Wednesday 4 May 2011

AV - Like, Whatever

Wouldn't it be convenient if the most serious problem with our political system wasn't the interests that control it, or the careerists who are eager to make names for themselves within it, or even the politicians who'll make any number of sordid compromises just to reach its dizzy heights and ride in a bullet-proof limo? What if, instead, the main problem was the way our votes are counted and distributed?

Most of us know that's not the case and that the imbalance of power between government and governed has roots that are far deeper than the method of holding elections every four to five years. The controversy over MPs expenses helped to expose an entire political class that is removed from and largely unaccountable to voters, whilst the enormous influence that corporate lobbyists wield is surely the next long-overdue scandal to erupt in Westminster. A small change in the voting system, one that isn't proportional to the number of votes cast or even popular with supporters of electoral reform, won't suddenly throw open the doors of parliament. That's not what the decision to hold a referendum was for. It was instead the deal that Nick Clegg was able to squeeze out of the reluctant Tories in exchange for the Liberal Democrats selling out every principle they claimed to believe in.

That's why it's all the more surprising that otherwise sane and reasonable people are kidding themselves that AV is the 'defining' issue of this parliament - and in the process are getting so spectacularly angry about the prospect of losing tomorrow's referendum. Some of the intemperate, frustrated comments I've read today are signs that many already know the Yes campaign has no chance of winning.

I can understand why partisans of different political parties, from the Tories to the Greens, are so animated about AV, because they are weighing the electoral opportunities or threats that a different way of counting votes will have on them. I also see why much of the liberal commentariat are so fixated on the referendum - for them, politics begins and ends within the Westminster bubble. But why would anyone else, especially on the left, give a toss one way or another? It's not as though there aren't more pressing and important subjects to get fired up about, or that we have unlimited reserves of hope and energy to waste. It's certainly not that the issue has motivated and galvanised the wider public. The campaigns for and against AV have both been monumentally uninspiring.

As I've explained before, I didn't vote in last year's general election and don't consider it anywhere near the highpoint of my political activity, so the technicalities of how votes are counted is obviously even less of a priority. In February, I nevertheless argued that a vote against AV could be seen as "a deliberate act of mischief". But I'm not even sure about that now.

I'm really won't know whether I'll be dropping in to the polling station at the nearest school, for the first time in many years, until I wake up tomorrow.

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