So the eagerly awaited and oh-so exciting AV referendum is now in sight, with Ed Miliband today setting out the Labour leadership’s opinion on one side, and many other Labour MPs and party members saying why they will be rejecting the proposal on the other. It does seem that the party is split down the middle – not a great position for an opposition party reassembling itself after electoral defeat. Incidentally, it is perhaps not the most shining example of ‘new politics’ or maturity when our leader refuses to unite with Nick Clegg because of his new status as Public Enemy Number One – surely there would be less cynicism in the electorate if we as an opposition party took each issue exclusively, instead of pointing the finger at the Tuition Fees Bogeyman.
The arguments for or against the Alternative Vote aside (I’m personally in the ‘Yes’ camp for want of something marginally further down the road to Proportional Representation), what strikes me the most after the disheartening advertising tactics of the ‘No’ camp (I’m sure you’ve seen the baby-in-incubator and soldier billboards) is the lack of interest amongst the wider electorate. Today I asked a friend of mine whether he had yet considered which way he would vote, and the reply was that it would make no difference to the political scene, so why should he bother? I wanted to answer his rebuttal, but found to my horror that I couldn’t. Whether or not we stick with First Past the Post or adopt AV will have little bearing on electoral outcomes on a national scale, only at constituency level (where AV would make elections far more interesting, as those who witnessed the Guild election results will testify), therefore the best we can hope for is the lesser of two evils, while those running for office continue to make vacuous or downright deceptive pledges in their election manifestos e.g. the marketisation of the NHS and tuition fees.
The real question on the ballot paper should not be ‘AV vs FPTP’, nor even the far more deomcratic ‘AV vs FPTP vs AV+ vs STV vs AMS…’, but something which reads less like a mathematical formula and more like a choice between two fundamental democratic frameworks that disillusioned voters can really get their teeth into. We need a choice over whether or not we want to overhaul the House of Lords (a process which has thus far taken a century); whether or not we want to de-throne and de-robe the monarchy; whether or not we want to reduce the stranglehold of the elites over our economy; in short, whether or not we want a new constitution. That is not to say the previous government had a gleaming record on constitutional affairs, although devolution and removal of hereditary peers were a good start. But by throwing a bone for the Lib Dem poodle in the form of a paltry referendum on AV, the Tories have got away with it again, whichever way we vote on May 5th.