It would be nice to be able to give three unqualified cheers for one of the achievements of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, but yesterday's announcement by Nick Clegg of the referendum on AV leaves me with many reservations. To name but three:
1. It is to be on AV, which is not proportional, and, equally importantly, will do little to abolish safe seats. To revive our democracy we need an electoral system which makes it worthwhile for everyone to vote. Under AV elections will still be decided in a handful of marginals.
2. It is to be allied to a reduction in the number of MPs to 600. I suspect Liberal Democrats initially proposed this as a rather facile knee-jerk reaction to the expenses scandal. "Let's punish MPs and save money..." Reducing the number of the people's representatives is hardly a step towards improving our democracy, and it is not compatible with obtaining the reasonably-sized multi-member constituencies necessary for STV. It is hard to dismiss Labour's claim that this is really a gerrymandering trick by the Tories.
3. The referendum is to take place on the same day as the elections for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and some English councils. As I've argued before, all these institutions and their candidates deserve their day in the spotlight, not overshadowed by some other issue.
So one and a half cheers at the most.
On a brighter note, three of the four Radio 4 "Any Questions" panelists last Friday were in favour of the proposal. The one against was the Marks and Spencer boss, Sir Stuart Rose, whose arguments seemed strangely illogical (perhaps I would think that.) The audience too were overwhelmingly in favour. so the battle might not be as up-hill as some people think. However, as the Liberal Democrat representative , Olly Grender, pointed out, the right-wing press have not yet got out their knives, as they undoubtedly will.