Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vote for the dirty little compromise

On May 5, people in the UK who are allowed to vote are going to be deciding whether or not to introduce AV, which is a voting system. It’s not as radical a change as this would be, but I’d prefer it to the system we have at the moment. I might argue for it nearer the time, but in this post I want to talk about something else.

A week or so ago I watched David Cameron’s speech arguing that we should vote against the change. I'm a sensitive guy, and watching it gave me the creeps in a way not many things have before. The other occasion it happened that sticks in my mind the most was when I saw Norman Tebbit doing a speech in Oxford. I didn’t like David Cameron before, but now I’ve got a kind of visceral revulsion of him that it’d be hard to get over even if he started doing things I agree with. But that’s just a feeling, and it doesn’t bear on the relative merits of AV and the current system.

I think the nastiest aspect of the debate is that the conservatives wouldn’t allow a referendum on changing to a system of the Lib Dems’ choice. We're not choosing between the system the No campaign wants and the one the Yes campaign wants; we're choosing between the system the conservatives want and a system the they think they can beat and wouldn't mind all that much if they didn't. The Lib Dems would like a more radical change to something like proportional representation, but the conservatives wouldn’t allow that because it’s so far from being in their party political interests. Since when the coalition was being formed the conservatives were holding most of the cards, the Lib Dems compromised and decided a referendum on AV was better than nothing. So now the conservatives are campaigning against the change on the grounds that AV has various shortcomings, but the fact we’re not allowed to vote for a system which doesn’t have these shortcomings is entirely the conservatives’ fault. Nick Clegg is getting quoted as calling AV a ‘dirty little compromise’, but this shouldn’t be held against him. It is a dirty little compromise, but it’s the best Cameron’s lot would let him have. If AV isn’t the best alternative to the current system, then why didn’t they let us vote for the best alternative? Because the conservatives made the decision and it wasn’t in their interests, of course. The No campaign should be pointing this out. I don’t know if they have been. Clegg certainly didn’t when he kicked the campaign off. Maybe he hasn’t given the matter much thought. But whether Clegg realises it or not, Cameron’s trying to bamboozle us, and we mustn’t let him get away with it.

Correction (19/6/13): In the fifth sentence from the end, it should of course say 'The Yes campaign should be pointing this out'.

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