Saturday, 7 May 2011


Well, that hurt. I figured the AV referendum was lost when Peter Mandelson endorsed change, but I didn't think it would be rejected quite as savagely. Still, one benefit of being a leftwinger is you're used to defeat and deal with it. So the referendum is dead, long live reform!

One good thing to come out of this; we know how the anti-reform camp are going to fight attempts to things. We can refine our tactics to take this into account. Remember, the goal isn't to introduce one system or another, but to achieve overall fairness. I'm an STV fanatic myself; but if AV can be defeated by Tories arguing it's too complex, then there isn't any point even thinking about trying to introduce STV any time soon.

The main problem for the AV referendum was a) it was tied to other elections, so it became largely a party political issue, and b) it was cobbled together in an ad hoc deal and then rushed through at short notice. A lot of people obviously have very little idea what the system actually entails, not really assisted by a shockingly disingenuous campaign from the 'No' camp.

The take home lesson is, probably, it probably doesn't need to be a referendum issue. the resounding message isn't so much that the public don't want electoral reform, but that they don't care how its done, as long as it isn't going to be a headache for them. A cross party electoral convention, looking at the system of election, the make up of the Commons and the Lords, all those things, might be in order. The system is Augean and needs a thorough clean out; unfortunately, I think the Tories will use this result as an opportunity to put it all to rest for a generation.

The good news is we've seen how the anti-reform camp are going to fight; we can now modify our tactics to take this into account. If they're going to attack AV as being 'too complicated,' we can anticipate that. Scrap AV (no-one really likes it anyway, apart from the Fijians and PNGians) and offer a FPTP-list hybrid, such as is used in New Zealand, though perhaps even a constituency vote and a party vote might be a bit too much for the British electorate. Keep it simple. One vote, with top ups to ensure substantial minorities are represented. Throw in the plans for real Lords reform, and you've got something that offers real change without fuss. And the British hate fuss.

I think a problem was how it became a choice over electoral systems: FPTP v. AV. The real issue should have been fairness - do you want a fairer system? I think that would have been a resounding victory. AV was rejected, and I'm not too sad about that. But the door seems to be open for the Additional Member system, which has three major advantages. One, it's simple, two, it is just a modification of the current system, and three, I hate it more than AV, so it must have some appeal to the demographic which rejected AV.

It's simple, like FPTP. One vote, like FPTP. The candidate with most votes wins, like FPTP. But less wasted vote, unlike FPTP. Thus: fairer, better.

And so far, New Zealand hasn't descended into Bat sh*t Anarchy, nor has it become a pissoir of political correctly correct identity politics parties.

(Note, that after years of searching, I've finally found the perfect collective noun for lots of political correctness.)

It would be nice to see Labour and the Lib Dems go into the next election with a pre-agreed 'renewal' platform, but I suspect the tribalists in Labour will move to squash any moves in this direction for a few years to come, clinging to the hope that FPTP will deliver them a turn at the wheel in due course.

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