Saturday, 30 April 2011

Why I will be Voting #No2AV

Following a pro-royalist blog post with a #No2AV blog post runs the risk of my being mistaken for a Tory by the innocent who stumbles across my blog. After all, aren't the 'progressive' parties supporting the proposed Alternative Vote, whilst those conservative Conservatives are standing in the way of voting reform? The problem is that AV is not a black and white issue, and whilst the #No2AV campaign has been full of crap, that does not mean that #Yes2AV is inevitably good. There are both good and bad points for voting for AV, both in terms of the system itself, and in the context of the current parliament.

Under the AV system candidates will need to get 50% of the votes as the second and later preferences of the least successful candidates are counted in turn. In theory this will mean that candidates are forced to engage more with the electorate as their seats inevitably become less secure. This is seen as a good thing, re-enfranchising many people who found themselves in previously safe constituencies. However appeasing 50% of the population is no easy thing, and seems likely result in the election of the candidate who offends the least number of people rather than does the best job. I should, at this point, out myself as an elitist, not in the Tory-inherited-wealth mould, but rather in the mould of Roy Jenkins. Sometimes governments need to make decisions and pass laws that do not necessarily have the backing of the masses. Whilst we may associate such unpopular decisions with decisions to go to war, or the current spate of cuts, they also include the passing of many of the UK's most liberal laws.

Jenkins is seen as one of the driving forces behind a wide range of social reforms in the late sixties by the Labour party, such as the decriminalization of homosexuality and government support for the legalisation of abortion. However it is important to recognize that such bills, which most Liberals would now support, would not have been popular with the majority of the population. Jenkins did what he thought was right, not merely what the people wanted. A government's job is to lead and sometimes make unpopular decisions, and it's easy to see how this could become more difficult if MPs are expected to appease a wider range of people.

The question is whether the benefits of greater engagement are outweighed by the disadvantage of having to appease the masses, and that is not as black and white as the #Yes2AV campaign would have us believe. However I do believe that #Yes2AV could prop up the Liberal part of the government, and without an overwhelming case for #Yes2AV I am not willing to do that.

The Conservative Party must feel as though it's Christmas every day at the moment. They are getting to make huge cuts in public services with the support of an increasingly weak bunch of Liberal Democrat MPs, who are taking a disproportionate amount of the blame. They are taking the blame because the public believes that Lib-Dems should know better. So why do the rank-and-file members of the party put up with it? Because they are holding out for one scrap from Cameron's table, the largest of which is electoral reform. It's not the sort of electoral reform Liberals want, or would give them a real voice in parliament, but it's the only reform they were being offered. If, however, they fail to get even the meagre scrap of AV, it's hard to see how the coalition will last another four years. Especially when Liberals feel the #No2AV campaign to have been so dishonest.

When AV is not the electoral reforms that the Liberals ever wanted, and by no means an unadulterated good, it is hard to see it as anything more than support for Nick Clegg and the Liberal support of the coalition. Neither of which I am willing to support.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Why I will be watching the Royal Wedding

This Friday, unless Prince William is jilted at the alter (currently a 100-1 outside bet according to Oddschecker), the second in line to the British throne will marry Kate Middleton. Half the country will watch, and half the country will be doing everything they can to make sure they don't watch. Along with the non-republican half of the country I will be hanging up the bunting, eating cucumber sandwiches and cream cakes, and drinking tea out of my William and Kate mug. Despite my near-communist beliefs, and a general distaste for inherited privilege, I am (at least for the present) a Royalist.

Wealth and opportunity are extremely unevenly distributed in the UK, and whilst it may appear unfair for the head of state to be based on the luck of the womb, most of the people who 'have done well for themselves' have in fact done well in their 'choice' of womb. There are far better places to start if we want to root out inherited privileges than doing away with the Royal Family; let us impose 100% inheritance tax, abolish private schools, do away with jobs and interns through the old boy network, nationalize industries rather than subsidize corporations. When we bring about a real socialist utopia, then let us deal with the rather minor point of the royal head of state.

It's not just about wealth and opportunity, people will argue, it's about the right for people to choose our own head of state to represent the country around the world. Putting aside the fact that the British public aren't even allowed to choose the Eurovision Song Contest entry these days due to their appallingly bad taste, let us suppose for the moment they have the right to choose a head of state. It seems the options are either to have a ceremonial head of state, or combine the post with the head of government. Neither sounds particular appealing.

A ceremonial head of state either promises a future where the British public recognizes the post's non-political role and elect one celebrity candidate after another, or alternatively recognizes the gravity of the role and vote for more politically minded individuals. I do not want a political head of state, whether ceremonial or combined with the head of government, if for no other reason than when they represent this country I don't want to confuse the person and their politics with the office.

Having a political head of state necessarily brings forward confusing allegiances. It was interesting to read some Democratic bloggers when the Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at George W. Bush. Whilst they disliked Bush, they couldn't help but see the shoe being thrown at the office of President. If someone takes a pot-shot at David Cameron I don't want to see it as a shot at the British way of life represented by the British head of state, but rather see it as the death of nothing more than a crap Prime Minister. As long as would be assassins leave the monarch alone, I promise not to take it as a personal slight.

When I watch the royal wedding this Friday I will be watching the continuation of the British tradition. I will be celebrating the fact I am not French with tea and sandwiches. If the monarch of the day starts to abuse their royal privileges, or a socialist utopia is built on these shores, we can revisit the situation again, but until then, as long as the Queen and all who follow her continue their current apolitical position, I will continue to wave my union jacks at the appropriate national occasions.