Thursday, 21 April 2011


Coming up we have the vote on AV, and I have to confess I'm torn. The choice is to change the UK General Election voting system from "First Past The Post" to Alternative Vote. (I put First Past The Post in inverted commas because I'm sure no-one's formally named it that, same as the Impressionists didn't choose their own name, and I'm pretty sure Tory is a rude word in Irish if you look it up).

But how to vote? At first it looks simple. I'm a knee-jerk liberal lefty, and voting reform is a knee-jerk liberal lefty thing, isn't it? Well not quite, because AV is just one sort of voting reform, and not the one that anyone really wanted as a first choice.

PR, Proportional Representation, is the method of voting that would, to my mind and to the mind of many who campaign for voting reform, be the best choice. This method would take every single person's vote, for whichever party from whichever part of the country, and add them up on a national level so that it registered and counted. So a vote for the Tories in Glasgow, or for Labour in rural Somerset, would actually count, rather than being wasted.

On a purely selfish level PR would mean that, for the first time in my voting career, my vote would signify (I've always voted Labour, except for one embarrassing vote for the LibDems which we won't talk about, and have always lived in a safe Tory seat, my MP for the last 20 years being Liam Fox).

The argument against PR is that minority and radical parties would get seats, and that is true. For every Green MP, and there would be a lot of those, we would get a BNP MP, and I fear there would be a lot of those too. But so be it. It is ignorant of us not to acknowledge the diversity of opinions held by the public, and I feel it right that they should be represented. There should be Islamist MPs and Nazi MPs if enough people feel strongly enough to vote for them. Then those MPs should take their place in the chamber, side by side and face to face with their fellow MPs and slug it out on the political battlefield. That, I think, is how democracy should work.

But that idea, PR, is not being proposed in the current referendum. What is being proposed is AV, something that the LibDems last year were all calling a shoddy compromise, a messy halfway house, and other clearly damning phrases. In AV what happens is you vote for your choice, the person you want, the team you support, then there is the opportunity to vote for a 2nd choice.

Who generally actually has a second choice? If you're voting for your Favourite Doctor Who then okay, everyone's got a second favourite there. But say you're a football fan (which I confess I'm not) and you're asked to vote for who should win the big match? Are you going to put "City" on the ballot and then, just in case, back it up by putting "United" as your second choice? I don't think so.

And when your second choice vote does get to be counted, what do you get? Well, Ed Miliband is the cautionary tale for everyone there. Poor guy, well intentioned, I share his politics, but he was very clearly not the person the Labour party really wanted or needed to lead the party into the next election. By First Past The Post, his brother David would have won. As it is, under the AV system that was used in the leadership ballot, Ed got the job and is now the uncharismatic face of the Yes to AV campaign.

So, how should I vote? It has been joked (by a number of comedians and Private Eye) that one should vote Yes to AV as your 1st choice, and No to AV as your second. But is even that satirically brilliant option satisfactory?

I actually think AV is flawed and I really want PR. But if I vote against AV I'm siding with the Tories who want to oppose all electoral reform because of their own vested interests (and quite a few Labour MPs who are also opposing reform for the same reason). But if I vote for AV, which I don't wholeheartedly support, am I selling out to compromise? (Says he who voted LibDem last year, oh the shame).

And if AV were to win the vote (it won't, by the way) then we try AV and it turns out to be the unsatisfactory shambles that I think it might, mightn't we end up with the situation where we retreat to First Past The Post and are stuck with that for longer than if we hadn't tried to change things in the first place?

Here's a solution. This is the solution I've used with many decisions before: Tribalism. Yes, as a spineless weedy craven coward, why don't I just do what my mates are doing? Why don't I follow the lead of the people whose opinions I respect and the paper I read? I did that in the election last year. Remember? That time that me and David Mitchell voted LibDem cos The Guardian told us to? Well I've learned my lesson there.

So why don't I do the opposite? The Guardian is campaigning for AV, so I should vote against. But look at the writers I admire - Paul Cornell is voting for AV, I should do like he does. Oh, but Mark Millar is campaigning against AV, and I like his stuff too. Mind you, he's voting SNP and, until we get PR, there's no point in me doing that (unless the SNP choose to stand in North Somerset) so my role model's giving me mixed signals there.

What to do? I think I'll continue my survey. The more of my respected Tweeters vote one way, I'll be swayed, the more people I hate vote one way, I'll be swayed against their view equally. And if I happen to settle on an opinion of my own in time for the big day, all the better.

Now, here's a photo of a Tardis with a big chunk taken out of it:

PS: Since writing this I have found Yes to AV: Tim Minchin, Charlie Brooker, David Schneider and lots of other comedians. While a tweet from @DaveMedlo tells me: Joining the TaxPayers Alliance in #NotoAV are the Murdoch Empire, the BNP, UKip, The Star, Express and Mail. Who'd want to be at that party? . So now siding with the cool kids in the playground. The debate continues.

PPS: Just did quick survey of who has come last in UK byelections in recent years (these being the parties whose voters second choice would then be added to the others to tweak the result). They seem to be equally split between Independent, Green and LibDem. This tells me absolutely nothing and may well have been a total waste of time, thanks.

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