Well OK Then to AV

Over-stated, under-sold

Has constitutional reform ever been so unsexy? It’s hard not to see in Nick Clegg’s acceptance of the Tory offer to hold a referendum on AV the germ of today’s poll numbers: the problem with AV is that it only excites people desperate to stick with First Past The Post. Even the greatest proponent of the Yes To AV campaign can find only lukewarm arguments in favour of the system we will all be voting under should it prevail tomorrow. Most of these arguments have to do with how AV is not FPTP – and a negative argument is rarely a convincing one. The rest – that MPs will work harder, or that it will make every vote count – are various shades of nonsensical.

And this, of course, was always the Tory plan. AV doesn’t change the game so much as add a modifier; and therefore conversion to one side or the other is difficult. This leaves the sort of rallying cries and dog whistles we’ve seen each campaign resort to with depressing ease – because the aim can only be to fire up those already against voting reform, or to enthuse those in favour of it. I believe FPTP is unfar; I don’t particularly believe AV is the silver bullet. Nor do I believe that a Yes to AV will mean further reform soon – though I agree with Ed Miliband that should the result be a No, then there will be little chance of revisiting the issue voting reform for some time to come.

Thus, of course, the dilemma: faced with a choice between AV and many other alternative voting systems that could replace FPTP, I would not choose the Alternative Vote. Our Tory overlords, however, have connived to ensure I have only a choice between a broken system and a slightly less broken one (or one that’s still broken, but in different ways). Vote Yes, and I risk contributing to the adoption of a system I don’t like that much, either; vote No, and not only do I side with John Reid and David Cameron – I in effect register my disinterest in further debate on voting reform. In the absence of the zeal of conversion, however, both campaigns tomorrow face a referendum set to default – few have been convinced by anything more than their pre-existing prejudices, and the rest have largely ignored the whole affair. Does anyone expect turn-out to be very high? Thought not. Over on Labour Uncut, Dan Hodges didn’t need a crystal ball to call the result as early as yesterday.

Doomed to a forlorn hope and incrementalism, however, I shall vote yes. But as I do so I’ll hear David Cameron’s cackle all the way from Downing Street.


4 thoughts on “Well OK Then to AV

  1. Nick Clegg doomed any real hope of proportional representation when he agreed to AV rather than a genuinely PR system, and when he agreed to include the Tory gerrymander of parliamentary constituencies. If all this goes through (as it probably will) we will not get proportional representation in this country, and we may well not be able to get rid of a tory government.

  2. I had a feeling it would be worth checking out whether you blogged over this issue…

    I pretty much agree with your piece. I too voted ‘yes’ to av, but it was a some what timid ‘yes’.

    Personally, I’ve never really been bothered about it. I’ve never bought the argument from certain quarters that a new voting system (of any sort) is something that the public feel they need in order to cure their distrust of politicians. To be honest, I doubt the voting system is rarely brought up by members of the general public when listing their gripes with westminster; especially at a time when there are far more pressing social issues at stake. I think all of the arguments you gave about why AV isn’t a real change are pretty spot on. Of course, I don’t beleive there is a voting system that isn’t flawed.

    ‘Our Tory overlords, however, have connived to ensure I have only a choice between a broken system and a slightly less broken one’ Not sure I quite understand this? Are you really telling me that the lack of wanting a referendum on PR is uniquely Tory? You’re saying amongst all the nonsense talked about coalition talks ( whether its Ashdown talking nonsense about what went on or Ed Balls) that you geneuinely beleive that the Labour party- a party that has trouble sticking together over AV- would support PR? What, just because the likes Alan Johnson say’s so? I guess I’m a cynic but I feel that issues of self interest cloud all the main three parties judgement on voting reform.

    Anyway, good to have you back on the blogging front


  3. Hiya, Catho – good to be back! The first thing to say in response to your comment is that the intensity of public demand for a policy isn’t necessarily a good marker of how important that policy might be – indeed, the principal failure of the Yes campaign was in properly articulating why the change (or at the very least a change) was important.

    Which may well lead to my second point in reply: one reason the Yes campaign was so anaemic may well be becayse no one really wanted AV. That’s at the root of my ‘Tory overlords’ mark: had you asked a Lib Dem MP prior to the signing of the coalition agreement what their preferred voting system might be, few would have said AV. That was simply the only system on offer from the Tories. Cameron loaded the dice by giving the Yes campaign – that is, his coalition partners, to whom he had offered a ‘full, honest and open’ offer – such a poor platform from which to argue.

    On which note – no, the Labour party would not have full-throatedly supported PR. But that is, perhaps, why it may well be true that the Lib Dems were offered AV without a referendum by Labour. Indeed, this may come to be the only way to legislate for change in this country when the next generation comes again to consider voting reform – pass a small change by parliamentary diktat, and then present a bigger change to the country.

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