Tuesday, May 03, 2011

"Ave!" AV?

With only a couple of days to go before the local council elections and voting system referendum takes place, I feel somewhat obliged to blog on the topic. My primary aim in this is  not to sway your vote in any way.  I will be posting my own view, and will uncharacteristically nail my colours to the mast publicly... but don't worry if you aren't interested in hearing yet another person's take... because I will make a clear distinction before I go into that.

The point I wish to address is why you should go and vote on the subject of AV at all.... particularly if you feel ambivalent, nonchalant or apathetic about the whole thing.
The AV Referendum: How Should We Vote?
As you may know, I'm a strong believer in exercising the right to vote... even when you feel there is no "right" choice... I absolutely believe you should express your opinion by deliberately spoiling your ballot paper. I think it is lazy and disrespectful to all the people who have fought and in many cases died to obtain and preserve your right to vote as a free person.

For me, this belief is amplified when it comes to the referendum.

Why should this be?

It is simple. Referendums are curious political exercises... in many ways they deliver more power and say into our hands than a simple electoral vote. This is because when we are voting on a single issue (especially one as hotly debated as electoral reform), we are actually directly shaping policy. Whatever the outcome at the end of this week... Parliament will have to abide by it.

In an age when many of us have become sick and tired of being pushed around by politicians, many of whom exist within a detached bubble of irrelevance... when all of a sudden we are presented with an opportunity to directly manoeuvre the country's direction... we should grab it with both hands (and if necessary fight tooth and claw).

Having established that we should take part we come to the question.: how should we vote?

No... this isn't the bit where I tell you what I'm voting and try and sway you. Instead I want to make some very important points about the criteria we should... or more to the point, should not be using when making a decision.

  1. I Will Vote In Line With My Preferred Party.
    If you are thinking of making a decision based on this notion, then I humbly suggest you take another look at what you are doing. This would be a waste of your vote... you would not be exercising democracy, you would be acting like a robotic sheep. I have become incensed at the way certain parties have thrown all their weight behind one campaign or the other. The Conservative Party had absolutely NO business making the "NO" position the party line. Similarly I was disgusted with Peter Mandelson for coming out and stating that this was an opportunity for the British public to hurt the Government and give David Cameron a bloody nose. Tribalising the debate about electoral reform benefits nobody.  It neatly avoids the issue and turns the vote into a farcical re-enactment of the last General Election... or a dry run for the next one. Both Government and Opposition are guilty of using this as an opportunity to damage their adversaries' credentials; they are making this debate about them... and not the country. They should be ashamed of themselves and need to be taught a lesson.

  2. Voting X Will Benefit The Party I Am Most Inclined To Support
    This is a similar argument to the one above (in fact, it is pretty much the same intent dressed up in a different way). The simple truth is that you are not charged with the mere task of voting for the outcome that benefits your personal ideology. That is extremely selfish thinking. Instead you are bestowed with a far greater responsibility - deciding which form of democracy is fairer for all.... even if it flies in the face of your own deeply held political convictions.

  3. Tradition or Change for Its Own Sake.
    This isn't a game... and you should treat the subject with appropriate gravitas. "It's always been this way, as far as I can remember" and "lets get rid of this just because I'll feel like I've achieved something" are once again invalid criteria. The former reflects an attitude of unmoving, overbearing parental imposition... the latter betrays a vein of recklessness and a desperation to make a mark without thinking things through. In both cases, any decision is dominated by ego and not by sound objective judgement.
Tempting as it may be to take any of the paths above, may I urge you instead to take the road less travelled by? When Thursday comes and you make your mark on the ballot... do so with objectivity and responsibility.  Remember that this vote is not about them (the politicians) and it is not about you (personally), it is about all of us collectively. The decision you make will not be for part of our society... it will be for all of our society. Try to take yourself and all the public figures clamouring for your attention out of the equation. Research the basic facts and come to an informed decision.

The power is yours, the freedom and choice are yours... and the responsibility is yours.

Use these things wisely.

Don't "Choose Poorly". ;-)

***End of Main Post Scroll Down for Personal View***

Before I go on... I want you to know that my choice in the referendum is based on the criteria I endorsed above... I am not a hypocrite. As it stands, there are no parties (south of the border at least), that match me closely in terms of my politics... I therefore have nothing to gain personally by voting either way. My choice has been made entirely on my interpretation of what is best for the nation as a whole.

