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.

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.

[Thanks to Mark Thompson on Twitter for pointing out my schoolboy typo of putting FTPT rather than FPTP in my original post.]

Gordon Brown’s deathbed conversion to electoral reform has certainly stirred up some interest in our electoral system. And not a little cynicism about why, despite having a commitment to electoral reform in their 1997 manifesto it has taken until now to do anything about it.

It seems to confirm that Brown’s strategy is to play for a messy draw at the polls. Perhaps at night, as he rests his weary head, he fantasises about a minority Conservative government struggling with public finances and making themselves unpopular, while the population start to yearn for the good old days of Brown and, eventually, he is carried aloft on the shoulders of a loving (and repentant, how dare they have rejected him?) public back into Downing Street.

But what I’ve not really seen is any defence of our first past the post electoral system. A system I rather like.

“Well, you are a Tory,” you may snort, “and of course you don’t want change.” But I have actually changed my opinion on a number of constitutional issues. Having been fiercely proud of our unwritten constitution after 13 years of seeing our rights and liberties eroded I’m increasingly drawn to the idea of having a written constitution and bill of rights. I used to see the benefit of hereditary peers, but now recognise that for the one or two whose life experience enhanced the second chamber there were many more who added nothing to our Parliament other than a few minutes attendance to claim their allowances. And while I enjoy traditions like election night, I’m far from wedded to it and see no point in keeping something that – really – seems to be surviving purely because political anoraks want it.

But I do like the electoral system, even though it is currently weighted against the Conservatives to the extent that we could win the vote by a decent margin and still lose the election. I won’t pretend my reasons are novel, they aren’t, they are the same old arguments you’ve heard before. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good arguments.

For a start, first past the post delivers good results. And by good results I mean decisive results. Since the war it has tended to reflect the public mood rather well. In 1945 it produced the massive victory for Clement Attlee to start the building of post-war Britain. Then it switched between Tory and Labour administrations to reflect the country’s preference for (Butskellite) paternalistic government. It gave us Thatcher to rescue us from the failings of 70s intervention and (to prove that I can see the other side of arguments) it gave us Blair to rescue us from Thatcherism.

The consistent theme is that it provides us with strong governments, but can produce decisive change when that change is needed.

I was having an interesting conversation the other day about whether politics should be representative (essentially that politicians should try to change and adapt to reflect the prevailing public mood on any issue at any time) or should be about leadership (politicians should present their beliefs and policy platform, then deliver on that if elected and stand on that record at a subsequent election). While it isn’t black and white I tend to favour the latter; politics should be about more than just representing the results of a referendum of public opinion, or passing on the opinions of a focus group. First past the post means we can have strong leadership and government.

Having said that ironically, first past the post does lend itself to that more representative form of democracy – since there is a direct link between a member and their constituency. There is none of the mess of multi-member constituencies or party selected lists. People vote for their member and he or she represents their interests. This link, I would contend, is a strength.

But most importantly it keeps power with the people – even if they delegate it every five years – and keeps our politics in the mainstream. Instead of coalitions agreed between party leaders we have governments chosen by the changes in public opinion. Germany was a great example of how a third party dominated politics by effectively deciding who won the election it was only a few years ago that an election, rather than the third party’s whim, actually changed their government. And because it means parties have to appeal to a broad spectrum of the public if they are ever to stand a chance of winning a seat it means extremism remains marginalised. We would not have seen the BNP winning seats in the European Parliament under the old first past the post system. Is it fair that small parties are effectively doomed to constant electoral defeat? Perhaps not. But when it’s the BNP, are you going to complain?

What we really need is a shift in power in the country. Not by changing the electoral system, but from the government to Parliament, so the votes that people cast don’t just make a difference when aggregated nationally, but make a difference locally. We need MPs who have real power to hold the government to account and make a difference to their constituency. That would start to produce a real change and help address the massive disaffection people have with the political process.

Making votes matter isn’t about knowing that your vote elected 1/60,000th of an MP somewhere. It’s about knowing that whoever is elected can make a difference.

Sadly though, unless you can spin that into something that might convince Brown it would save his skin, it isn’t going to be taken up by this Prime Minister.