Friday 18 February 2011

AV: Help Break The Coalition By Voting No

There are, as I've argued before, many more important expressions of democratic involvement than voting. There are inherent dangers in placing our limited reserves of hope and energy into handing politics over to a professional class - one that has repeatedly sought to maintain the status quo - and then blindly legitimising their control over our lives by turning up at a polling booth every few years. That's why I feel distinctly underwhelmed by the confirmation yesterday that a referendum will be held in May to tinker with the way we choose between competing Westminster professionals.

At least, tactically, a genuine proportional representation system might allow more space for voices from beyond the mainstream. But the proposed Alternative Voting (AV) system isn't genuinely proportionate. Instant run-off voting is designed to make the current 'first-past-the-post' system seem more acceptable but like all elections where the winner takes all, it only creates the false impression of majority support. In fact, AV is more likely to squeeze out any minority parties, reduce the impact of protest votes and reinforce the blandness of political debate.

Even commentators like Martin Kettle in the Guardian, who is supporting the Yes campaign, acknowledges that AV is a system that no-one supports. But it was central to the Coalition negotiations last May, "the prize that finally persuaded the Lib Dems they could go in with David Cameron."

Politically, this leads to an obvious conclusion for those of us who don't much care which of the mainstream parties stand to gain or lose from AV. The outcome of the referendum will, one way or another, have an impact on the increasingly fragile bonds between the two governing parties. A 'Yes' vote will strengthen the Coalition whilst voting 'No' against a voting system that isn't proportionate and that no-one supports may help to break it.

So perhaps, for once, there's a reason for voting in this one after all. The arguments put forward by the No 2 AV campaign may represent a reactionary endorsement of the current electoral system, but the same isn't necessarily true of every individual 'No' vote. Rejection of AV can also represent a deliberate act of mischief, a considered rejection of Tory attempts to buy the complicity of Clegg's Lib Dems in their destruction of public services.


Mike Law said...

And I'd suggest "don't know" as your second preference.

Michael said...

David Cameron will be the main beneficiary is this attitude catches on. Why is it that the Tories are practically unanimous in there opposition to AV?

True, small parties won't receive their due under AV, but at least they will see the true extent of their first preference supporter which is currently masked by the squeeze of tactical voting.

AV is a small step beyond FPTP, but it is one worth taking.

Bryn said...

I agree with Michael and I think you can take the argument further. Not only is a 'No' vote a boon for Cameron, a 'Yes' vote would embolden Lib Dems whose current timidity keeps the coalition together. If they were to be reminded that many of the policies they stood for at the election are popular amongst a sizable proportion of the electorate then perhaps they would fight more passionately against their domination by the Tories leading to a rift and perhaps eventual collapse.
A 'No' vote would see them implode allowing the Tories to dominate further while their right wing leadership moves closer to a permanent merger.

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