Friday, 18 February 2011

AV ‘No’ Lobby needs to find a coherent argument

Today the Prime Minister will set out his reasons for voting against the Alternative Vote System in a Referendum in May. The electorate must now brace itself for nearly three months of political arguing and posturing over how we will elect our politicians in future.

The problem for the ‘No’ campaign in the coming referendum on AV is that a ‘No’ vote for AV (which actually is understandable in that it is by no means a perfect system) is also a ‘Yes’ vote for the First Past The Post (FPTP) system we currently use. As both Martin Kettle in the Guardian and Steve Richards in The Independent have pointed out in recent days, the anti-politics sentiment of much of the electorate is tipping the scales towards change, any change.

However, it also strikes me from listening to the opening skirmishes in this battle that the ‘No’ campaign is struggling to get its arguments straight.

Firstly, they argue that AV is undemocratic, in that voters have to choose a second and third choice who could, ultimately, emerge as the overall winner. Well yes, that could happen, but FPTP is hardly democratic either in that it virtually guarantees a job for life for MPs in vast numbers of constituencies around the country. As a case in point, the Conservative Party could set off a nuclear warhead in Bromsgrove High Street and the town would still vote Tory, in large part due to the boundary changes brought in many years ago which added the terribly nice suburb of Barnt Green into the boundaries of the constituency.

Secondly, the ‘No’ voters argue that AV leads to hung Parliaments and back room deals. Well, isn’t that what happened after May 6th? Is the Prime Minister going to stand up today and say he can’t countenance such grubby, undemocratic bartering of the type which got him into power after the last election?

Finally, it’s costly. The ‘No’ campaign argue that AV will cost us £250 million (this is a much disputed figure) and tell us on their website that it is a straight choice, schools or AV? Only it isn’t because my recollection is that the Government, elected under FPTP has already cancelled the Buildings Schools for The Future programme.

I’ve no doubt there are good reasons for rejecting AV, but the ‘No’ campaign needs to find them fast, because at the moment you can drive a bus through the holes in their arguments.


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