Talking to my Dad last night on this issue reminded me that I wanted to do a little post about the vote on AV that’s taking place later this week.
Here’s my thinking.
The campaigns on both sides have been shit. So we must ignore the campaigns, as neither of them has put forward a substantive argument in favour of what they want us to do. I don’t believe a vote in favour of AV will mean we have to kick our way through drifts of dead babies to get to the poll booth. And like most level headed people, I’m disinclined to vote yes to AV purely because Eddie Izzard says I ought. So we can scratch a line through the influence of the campaigns, then.
What of the influence of the political parties? Well, all the political parties involved are cunts. I think that’s a given. So that isn’t going to persuade me one way or the other, either.
What about the idea that AV will legitimise smaller, fringe parties such as the BNP? There are arguments for and against this idea, and as many people say that AV will reduce the BNP’s political weight as say the opposite. I think the short version is: if enough people want to vote for the BNP they’re going to get represented. That’s already happening under the current system, and the issue isn’t so much which voting system we use, as making sure parties based on racist and far-right ideals are politically discredited. A job I wish all the parties took as seriously as they take campaigning about AV, but hey. To give you a snapshot of the arguments on this issue though: the Daily Mail says that AV will be “a gift” to the BNP. The Guardian, based on research done by IPPR, says it won’t. In fact the dire warning about the BNP appears to have originated with Baroness Warsi, who is a Conservative (clue: they are against AV). So I’ll let you work it out for yourself.
Another idea I’ve seen trotted around the ring a few times with various clowns riding it is the one about AV causing more coalition governments. One might imagine this is being put forward by the anti crowd, given that the government we have is one of the best bogeymen the UK has ever produced, outside a Dr Who set. But no. AV – according to fullfact.org does increase the chance of a coalition government, in a closely run election. But the trend across Europe is for more coalition governments regardless of the voting system (including FPTP – let us not forget, FPTP got us where we are today), and it isn’t terribly surprising when you think about it. The core issues: we want healthcare, good roads, housing, less poverty and so on – are common to any decent political party, leaving us arguing over what colour the frills on the PM’s knickers are going to be. In February of this year Belgium set a world record – eight months without a workable government as they wrangled over the set up of a coalition nobody could agree on (and it isn’t the first time this has happened to Belgium). And yet the country seemed to chunter along much as before. The trains still ran. Nobody laid siege to Antwerp. I hear the steaks and the beer still tasted very nice indeed. What I’m saying is: if coalitions are increasingly inevitable, then perhaps Europe needs to find a more grown-up way of getting them to work. Perhaps that process will take time. Perhaps in the interim there will be frustrating periods where everything resembles a giant penis: but the world won’t end and let’s not get over-excited about it.
What we do know for sure is that our current system does not fairly represent the opinions of the electorate.
We also know that AV is not the solution to that.
However – and this is a huge “however” – if we say “no” to AV, we effectively close the door on the issue of reforming the voting system, potentially for a long time. Every time someone tries to reform the vote to make it more representative of what people want in future, the old answer “Oh, but we had a referendum and people voted no” will be dragged out by whichever party is currently in power (ie which ever party has just benefited most from the FPTP system), and the idea will be mothballed again.
If we vote “yes” for AV we will have a flawed system that will assuredly need to be tweaked, changed, and thought about again very shortly. It will give us new problems. It will be a pain. It won’t answer all the issues we want it to answer, and it will throw up new ones.
But we will have taken that all-important first step towards truly proportional representation. And I think that that is a goal worth putting up with some inconvenience for.
It’s sort of like growing your hair. There’s going to be a year where you look like a yeti. Suck it up. It’s worth it.
I’m going to vote “yes”.