Monday, 18 April 2011

A plague on both your houses

In 1975 the UK held a referendum on whether to maintain its membership of the European Economic Community, a forerunner of the European Union; skipping the argument on the seemingly inexorable move from economic to political union, the result was a huge majority to maintain the status quo. I was eight. Thirty-six years later we have a referendum on the method for electing MPs to the House of Commons. I can’t remember anything about that earlier ballot; though I remember much that was ghastly about the seventies, it’s difficult to imagine the debate being worse than the one we have today.
At present, the UK uses the 'first past the post' system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the 'alternative vote' system be used instead?
First up was No2AV who, faced with the difficulty in pointing out how irrational the link from an expenses scandal to a need to change the voting system, not surprisingly ducked the issue. You’re not going to win any votes from the ‘something must change’ lobby by highlighting such nonsense, so instead they crunched numbers in a way that would make even Enron blush. Deep breath… it’s going to cost you… ooh… let’s say £250 million to change your voting system. And just when you think someone has finally managed to put a price on democracy you find out a third of that questionable figure includes the cost of holding the referendum itself. Eh? Next thing you know they’ll try suggesting the ‘alternative vote’ benefits the BNP. Oh… Baroness Warsi, how could you? Not only is that dubious, it’s irrelevant.

Did you hear that Yes2AV? Doubtless Baroness Warsi was thinking of Churchill’s comment on AV, how results would be “determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates”; but this doesn’t benefit the party itself, only those whose first preference may have been “worthless” and, in case I haven’t made myself clear, it’s irrelevant! To decide on one voting system over another based on a hypothetical that it may benefit a party of whom you disapprove is hardly a democratic stance. However, the more enthusiastic supporters of the “Yes” campaign must have skipped this rather basic lesson and are currently indulging in their own example of twisted logic; one that can be summarised as “the BNP want you to vote ‘No’, therefore you should vote ‘Yes’”. It is, I’ll grant, tempting; until that is you remember most proponents of AV would rather have proportional representation, a system that would most definitely benefit that obnoxious party. One might think they were prepared to say almost anything; that someone else started it, but presumably they’re going to finish it. Let’s hope not.

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