Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Votes From The Elbonian Jury

So what, then, to make of the AV referendum campaign? Like much in British politics in the , I suspect it's a question that only the historians will be able to answer. After all, whatever result emerges at teatime on Friday, will we be able to say with any sort of confidence why it happened?

I certainly don't feel like the campaign has had much to do with the result. Much as the Yes campaign clearly won the intellectual argument, doing so by default because the No campaign didn't have one made that victory rather hollow. Beyond that, the primary effect of the campaigning seems to have been to further convince the electorate that they're all just as bad as each other, which in a referendum always likely to be touched by voter apathy was never going to be helpful.

Either way, it is that lack of an intellectual argument that will, more even than the result, affect our politics in the years to come. The defining moments of the campaign were when David Cameron, the Oxford PPE graduate and student of Vernon Bogdanor, not only said that he didn't understand AV, but then proved it in front of John Humphrys. At another time, it might have been funny, but with the issue front and centre and coming from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I have to say it was terrifying.

In the month or so of a formal campaign, it was understandably impossible for the Yes campaign to cover all of the many ways in which our world has changed and our political system hasn't. But for the No campaign to do what it has, to stick its fingers in its ears and its head somewhere else, and try to claim that the world hasn't changed and that our political system is what it is, what it will be and what it was, is unconscionable.

The result of one referendum on one small part of a political system that involves every single person in the country will not alter the fundamental fact that people rightly expect and demand more involvement in decision making and more choices and that it will require wholesale reform of every branch of government at every level to deliver that. Petty tribalism on all sides, including my own, cannot justify the disenfranchisement of so many.

So as you cast your ballot today, of all the myriad statistics that have been thrown at you, consider these two that maybe haven't. In the 2010 UK general election, just under 58% of people didn't vote Labour or Conservative, because a third of people didn't vote at all. Indeed, five million more people didn't vote than voted Conservative. How many of those didn't vote because their choice would be ignored or wasn't available under the current system? AV is not about Lib Dems, or Conservatives, or Labourites, it is about all of us and it is a road we must embark on, starting today.

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