Wednesday, May 04, 2011
For readers outside the UK, I should explain. As a result of last year's general election, the junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, insisted on a referendum on electoral reform as a part of the deal that took them into government. It's been a mainstay of their political mantra for a generation.
However... In all honesty, I would have to say that I am rarely stopped in the street by people desperate to reform the way we elect our MPs. Of all the issues facing us as a nation, this is hardly at the top of most people's agendas - outside the political classes. Even inside the political classes, really. Still, here we are. And rather than facing a referendum on an issue that has vast popular opinion driving it, we are facing a referendum on a politically driven matter.
So what to do? Vote, of course. Yes, but how?
Andrew Goddard has a Fulcrum article on the issue. He argues for a Yes to reform vote - yes to AV, the alternative vote, the change. Andrew & I were at university together - actually, we were on the CU committee at the same time. He's very bright, and often the thinking person's conservative (theologically speaking). I found his piece a little... presumptuous, I am afraid, and took the opportunity to write a few comments on the forum page attached to the article.
Don't take my piece there by itself as meaning I think you should vote No. It means you should think and question and not accept lazy propaganda. This is democracy we are talking about, and democracy is to be protected at all costs. AV as a system is used in Australia (where voting is compulsory), Fiji & Papua New Guinea. Nowhere else. That's not the greatest recommendation for a system that will be used in the Mother of Parliaments. The Australians are looking at changing it.
If I have a serious question about AV, it is this, and so far no-one has answered this for me satisfactorily: under our current system everybody has one vote. Everybody is equal. Everybody, everywhere. With AV, you may vote as many times as you like placing the candidates in order of preference - 1,2,3,4,5 and so on for as many candidates as there are in your constituency. So a constituency has 5 candidates: you have 5 votes. Or it has 12 candidates: you have 12 votes. Or it has 3: you have 3 votes. But you don't have to use all of them - you could just vote 1,2 and leave it there. The politically savvy will work out whether voting on down the list will advantage their candidate; others will not know if this works or not. People will have different numbers of votes, and some will be disadvantaged by this system. We will not all be the same any more. We will no longer be equal at the ballot box.
I am not answered here by references to choice: choice is about taking responsibility, and voting for everyone is not taking responsibility. I have stood in a voting booth and stood and stood as I weighed my choice, a choice I have already weighed for weeks and then have had to seriously make in that moment. That is choice. One vote that counts. The same as the next person's.
Democracy is about everyone having an equal say; until I am convinced a replacement system takes seriously the right of everyone to be treated equally, and does not exist principally for the benefit of the politically adept, I am not sure I can wholeheartedly support it.
BUT - more than that: I do ask that everyone who may vote tomorrow does so. Yes or No; think about it, pray about it, read about it, consider the arguments before you and make up your own minds. It may be an esoteric referendum. but when we have the chance to participate in the democratic process, we should. It's one of the ways we get to change the world.