Friday 6 May 2011

The AV campaigns: a national disgrace.

I am writing this before the result of the referendum is known so that, whatever the nation has decided, I shall not be accused of sour grapes.

Even if by some miracle the "Yes" campaign wins, I believe that from three points of view: the arguments of the protagonists, the conduct of the campaign, and its reporting, the campaign has been a disgrace, more worthy of a banana republic with a semi-literate population rather than one of the world’s most mature democracies .

The arguments put out on both sides have been pathetic. The distortions of the truth from the “No” campaign – particularly the absurd claims about the cost and the need for voting machines, that AV is “obscure” and “unfair” and that some people under it get more than one vote – are well known and easily refuted

The “Yes” campaign has limited itself to claiming that AV will make all MPs work hard, when most of them do anyway, and that it will end “MPs’ jobs for life” which it won’t in many if not most cases.

The real advantages and disadvantages of the two systems have simply not been debated.Instead the argument has degenerated into a exchanges of abuse and cries of “foul”, particularly form the “Yes” campaign, which apparently took the deliberate decision not to attempt to refute the “No” campaign’s assertions, but to stick to its misguided mantra of making MPs work harder and getting rid of jobs for life. The three pieces of literature I had from them, two of which I delivered and one which came by post, all simply repeated this nonsense..

Thirdly, rather than concentrating on the issues the media has lost no opportunity in exaggerating the divisions within the Coalition and, to some extent, within the Labour party. Even the Guardian headlined a fierce attack by Nick Clegg on David Cameron when an examination of the actual speech showed that Cameron had hardly been mentioned. As always for the media, personalities and vacuous speculation about the future have won out over policies.

Although I have believed in and campaigned for electoral reform for almost 60 years, I hope we shall never have another referendum on it. The “No” campaign claimed that AV is “Not British.” What isn’t British is the referendum itself, which in the past we have rightly scorned as a device to bolster the authority of despotic politicians in less enlightened lands. The campaigns of the past few weeks have amply demonstrated the weaknesses of the referendum process, namely that the issues are over-simplified and that both the debate and the vote tend to be about something other than the question asked(in this case Nick Clegg) .

We are a representative democracy and elect our MPs and councillors to use their judgement to make decisions on our behalf. If MPs are not to be trusted to decide how they themselves should be chosen, which is probably the case, then the job should be given to a Citizens’ Convention of, say, 500 electors chosen at random, as are juries, to whom the various alternatives can be explained fairly, in detail and at length, and who can then make an informed decision.


  1. I had been going to write a piece myself saying much the same as you have. You are right - this whole episode has been a disgrace, politics at its very worst. The referendum process is deeply flawed for exactly the reasons you say. Where do we go from here...?

  2. Sorry, every time a saw another idiot wheeled out (David Blunkett, John Reid, but I'm sure there were lots of Conservative idiots too.) I changed my mind. But did vote Yes in the end. Actually, this idea of appealing to 50% plus of the electorate makes me think that policies will be rather tepid. I would be happier in elections if my vote counted for 5,000 or so.

  3. Oh, sorry, I meant to say, why on earth don't we have "voting machines"?? Computers have been around for some time now. Anyway, this blunt pencil thing in a booth seems almost Victorian, although it has dramatic possibilities.

  4. Couldn't agree more. It is not even defeat with honour for YES, as the (actually very good) arguments for AV were not made. Shows that electoral reform will not come from intelligent debate but only when one of the major parties sees its future at risk under FPTP, as could happen if the Scottish results were replicated in a Westminster election.