Monday, 2 May 2011

No Change, No Chance!

On Thursday May 5th Voters in the United Kingdom go to the polls to elect a Parliament in Scotland. and Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland. There will also be council elections, as well as Mayoral ones all over England, except for London. The one common theme seems to be, ' How much can we punish the Liberal Democrats, for breaking their promises, and the role they've played in the coalition?' The principle target for this ire being the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg.

However, there is another ballot that day, which covers the whole country, and is all that Londoners will be voting on, and this is the referendum on the Alternative Vote.

This referendum is the subject of this blog today, and why I believe that many people could well find themselves regretting their decision very quickly, deciding in haste and repenting at leisure.

This is because if the current polls are correct, not only will the No camp win, but quite substantially.

Firstly, let me say, those voting No because they genuinely believe First Past The Post is the best system, I have no problem with at all. I may disagree, with them but it an honourable position. I wouldn't have an issue with Cameron's support, if he hadn't spouted the No campaign's lies as well. if he stuck to his 'FPTP is best' mantra' there wouldn't be an issue. I do not intend to go into the campaign's misinformation, as I intend to look at different issues today.

There are three main reasons why I believe most No voters will be ruing their decision in the near future.

1) A lot of Labour supporters see it as a way to give Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats a 'kicking' and that it will put the coalition under pressure. This will not happen, because not only do the Liberal Democrats need it more than the Conservatives, their only hope now lies with the economy picking up by the time the next General Election arrives, which is currently planned for 2015.

The Liberal Democrats are firm advocates of referendums, and they will have no choice but to accept the result, even (or especially) if it goes against them. Indeed, any problems within the coalition will continue regardless of the result, because it is the nature of the campaign, not being on opposite sides, that has caused rifts.

I don't think this would change even if Clegg was replaced before then as leader (perhaps taking over Jackie Ashton's job in the EU), because whatever difference there might be, survival would be the new Liberal Democrat leaders prime concern.

Therefore, a Yes win could, in my view, actually increase these rifts, because it would give Liberal Democrat cabinet members the upper hand, and the right would be after Cameron's blood.

2)I can understand the frustration of those who, like me, want to see Proportional Representation adopted for Parliamentary elections, as it is in the various Assembly elections.

However, those voting No because they believe that will make PR more likely are, in my opinion, living in dreamland. The Alternative Vote is by no means a perfect system, and has many elements of FPTP, but does give a wider choice to the electorate.

A decisive No vote will actually make PR a very distant prospect, because the campaign will claim a clear victory for the status quo, and it will take any electoral reform off the table for generations.

A Yes vote is no guarantee that PR will follow on quickly, but it will show an appetite for reform, whereas a No vote will indicate that people are happy with the system under which governments ignored the Countryside Alliance, and the anti-war protests in 2003, as well as the expenses scandal.

On a personal note, it just seems so odd to me that people spend so long complaining, then when the opportunity arises do nothing to try and change things. Another aspect that is strange about this for PR advocates, is that so many of the arguments being used against AV; cost, complexity, minor parties influence, are exactly the arguments that will be used, and worse, against PR. So if you want PR, you're shooting yourselves in the foot voting No.

However, as a friend of mine more or less said a few days ago, 'I'd rather be stuck with AV for twenty, or even forty years, than the current system for another two hundred.'

3) This reason is very much linked to point two, and that is that David Cameron, no doubt with that smug expression he seems to permanently bear, that the voters have comprehensively rejected reform.

Indeed, I believe that a decisive rejection, will give the Conservatives the confidence to massively slow down, or even abandon, other proposed reforms such an elected upper chamber (especially as he seems happy to support PR for those elections).

Cameron's line will be that there is no appetite for reform in Britain, and no matter what questions arise in the future, he will say that it has been rejected decisively.

It will also create huge problems for any new government in the future, in that even if the leader is in favour of changing the voting system, what priorities will they feel the people have?

The new boundaries will be in place for the next election, which will make it very hard for any party other than the Conservatives to gain an overall majority, and they certainly won't be seeking to change the voting system for Westminster.

If Labour were able to gain a majority, then they may well feel that there are other things they need to do, and that the public would not welcome another referendum on a subject already so decisively rejected.

However, a win for the Yes campaign (although I do agree the official one has been almost as useless as the No campaign) would put Cameron under immense pressure from within his own party.

Many on the right of the party do not like being in coalition, and believe (strange as that may seem to many) that too much has been ceded to the Liberal Democrats, including the referendum itself.

A win for Yes would put Cameron's position under threat, and enable the differences between the partners to be emphasised, as the likes of Chris Huhne's and Vince Cable's comments during the campaign are constantly repeated.

Therefore, I believe that a win for Yes in the AV referendum on Thursday will be a win, win, win, for many opponents of the coalition, and the advocates of electoral reform.

It would increase rifts within the coalition as the anti-coalition Conservatives will begin to flex their muscles, and Cameron's position will come under threat. He will have to distance himself ever further from the Liberal Democrats.

A win for Yes would demonstrate that there is an appetite for reform in Britain, whereas any other result will end any chance for many years. I'm not foolish enough to say further reform would follow quickly, but a tiny step forward, is better than a huge one back.

Finally, a Yes vote not only threatens Cameron, but also the stability of the coalition as newly confident Liberal Democrats leaders, begin to be more vocal in their criticisms.

So, I urge those of you who are thinking of voting No because you see it as a way of getting at the Liberal Democrats to think again. It might well give you short term pleasure, but the ling term prospects of a Yes vote would be more substantial, and telling.

As for my fellow supporters of PR, no change will mean no chance of further reform. A small step AV is, and it is by no means a perfect system, but it will show the powers that be, that we do want change, and that we are prepared to show it.

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