Many years ago, possibly before I even became a councillor, I remember wishing that I could observe politics without having such a strong self-interest. I was jealous of those who could be impartial commentators and able to watch events unfold with the disinterest that is only possible if you haven’t hitched yourself to one of the parties.
Of course, one day I will be able to do that. I no longer want to be an MP, I won’t be a councillor forever and having been an activist for over twenty years I can’t help but feel I’ve done my time. However, the alternative vote referendum has given me a little sample of what that life will be like.
Frankly, it’s not appealing.
Not because I found myself desperately wanting to be part of the process (although I inevitably found myself involved in the campaigning), but because I realised that to the observer politics just isn’t that appealing!
Perhaps annoyingly, as someone who believes passionately in the value of debate, this campaign has not served as an example to the world. Recent days – overshadowed by a wedding and a burial at sea as they were – were characterised far more by Huhne’s hissy fits than intellectual debate and argument on electoral reform. It’s been politics and not policy.
I have written before that I’m a supporter of first-past-the-post. But for most of this campaign I’ve been pretty much on the fence. A lot of this is because of my affection for the coalition. It turns out that the world did not stop spinning on its axis when we got a coalition government. In any case, AV is not much a proportional system and barely a change from FPTP – many have pointed out that it would have delivered even more decisive victories in elections like 1997, while last year’s hung parliament would still have been a hung parliament.
In fact, I came to realise that I was a floating voter. While my instincts may have been FPTP I couldn’t totally discount the arguments for AV.
But when I cast my vote today my cross will be in the ‘No’ box. And, if the polls are anything to go by, my experience is not uncommon.
Maybe it’s in my psychological make-up is conservative as well as Conservative so I needed persuading by the Yes campaign to move from a default no vote. But their campaign has been far from persuasive, the argument that a voting system affects the work rate of MPs is so weak as to be laughable. And the charge that there are “wasted votes” seems to suggest that votes only have value if they elect somebody and ignoring that AV, by definition invites up to 49% wastage in any case.
Under the current system we see landslides when they are needed, just as we’ve see second and third terms when they are needed. And while you might claim that AV forces parties and candidates to be more representative you can hardly deny that the past few decades have been dominated by a battle for the middle ground.
In fact it’s the sophistication of the electorate that really matters, not the sophistication of the electoral system. And I happen to think we have a very sophisticated electorate; who cast or with-hold their vote, remain loyal to their party, switch or vote tactically to get the result that the nation collectively wants or needs. And that’s why I’m hoping we stick with first-past-the-post.