Monday 4 April 2011

Quiet calm deliberation on AV - please.

It is a cliché of debating that if you need to cite Hitler and the Nazis to support your case than you have probably lost the argument. Chris Huhne came near to this last week when he accused Sayeeda Varsi, fellow cabinet member but a leader of the "No" campaign, of conducting a "Goebbels-like campaign." Not quite Hitler, I know, but it did lead to at least one "Nazi" headline.

There is alwas a dangner in a debate about elecoral reform that anoraks such as myslef will cloud the issues by arcane discussions about different systemns. So far this has been avoided, apart from, as far as I'm aware, an intervention from David Owen and an Anglic bishop (of Blackburn, I think) which has made little impact. Happily even those who consider theselves experts seem content to debate the pros and cons of FTPT versus AV, which is, after all, the choice we have.

Having avoided this danger it would be unfortunate if the debate degenerated into a PMQ-style slanging match between the "Yes" and "No" campaigns. Nothing could be more likely to disillusion the electorate into seeing the issue as "just more of the same old politics" rather than an opportunity to take a further step in the development of our democratic process.

However wild arguments from either side seem to be, they need to be conuntered calmly and rationally, rather than abusively. The "No" campaign has made two claims which we believe to be wrong. One is that AV will cost umpteen millions which would better be spent on hospitals. It won't. In the third of constituencies where the MP has a clear majority than the count will cost no more than at present. Where there is not a majority then the redistribution of worst loosers' votes will take a little longer, but will be done by hand, as it has been for years in Australia. Machines will not be required, and any extra cost will be marginal and well worth it for a more reprentative and responsive House of Commons.

The second disputed "No" claim is that AV will encourgae extremist parties such as the BNP. The opposite is the case, since in closely fought contests parties will need second preferences to win and extremist parties are unlikely to attract them. That is probably why the BNP prefers FPTP and is actually suporting the "No" campaign.

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