22 March 2011

What's the Alternative?

I consider myself to be reasonably well informed. I watch the news not just to laugh at the macho reporting conceits and overblown graphics. I can not only pronounce Jeremy Hunt the Culture Secretary without slipping, I could probably pick him out of a line-up. In fact, I'd have a stab at it for all members of the cabinet - if it weren't for that ASBO. Yet I suddenly realised this week I had absolutely no opinion on the Alternative Vote (AV) system, nor which way I shall vote in the upcoming referendum on the subject.

Obviously, as a consumer of modern news 'content', I would expect both sides of the debate to frame their arguments in a patronising publicity stunt that involved at least one minor celebrity, yet nary a Sian Phillips nor Alex Reid have I seen. No campaigning, no leafleting, little TV coverage. It's as though they are expecting me to actually look things up and read about it. And having done so, I think I've gotten to the bottom of it: no-one actually wants it.

If you look at the position of all major political parties, and quite a few smaller ones, not one of them is actually in favour of this happening. The Conservative Party self-evidently doesn't want it, but even among those supposedly in favour of the change, they mutter it cautiously under their breath. New Labour looked at the idea back in the 90s before they realised how to win an election with only 35% of the popular vote. Even among Labour and Liberal Democrat members who favour the change, most would actually choose the Standard Transferable Vote system over AV. But having asked for steak and got a burger, they feel they have to swallow it in case yesterday's leftover liver and onions is served up instead. The Scottish Nationalists can't even be bothered to formulate an official position on the subject.

The supreme irony would be if a system of government that requires 50% of the vote to be cast for the winning candidate were chosen by less than half the electorate, assuming turnout is at the usual levels of local government elections. Maybe this is somehow appropriate: a government nobody chose asking us to decide on a voting system nobody wants and may well get, despite nobody voting for it. If you should be careful what you wish for, that goes double for something you don't.

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