A few words on AV

I know that what the world really needs is another blogger giving their twopenn’orth on the upcoming referendum on the voting system for UK general elections.  So, here it is.

Firstly I will state categorically that I am definitely voting for a change to the Alternative Vote system.  It would be preferable to move to a fully proportional system, but given the mentality of our politicians and the ability of any large change to happen quickly (I recall a quote from either Yes, Minister or Yes, Prime Minister here: “government has the engine of a lawn mower but the brakes of a formula 1 car”) I can’t see that happening within my lifetime.

There has been a lot of bullshit spouted by both the yes and no camps in this “debate” — I use the quotes because the official campaigns have never really been about debate, but about repeating trite soundbites and spreading propaganda and misinformation about the other side of the argument.  It really has been one of the most unedifying spectacles since — well, since the general election, quite frankly — where politicians have been behaving like the disgusting vote-grubbers I’m sure a lot of them are.

I won’t rehash all the arguments again as to why one campaign or the other is a particularly dishonest or shabby one, as that has already been done pretty comprehensively elsewhere, such as this fantastic blog explaining the numbers in detail, or Johann Hari’s excellent column comparing the process under the AV system to that used to vote for The X Factor — I realise they’re not the same, but the comparison shows up just how specious the “AV is too complicated” bullshit is.

I will, though, just say that I became very disillusioned with politics during the last election, and not just because I voted Lib Dem and the candidate I backed didn’t win.  No, I was most disappointed with the blatant tactical voting happening up and down the country.  Maybe I’m a bit naive, but for me I think that people should vote for the candidate who best reflects their views, and if that candidate gets the majority of the votes (under whatever electoral system) then fair play to them, they clearly represent the views of the majority of the voters who turned out.  If not, oh well.

This led to a large amount of people abandoning their principles and voting for candidates whose beliefs (and whose party’s beliefs) didn’t match their own.  This then skewed results towards relatively unpopular candidates in order to keep out a party who would be relatively less popular.

But here’s the thing: the candidate who got in still wouldn’t represent the views of the constituency!  Say the voter turnout was 50%, and of those who could be bothered to vote (though I have sympathy with the disenfranchised who saw their refusal to vote as an indictment of the whole system) the candidate won with 35% of the available votes.  This means that only 17.5% of the potential electorate voted that candidate in.  50% didn’t want to vote for them, or any one else, and the remaining 17.5% voted for someone else.  How is that a good thing?

My hope with AV is that people will take it seriously, and vote the way their hearts tell them rather than listening to the cynical electioneering of career politicians.  That way, the winning candidate is likely to best represent the views of the people who wanted to vote.  How is that a bad thing?

My fear, however, is that between now and the next general election, the political spin doctors and wheedlers will devise new and cunning ways to corrupt our democratic process by making it all about who shouldn’t get in rather than who should.  If we allow that to happen, and the process of deciding governments becomes even more of a grubby popularity and shit-flinging contest than it is now, then I may well never vote again.

Every time I see a politician on the TV spinning truth into a propagandised fiction, I’m more convinced that the “none of the above” campaign from the film Brewster’s Millions is a good idea.  Perhaps there should be an option on ballot papers for “none of the above”, so rather than not turning up to vote people can turn up and declare that none of the candidates are worth voting for.  Who knows, if “none of the above” returns a majority, maybe it would force candidates and parties to confront the fact that people would rather turn up and vote for nobody than vote for anybody.

More than anything, I just want to be able to believe that our democracy is a good one.  At the moment I can’t say that.  I don’t know whether adopting AV will help, but I hope it will.  For now that’ll have to do.