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.

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