My personal inclination is to vote in line with the "Yes" campaign. At first this was on gut reaction. All my adult life I have not been happy with the first past the post system. It is a known fact that whoever gets elected always represents a minority; in fact in modern politics, the number of people who vote for any party are generally outnumbered by those who either spoil their paper... or do not bother to vote at all. I do not subscribe to the idea of enforcing a compulsory vote as a viable way of dealing with this problem... as I find it undemocratic. Much as I loathe people's laziness for not bothering to show up and vote... I respect their constitutional liberty and democratic freedom to not participate if they so choose.   I do not begin to presume that AV will magically redress this imbalance on its own, I do believe it is one avenue we can explore to try and do something about it. If people are deciding not to turn up and vote because they know they are in a political stronghold... then AV would in part at least give those who feel disenfranchised some incentive to become involved once again. The NO Campaign will tell you that AV supporters are sceptical of its merits but they are far more sceptical of the status quo... and many see this as an opportunity to "start the ball rolling", a means to an end.

The NO campaign will also tell you that AV is not widely used... but really is this at all relevant? Should we be deciding the fate of our country based on what everyone else is doing? Are we really that lacking in resolve that we will follow everyone else? So what if only a handful of countries use AV... it isn't about them. It is about us.

The No Campaign states that AV will put more power in the hands of politicians because they will need to make back room deals and concessions to other parties in coalitions.  This argument above all the others betrays the Tory agenda most clearly (it even uses the watchword term "broken politics" that was so liberally applied by the Tories in the last election). They know that ideologically, their list of allies is a lot thinner than that of say Labour or the Liberal Democrats. If you take a look at this analysis on the Political Compass website, you can see why the Tories would be rightly anxious about a system where coalitions are the norm rather than the exception. David Cameron has also stated himself that under AV, politicians would be more corrupt because they would have to make promises to everyone... that they couldn't keep, in order to be elected. This really is nonsense. Call me old fashioned, but I believe that a person should be elected to serve the majority electorate interest... and not make promises left right and centre just to secure power. I for one am not so much interested in a person/party's promises and targets as I am their ideology. When all the smoke and mirrors fade, I believe most people vote on a basic understanding of the traditional agenda and principles of "the big two".  I don't want a politician promising me everything in the world... I want to know what their core standards are. If they think something is wrong and they aren't willing to commit to it, I want to weigh it up against my other choices... not have some schmoozer feeding me a bag of excrement for the sake of his own selfish political ambition.

The No campaigners will also tell you it is unfair and undemocratic. This is a misrepresentation. I would mistrust anyone who said either system were undemocratic. Neither is technically undemocratic, they are different expressions of democratic systems at work.  Whichever system we use will always carry some level of unfairness for someone. What we need to establish is which is which unfairness we are most comfortable living with. Simply put... are we more comfortable with a current system that hands the keys to the country to a party that may win less than 20% support (going by 40% of a 40% turn out), or are we prepared to allow people who have had their first choice eliminated to have their second or possibly third choice counted?

I believe that the most important thing we need to establish going forward in the future of politics for this country is consensus. We live in a society that has been fragmented into diverse political focus groups who have radically different and sometimes opposing agendas. The only way we can establish a government that truly represents this diversity is to establish which party most are happy to live with. The saying goes that "you can't have your cake and eat it". Under First Past the Post there's a danger that "you can't have your cake or eat it". It's a bum deal... you get left with nothing.

Right from birth, we are taught about how to make compromises. Imagine you are a boy in a toy shop. You want to buy a flashing glowing giant Optimus Prime toy robot but your dad tells you you don't have enough money. You do have enough money for a Barbie doll, the other option is that your kid brother has a bit of money that would get you an Action Man if you were prepared to share. Are you seriously going to walk out of the shop with the Barbie? Because that is all you'll get out of First Past the Post. If you are prepared to make the sacrifice and combine funds with your brother that will get you something you can live with? That's Alternate Vote in a nutshell.... and that's why (petty squabbles in the campaigns aside), I've thrown my lot in with the Yes campaign.

In case I have not been concise, the video below was put together by the television historian, Dan Snow. It is by far the best, most positive campaign I have seen on either side of the debate. If you haven't made your mind up yet, I encourage to add this to your contemplation:

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