So tomorrow (or, well, today now, hoorah for pathetic sleep schedules) Britain goes to the polls for a referendum on the Alternative Vote system. For Yanks and other foreign creatures, this is on whether we want to make the voting system by which each small constituency across the country votes for their Member of Parliament slightly more sophisticated and slightly more fair.
AV is better, however marginally, than FPTP. FPTP is the primitive product of far less egalitarian years, an undemocratic, shitty system which results in undemocratic, shitty governments, and anything which can make it less so is an improvement, up to proper proportional representation. Disagree that representation should be proportionally based? Then you are disagreeing with the fundamental “votes should matter” principle of democracy, and you’ve probably got a good right to, but that’s another debate entirely. AV is objectively more democratic, and PR more so than that.
There’s no real argument against AV, not that people haven’t tried to fabricate one. Comically, a poster up in Selly Oak showed a sad soldier and claimed – probably mendaciously – that it would cost A WHOLE £250M to implement AV; defence spending probably has me rather jaded as to what a billion pounds can buy, but for context, we spent more than £250m on jet fuel, maintenance and cruise missiles in Libya in a matter of days, and that same sum would get us two Eurofighters without any weapons. It’s just not a lot of money; it is utterly insignificant in government spending terms. And it’s not exactly “too complicated” to rank preferences, you condescending pricks.
The biggest reason not to vote for reform (apart from party loyalties, but those are for stupid people) is that AV is a really pathetic improvement. It makes the matter that bit more democratic, it will shift slightly from the two-party system we have in all but name, but it won’t save the world, and it won’t really make British politics less crap. Both sides have been making some hilariously outlandish claims in an attempt not to address how basically boring this referendum is.
It feels like a catch-22 for people like me, who (ideologically at least; but I am the very model of a basically-apathetic, limp-dicked-optimism champagne humanist, and the reason I never blog about politics is partly because I don’t think my arguments are substantial or educated but mainly because I don’t care) support serious electoral reform, something that may start with AV but won’t be done until we’ve got PR. Which is that in this binary referendum, whoever wins, we lose. If it goes through, then the argument by the anti-reform crowd will be “you’ve got your reform, stop causing a fuss.” If it doesn’t, then the wholly reasonable argument will be “nobody wants this, shut up and sit down.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day, though. Every step in the old battles to extend suffrage to women(/the young/the poor/the landless/Catholics/people who aren’t really our kind of people) probably felt like this. Regardless of how crap AV is, it’s still an improvement, a step.
I’ll be voting AV, but I’ll be doing so with a heavy heart and a lingering feeling that it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t really matter because our elections don’t really matter. It changes nothing except very slightly altering the manner in which we elect the same crowd of assorted idealists-turned-to-scum-by-the-system, and as long as British politics remains the lame, dickless, self-absorbed comedy of errors it’s been for my whole life (and, to be fair, probably forever) it still won’t matter. We’re not polishing the brass on the Titanic with this referendum, nothing so dramatic; we’re polishing the brass on a beached dead ship on Alang waiting to be blowtorched apart and turned into rebar.
But it’s still a step – a faltering, feeble, baby step! – in the right direction.