The AV Referendum is about more than Nick Clegg

I am feeling increasingly angry that the AV referendum campaign seems to be coming down to a question of personalities. Yes, it’s good it’s hotting up and there is now some real passion in what, until the last few days, looked like a mere distraction. But changing our antiquated voting system which is out of step with most of the rest of the world should not come down to Nick Clegg, or, for that matter, David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Vince Cable.

I, of course, hold no brief for Nick Clegg who, I agree, has proved a pretty useless Deputy Prime Minister. There is no doubt Clegg is now a toxic commodity, a far cry from the heady days of the pre-general election TV debates.

However, we mustn’t let our views on Clegg cloud the issue. The AV referendum is far more important than one individual.

Not only is it right that Britain changes its voting system to something fairer and more democratic, but we also need to be aware of what the Tories have done to our parliamentary constituencies. As Jackie Ashley pointed out in the “Guardian” yesterday, the Act allowing the referendum on AV also cut the number of constituencies to 600 and made them all more or less the same size. The combination of keeping first past the post and the new gerrymandered constituencies will give the Tories a massive boost.

David Cameron could be on the verge of pulling off a master-stroke if the Yes Campaign loses its momentum and allows the Nos to get a foothold, even, dare I say it, winning. If Britain votes to keep first past the post there is a very real danger that the Tories may be in power for a very long time. It could mean a return to the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher style government.

Just in case you need reminding, Margaret Thatcher presided over unemployment topping one million for more than 10 years, decimated the trade union movement, laid waste large tracts of our industrial heartlands, waged war on Labour in local government, introduced of the poll tax, amongst other horrendous policies which struck at the core of the well-being of our country.

And in each of the general elections which returned Margaret Thatcher, the Conservatives only gained a minority of the votes cast – 43.9 percent in 1979, 42.4 percent in 1983 and 42.4 percent in 1987, due to the undemocratic nature of first past the post and the geographical distribution of the Tory and Labour voters. As I once heard the excellent former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who was a great supporter of proportional representation, say: “Under PR we would not have had Margaret Thatcher.”

I do not believe that the majority of the British people want a return to Thatcher, clothed this time as Cameron, or similar if Dave doesn’t go the distance.

When our electorate did not give any political party a clear majority in the 2010 election, they were telling the political class that they did not want either of the two main parties to govern. This can and does happen. We have, in fact, had a number of hung parliaments since the Second World War, including 1964, twice in 1974 as well as 2010. It seems that British politicians just cannot accept that sometimes it will be like this and that not every general election will produce a clear mandate for one particular party. Our continental counterparts take a much more mature view and are not afraid to form coalition governments when their electorate wishes this to happen. 

Strong government does not always equate to good government the “of the people, by the people, for the people” variety. Voting yes to AV will make the way we choose our representatives fairer and provide a bulwark against governments who seek to impose their own misguided ideology no matter what the consequences may be for the majority of those who live in our country.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “The AV Referendum is about more than Nick Clegg

  1. Many of the No campaigners who says that AV gives some people more votes than others are MPs who have been elected through an exhaustive ballot. The exhaustive ballot is the same as AV, with a certain opportunity for tactical voting at later stages.
    The arguments they put forward against AV apply equally to the exhaustive ballot.

  2. It shouldn’t be about personalities or even narrow political advantage. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, we need a better electoral system. AV may be a bit better than FPTP, but not a lot – we need to vote YES for change.

    Every voter should know their vote will make a difference to the election result.
    Election of MP’s should be based on the merit, not a consequence of wearing the right rosette.

    Uncomplicated, single member constituencies, simple voting and counting, PR Government – Direct Party and Representative Voting

    Google ‘DPR Voting’

  3. The No people stress the simplicity of FPTP. But simplicity of method can lead to complexity of consequences. Chomsky in linguistics talked about a ‘trade-off of complexity’.

    But I understand that people who have used AV have tended to favour it: when they understand what it does. The Tories of course know perfectly well what it does: that’s why they oppose it.

  4. Daniel Oxley

    I have already voted by post for AV. I am not an enthusiast for it but my hope is that it will lead to another referendum so that we can vote on Proportional Representation. It might be that it will not be a milestone on the road to PR but a conclusion to reform but one can hope. It would be good if the public got a taste for having referendums and that we could have one on our increasingly unpopular membership of the EU. We were promised a referendum on EU membership by the Labour Party, the LibDems and the Conservatives.

    Martin’s point about the issue of the simplicity of FPTP is a useful one. I am tired of Tories and others forever going on and on about ‘one man, one vote’ etc. The simple approach is not always the best one. Baldrick solved the problem of his mother’s low ceilings by scything off her head; a simple solution but the unintended consequence was considerable.

    Mary is right to say that the vote should not be about personalities. I am not put off from voting the same way as Nick Clegg. Sometimes people, however wicked or deranged they are, do sometimes stumble across a sensible idea. Adolf Hitler was, for instance right in wanting state funded university places even though he was wrong about everything else.