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The answer is ‘Yes’!

April 28, 2011

For a change I thought I would write about something topical. Referendum fever is gripping the nation. (This statement may in fact be true for some nation somewhere.) The handful of people who intend to vote seem unsure about what to choose so I thought I would offer some advice.

A major factor in voter apathy is the fact that our system is dominated by two parties who have little to separate them in ideology. This is a direct result of the current voting system which encourages tactical voting. The failure of the Lib Dems to turn their poll figures into seats during the last elections is a result of people being too scared to take a chance on a small party and switching to a tactical vote at the last minute. I personally decided some time ago that I would always vote for what I actually wanted and as a result I ‘waste’ my vote every election.

We have a chance to end this now. Those of us who already vote for smaller parties will have more influence on the outcome of elections while people who usually vote tactically can vote honestly. This will, I’m sure, increase the vote share of the Green Party for instance and could result in a more varied intake to Parliament. This will be good for everyone except the two main parties. (And by everyone I mean the population at large.) It could also lead to a more comprehensive reform of the electoral system in the future. A ‘no’ vote will be taken to mean that change is unnecessary and it will be decades before such an opportunity occurs again.

The arguments made by the ‘no’ campaign include cost, fairness and unpopularity. Firstly I would say that if we really are too stingy to pay for elections then things have become pretty bad. Why not just ditch the whole expense of having a democracy at all? Secondly, politics is a complicated business. Few people vote for a party because they wholeheartedly support its entire manifesto. Ranking candidates in order of preference better represents the way people actually make voting decisions. While AV may not be ‘fair’ by analogy to a running race (the analogy made in the propaganda leaflet) it is probably more likely to reach a result which is more in line with a general consensus. This might be seen as voting for grown-ups and would seem more democratic and thus fairer. Thirdly, it must be obvious to everyone that the option of AV is a stitch-up. The Tories chose this system to offer the Lib Dems because they knew it was unpopular and therefore easy to argue against. As I said above, this is the only choice we are likely to get, but a ‘yes’ vote could be the gateway to a better system.

There remains the issue of Nick Clegg who finds that the decisions he made to ensure that we had this referendum are being thrown back at him by the very people he supported. The ‘no’ campaign is trying to make the referendum about the popularity of Clegg but there is the problem that by portraying Clegg as a Quisling you make David Cameron Adolf Hitler. As Cameron represents the ‘no’ campaign it makes no sense to vote against Clegg because by doing so you endorse his evil master. Apart from anything we should vote ‘yes’ because Cameron doesn’t want us to and he is the real villain here.

From another perspective it is worth considering the consequences of the vote. A ‘yes’ vote will annoy the Tories and possibly cause some trouble in the dark caverns where the old anti-Cameronians lurk, plotting the re-establishment of the British Empire while complaining about feminism under a picture of Margaret Thatcher. Whether they would have the potential to cause any real trouble is hard to say. It would also allow Clegg to regain some credibility with his own party and strengthen his position there. A ‘no’ vote will be spun by the Tories as an endorsement of their entire program and possibly provide them with the impetus to enact whatever ghastly legislation they reserve for special occasions (scrapping the minimum wage perhaps?). It would, however, destroy Clegg. It is not impossible that he would lose the support of his party and be ousted by anti-coalitionists. The coalition would collapse and after a brief struggle an election would have to be called. Ed Milliband would triumphantly enter Downing St and surprise everybody by turning into Britain’s Roosevelt and leading us all into a glorious future of  prosperity, social justice and sustainable energy. (We can dream. But why is FDR not talked about these days? Presumably because there’s a myth that cuts are the answer while the most successful response to a global depression in history was to do precisely the opposite.)

To make your voting decision based on the last paragraph would be to vote tactically and I have already suggested that we have a chance to do away with tactical voting. Just vote ‘yes’ so we can enjoy the look on Cameron’s face when he sees the result. (I do have a few suggestions which would genuinely improve the system which I may reveal if anyone is interested.)

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