diamond geezer

 Wednesday, April 06, 2011

There's a month to go before I have to make up my mind on this one...
At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead?
It ought to be easy to pick sides.
But I'm finding my decision unexpectedly difficult.

I'm tempted to vote NO. First Past The Post is simpler, faster and has tended to produce strong government. Meanwhile AV is a quick-fix sticking plaster, rather than a genuine proportional solution. Surely it's got to be better to stick to a readily understandable system ("the candidate with the most vote wins"), rather than switching to something which takes three pages to explain and leaves most citizens baffled?

And yet the NO campaign is run by idiots. Their propaganda is based on fear and spurious misinformation, as if they're trying to frighten every small-minded tabloid reader in the country into voting against. Adverts comparing the cost of AV to the price of a bulletproof vest or maternity ward are an evil misrepresentation of budgetary priorities, peddled by establishment desperados. The more I read the no2av website, the more I want to scream at its blatant and shameless fact-twisting.
"The change to AV will cost up to an additional £250 million. Local councils would have to waste money on costly electronic vote counting machines and expensive voter education campaigns. With ordinary families facing tough times can we really afford to spend a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers' money bringing in a new voting system? Schools and hospitals, or the Alternative Vote – that's the choice in this referendum."
I ought to vote YES. It's progressive, dynamic and maintains the direct constituency link. Why on earth should Britain stick with a medieval voting system when mathematics could deliver something superior? Surely it's got to be better to count people's second and third preferences, rather than disregard majority opinion?

And yet the YES campaign is also run by idiots. The thrust of their advertising seems to be based on the frankly nebulous idea that the alternative vote will somehow make MPs work harder. A significant proportion of the population firmly believe that all MPs are workshy double-dealing criminals, so the YES campaign shamelessly panders to this prejudice by implying they'll create a parliament full of hard-working trustworthy angels. Which is also rubbish.
"The expenses scandal showed how deeply out of touch some of our politicians became from the people who elect them. It arose from a culture where some MPs have ‘seats for life, and leads to poor service, complacency and taking voters for granted.’ vote. Anything’s possible when you only need 3 out of 10 voters on your side."
I'm tending towards ABSTAIN. To vote YES is unproven while to vote NO feels dirty, so why don't I simply not vote? The more I see of the pro- and anti-AV campaigns, the less I like either of them. The whole referendum battle risks turning into a vacuous parade of celebrity mud-slinging rather than a debate about the issues. Vote YES because Joanna Lumley does, or vote NO like Winston Churchill - this is scary, manipulative, dumbed-down stuff.

And yet to ABSTAIN would also be wrong. This referendum is a genuinely important decision of lasting national importance, even though a majority of Britons don't seem to give a damn. Whether the UK chooses to keep its old system or switch to a new one will change elections, change governments, change our island's future. I need to be a part of that choice, I can't just step back and allow it to happen.

So I don't want to vote YES, I don't want to vote NO and I don't want to ABSTAIN. I might prefer a different option, a proper form of proportional representation, but that option doesn't appear anywhere on the ballot paper. I can only choose between an imperfect new system or the status quo, and I really can't decide which is the least worst option.

There's a month to go before I have to make up my mind on this one. I'm going to need it.


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