Time for a change?


So the referendum is almost upon us and it’s time to put an ‘X’ in a box. Could it be that next time we go to a national poll we place a ‘1’ and possibly a ‘2’, ‘3’ against the options? This AV debate has lurched from the surreal (‘only 3 countries have it’) to exaggeration (‘it’ll do away with safe seats’) and wild inaccuracies (‘it will cost £250 million’) to tribal abuse (‘the death rattle of a right-wing clique’). It’s been hugely unedifying largely because both sides are desperate to capture some interest when the public are preoccupied with their household finances and the Royal Wedding. So here are my thoughts. I argued before the last general election that safe seats under first past the post (FPTP) are a travesty of democracy (I live in one). I’ve witnessed hustings in marginal seats where the outcome is uncertain and I’ve witnessed them in safe seats where everyone is going through the motions. I’ve even heard candidates from safe seats discuss how much time they spend campaigning in other marginals during the election period. I have never lived in a marginal seat and maybe I would get fed up with endless leaflets arriving at 6am for two months before an election. But I do believe it would better if there were more seats with uncertain outcomes so that candidates really gave it everything they’d got. If they had to think not just about first preferences but second, third and fourth it might put them back into contact with people different to themselves. And they might adjust their views to widen their appeal and be more representative. I don’t buy the line that we will inevitably end up with more coalitions (just look at Canada under FPTP or Australia under AV) but even if we did this is about representing more people, more comprehensively and giving more electors a say in their MP. AV will not do away with safe seats but it will lead to fewer of them and more marginals. It will not lead to every MP working harder for your vote (many do their best already) but it will mean that many will listen to a wider cross-section of their constituents. And it won’t solve our cynicism of politicians at a stroke but it will get more of us involved in shaping the political culture. This is not a horse race, it’s about democracy. I’m hopeful of the possibilities that change could bring rather then fearful of it. So I’m putting a ‘X’ in the ‘YES’ box hoping that in future General elections I will be putting ‘1’ ‘2’ ‘3’.

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2 thoughts on “Time for a change?

  1. I too am persuaded that yes 2 av is the way to vote. For myself I would hope that this change will lead on to further reform of the democratic processes and structures that have served many of us well for nearly 100 years. They now leave us very much less well served and so need a full examination by those whose jobs are not dependent on them.

  2. Well put. It was interesting at the Theos AV Debate tonight to see both sides distancing themselves from some of the more outlandish claims made by the different campaigns, whether it’s the No camp saying that AV will lead to cuts in body armour for soldiers or baby monitors in hospitals or the Yes camp saying that this will mean no more expenses scandals and all politicians will become saintly models of perfection. It’s the mudslinging aspect of it all, which is magnified by the media who are also substantially to blame for the tone of much of the coverage, that is most likely to turn people off the whole thing.
    Gavin Shuker made a strong point in saying that, the AV referendum aside, there are other reforms that would do more to restore trust in politics, such as a right of recall for MPs etc.
    Look forward to reading Chris’ post tomorrow too! Who knows I may even find time between nappy changes to write something myself… 🙂

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