It’s not that surprising to see the complaints about the proposed referendum on switching to alternative vote. The thing I don’t understand is why there doesn’t seem to be anyone speaking up for the status quo.
While I’ve become increasingly liberal (though not Liberal Democrat) in my old age electoral reform is not one of the issues I’ve particularly changed my views on. So while my younger pride in being such a mature democracy that we didn’t need a written constitution has been challenged by thirteen years of Labour trampling over our civil liberties I’m still a fan of our first-past-the-post system.
I have rehearsed the arguments before, and my views remain unchanged. Indeed, I can’t help but think of the irony that my assertion that FPTP produces stable government has been proved, rather than weakened, by the hung parliament and the subsequent coalition that currently seems as strong as any we’ve seen since 1997.
Having said that (and much as I have become a fan of the coalition) I couldn’t help but be left with a nasty taste in my mouth when the Lib Dems were negotiating with both Labour and Conservatives after the election. Proof, perhaps, that electoral reform mainly helps third parties gain disproportionate influence and a few seats around the Cabinet table.
What I don’t buy are some of the arguments against the referendum, such as the complications of holding them on the same day as Scottish, Welsh, Northern Ireland and some local elections. The idea that people are somehow incapable of coping with multiple elections and votes on the same day is, frankly, insulting. And while some are complaining this will give disproportionate weight to non-English votes (assembly elections will push turn-out up) others are complaining that the referendum will over-shadow the assembly elections. Clearly you can’t have it both ways.
In many ways it seems there’s a fear of democracy at play, which is dangerous. No election will ever be totally perfect, all we can do is strive to make is as good as possible. Likewise, no electoral system will ever be perfect. And, if we’re honest, there are very few people who would volunteer that electoral reform is the most pressing issue facing the country.
Electoral reform is a sideshow, the main event is dealing with Labour’s debt.