will tell you that anyone against AV is a dinosaur, I want real reform to our parliament. I want a fully elected upper house, I’d also like to see the monarchy replaced, or at least having all political power (even ceremonial) stripped away (the latter is unlikely I know). We live in a society where many of those who make our laws are unelected, but we want to mess around with the elected lower house? Someone’s taking the piss. This is a fop to reform, designed basically to somehow draw a line under the expenses scandal, designed to essentially keep everything the same in Westminster, keep the Lords sitting, keep the whole thing ticking along much as it was before, when in the electorate there is a real hunger for change. I’d go so far as to say that not only is AV no fairer, it’s actually an insult to the electorate to offer up such a miserly reform, to waste tax-payer’s money like this. AV is a clever distraction from the real problems of Westminster politics. A no vote is the only possible answer to such an insult.
‘But if you vote no there’ll not be any future reform’ the yessers will tell you. Real reform is already dead, for a parliament at least. Real reform died when it was allowed off the negotiating table when the coalition was being formed, it was so easily put to one side one has to wonder if it was ever a real objective for those negotiating. Does anyone believe after what looks set to be a spiteful campaign about something that the electorate simply don’t care about that the same electorate will have any stomach for another referendum? When the press go to town on what a huge waste of money the referendum has been will there be any politician who will stand up and say ‘encore’?
No, reform, for this parliament, has been killed stone dead, it’s in the ashes of the purple ‘revolution’ of the election and it makes me angry that we’ll have yet another few years of unelected cronies being given jobs for the boys and having a say on our lives.
(Obviously, the real reform many yessers want is full PR, the fact that FPTP has worked relatively well for hundreds of years, is democratic and has never returned some God-awful extremist government and by and large keeps extremist candidates out of parliament is to be ignored. No, yessers want full PR, because many yessers are Lib Dems and Lib Dems like PR because it would give them the constant balance of power. PR isn’t being discussed but I raise it because it’s part of the debate. One day I’ll write a fuller blog on it, one day, maybe…)
Let’s not forget that AV, this vast step forward in democracy has been bundled in with a direct and unhidden attack on democracy. The bill for the referendum has been bundled up with a guillotine of 50-odd MPs from parliament, the reason is vague, ‘we need to level out boundaries’ (why? Different constituencies are very different, even the geography can impact on the MP’s role) ‘we need to save money’ is the other one you’ll hear, whilst exactly 50 new unelected Lords were sworn into the other chamber (this is actually amazing in its breath-taking arrogance). I may be stupid but more representation feels more democratic to me.
It stinks doesn’t it?
What else stinks has been the nasty, spiteful Yes2AV campaign, which has not only had to fire people for making islamophobic jokes in support of AV (I shit you not) but the campaign has so far been a consistent barrage of abuse, making out that anyone who is against AV is against democracy, against fairness, against reform, is stuck in the past, is a dinosaur, even linking no2av with such shits as Nick Griffin (again, I’m not joking). The vote isn’t until May and the yessers have got to this phase already.
The effect of this negative campaigning has been very real, it has changed me from being a simple no to AV with a big ‘meh’ to the whole thing, to a firm campaigner for the no camp.
One of my other major problems with AV is that for many Westminster is already too consensual, many don’t feel they have any real options. AV will help make Westminster even more one-dimensional. It will mean that candidates will spend too much time playing to second option voters more than their core vote, whose votes they will feel they can count on. It’ll be the bland leading the bland (well, only leading once you’ve factored in 2nd and 3rd votes). This is the exact opposite of what we want right now. The major parties have to be able to display their differences or we are at real risk of seeing swathes of voters move to the fringes. AV could well lead to those extremists doing well in the longer term as mainstream candidates become more homogenised, more like eachother, more bland to avoid dropping 2nd votes. I think that’s pretty bad for democracy myself, and it’s another reason I’ll be voting no.
The final consideration is more of a happy accident really, voting no will give Clegg a bloody nose, it will take us closer to a world we once again have a socially liberal Lib Dem party and much as it’s no reason to vote against AV, it’s an enjoyable extra benefit.
Let’s not get too hysterical because the electorate frankly don’t care, but join me in May in voting No 2 AV. Join me in giving those who would insult the electorate with this fop, this sorry little compromise, a slow clap for throwing away the chance for real reform. But mostly join me in holding the whole thing in the disdain it deserves.