Of all the deceptions, broken promises and downright lies uttered by Nick Clegg prior to the general election, the howler haunting him this week is his description of the alternative vote as “a miserable little compromise”. Now fully supporting the Yes to AV vote, the Deputy Prime Minister is likely to have “a miserable little compromise” carved just under his name on his political tombstone.
When it comes to change for changes sake, the hippo tends to be conservative and believes that tinkering with democracy should be a carefully considered process. The Liberal Democrats, although possessing the morals of a whore, are not stupid and realise that after decades of obscurity and 11 months of betrayal, AV is their only hope of survival. Tinkering is not enough and so we now have this headlong rush into a fundamental change in the voting system cobbled together in the desperate viper’s nest of the coalition agreement. Given the decline in popularity for the two main parties, Proportional Representation was the holy grail for Clegg, but offered a nice badge and some security men, he settled for the AV bowl of scraps.
Both the Yes and No campaigns agree that AV is flawed and, for once, Clegg was correct to call it a compromise. However, the utter nonsense spouted in favour and against is bedwettingly puerile. The no campaign claims that voters are too stupid to understand AV and if approved, will result in shambolic coalitions. Interestingly, the referendum was the brain child of a shambolic coalition that threw in constituency boundary changes that favours the “senior partner” for good measure. In a charmless and patronising broadcast, the no campaign compared AV to a horse race when the third place nag wins and Cameron had earlier evoked the Grand National with the same message; third comes first.
The first past the post analogy is a good one as politics is just like a horse race. The diminutive light weights in red, blue and yellow racing silks are carried over the winning line by beasts of burden as speculative onlookers scream encouragement in the hope of making a fast buck. Those jockeys fortunate enough to reach the winners enclosure at Aintree dare not look back at the carnage at Becher`s Brook as the screens are put around the corpses of the electorate. The exhausted winning gee-gees receive an apple and a scrub down with a wire brush as the jockeys and owners quaff the bubbly and the punters pick up their winnings.
The yes campaign claims that MPs will have to work harder and that democracy will flourish. Under AV, votes cast for parties, policies and candidates rejected by the majority of the electorate will not be “wasted” votes. In a charmless and patronising broadcast, the yes campaign gave us a war hero who, having voted in every election since the end of the Second World War, wanted his vote to count. His courageous fight for democracy ensured that he, and the rest of us who owe him and his comrades so much, had the right to vote. But no amount of medals and saccharine piano sound tracks and celebrity endorsement gives anyone the right to win.
If the no people see democracy as a horse race, then perhaps the yes people see it as a football match. After a dire one-nil clogging contest on a foggy Saturday afternoon, the manager of Loser United is interviewed in the tunnel:
“It’s a disgrace. Our two players should not have been sent off for that challenge. They both went for the ball. Our condolences to the opposing player’s family, by the way. After that, we were a man down. There were more of them so we should have been given a goal to make it fair. Plus, we got more corners and they committed more fouls. It’s scandalous. We won.”
Both sides in this increasingly nasty argument simultaneously agree and disagree that yes and no will see the ascendency of tiny, crazy and dangerous parties. It is really rather wonderful that everyone is wrong and right at the same time. Under AV, if the “winning” candidate receives less than 50 per cent of the vote, second, third, fourth and consequent “preferences” are counted again. So, if a life-long Tory voter in a Tory seat puts one against the Conservative candidate, two against UKIP and three against the BNP, without a 50 per cent majority, the election descends into a dance-off. Similarly, in a Labour seat, fringe parties have the advantage. Given their track record in government, we can dismiss the Liberal Democrats from the equation.
There is, though, one salient issue that both campaigns have ignored and that is the choice of the electorate. There is nothing to stop an individual voter placing one against his or her preferred candidate and ignore the also rans. There are those in this nation who would disembowel themselves rather than give any possible vote to the likes of the BNP. For others, that bunch might be their first and only choice.
The referendum campaign has resulted in some strange bedfellows. Cameron is opposed to AV but deputy Clegg is in favour, in spite of it being “a miserable little compromise”. Ed Miliband is also in favour but 200 of his MPs and peers are against including our own Valerie Vaz. Her stance is not to do with electoral reform but is about seeing her constituency disappear. Curiously, the BNP are against AV. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, with low turn outs the BNP can possibly take seats under first past the post. Secondly, asking their supporters to write down the numbers one to five or six rather than placing a cross would result in electoral catastrophe.
On reflection, the hippo rather likes the first past the post system. The current basket case coalition can be seen as an anomaly in the electoral process given the unpopularity of politicians in general. AV would make this shambles the norm. But given those opposed to the compromise AV, Cameron, the BNP, the odious Tax Payers Alliance and even the irritating Ed Miliband, a vote in favour of AV is the only option. How’s that for a compromise?
By the time Margaret Thatcher was in her second term, she had acquired the nickname “Tina”. This stood for “There Is No Alternative”, apparently a phrase she used with the regularity now associated with “inherited budget deficit”. She, along with her successors, are wrong. There is always an alternative.
To combat voter apathy, low turns outs and under representation, this humble blog suggests that compulsory voting by all who hold the right is introduced. This would be enforced under legislation similar to that currently being used to ensure an accurate census.
To preserve our hard fought democracy, a final option should be offered to the electorate at the bottom of the ballot paper. A box where we can place our mark that states: “None of the above.”
After all, that’s what we did in May 2010.