Electoral Reform, Where to Now?

Now that the votes are in and the count has been done, we can see that the electorate –  those who voted –  rejected AV. There is much wailing and grinding of teeth going on over at the Guardian where the result is blamed on the voters who “didn’t understand” the complexity of the proposed system. This despite Jeremy Vine and his little box of graphics repeatedly explaining just how it works. Actually, it is such a simple system, even the poor British voter could figure it out, and it seems that they didn’t like what was on offer.

Despite being a slightly more flexible system, the overall change would probably have been minimal. I tend to agree with Nick Clegg when he referred to it as a miserable little compromise. Maybe, just maybe, all those people who voted “no” felt the same.

So where now? The Liberal Democrats were pinning much on this. After all, it was their ticket out of the doldrums of the perennial third party and into a greater block of seats in parliament. The reality sees their dreams in ashes and their immediate future looking pretty bleak. They had their once in a generation chance and it has gone. It is unlikely, I suspect, that another referendum will be coming by anytime soon. That would be about as realistic an aspiration as a referendum on EU membership. No, FPTP is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The more cynical among us might observe that the LibDems were stitched up anyway. Last May during the frantic negotiations that foreshadowed the formation of a stable national interest government, electoral reform was very much on the negotiating table –  it was pivotal to the LibDems joining the coalition. What the LibDems wanted –  and what those in the Labour Party who campaigned for reform also wanted was a proportional representation system. Cameron’s negotiating team weren’t going to let that one pass, so they indulged in a miserable little compromise and tossed AV onto the table.

The “Yes” campaign was hobbled from the off, with having to campaign vigorously for something that even they didn’t really want. Their hopes were pinned on this being the first step along the path of electoral reform. What came across strongly was the luke warm campaigning until the last week or so before polling day. We had one leaflet through the door from the “No” camp and that was it.

In the end, this was about political geekery. It affects politicians and their chances of clinging onto their seats. For the electorate, a vote for any party results in the government getting in –  different bums might be on different seats in the house, but the same faceless mandarins are whispering their illiberal poison in the ears of the ministers, shaping policy from behind the scenes. These people always win and no voting system will remove them.

It was for this reason that I abstained last Thursday. To vote is to concede the rules of the game. If you suggested to me ten years or so ago that I would deliberately withhold my vote, I’d have been horrified. To vote, I would have said, is to take part, and if you don’t take part, you have no right to complain. Now, however, I view things differently. I see them all as the enemy of liberty. They are all the same –  just different rosettes. By withholding that vote, I withhold my consent. None of them are deserving of my vote.

Electoral reform, had it come, would merely have been shuffling the seats around. Real change –  a reduction in the size of the state and slashing of the tax burden will not happen via the ballot box irrespective of the system used. It’s a cliché, I know, but one worth revisiting; if voting changed anything, they would ban it.

11 comments for “Electoral Reform, Where to Now?

  1. QM
    May 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    I suspect the voters who bothered to vote understood the system all too well. The potential for a permanent left wing/pro EU influence via the inclusion of the Lib Dems into every future government was too great a risk for some.

    • May 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm

      As distinct from the permanent left wing/pro EU influence Britain has already? 😉 I’m an advocate of AV but as Longrider says there are some things that the voting system itself really can’t change. When all three are statists, paternalist and best and downright authoritarian at worst, centrist to left and pro-EU then you could use a blind monkey and a dartboard to select a government and it wouldn’t be a lot different from now. Besides, there’s the possibility that AV may have benefited the least left wing and pro-EU of the three main parties more than either of the other two, and of course it looked like UKIP would gain some influence, though probably not seats. Still, it’s all moot now: the country has said no to AV and of course Cameramong will act as if it actually said yes, everything’s just peachy the way it is. I’m not sure how and where change is going to come from.

  2. john in cheshire
    May 8, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    I wonder, if that great thicko gordon brown, had proposed proportional representation in the last labour manifesto, would that have been on the referendum ballot? And, if so, would the result have been different?
    I still think it is the people who stand for election that matters, more than the method of electing them. There is something very sick and unhealthy about how we/’they’ select who is chosen to represent us.

  3. May 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Well Longrider, I cannot fault you on your personal choice, because it is just that. Furthermore, I honour you for sharing with us your decision in an otherwise entirely proper secret ballot.

    However, whether or not you had a local election at the same time and place, I do hope you chose to stroll along (or otherwise) to your local polling station and submit a ballot paper saying zilch, ‘None of These’, or otherwise suitable comment.

    Being counted in the total poll is, IMHO, important – even if proper registration of abstention is not (currently) an available and recorded choice.

    Best regards

    • Steve Harrison
      May 8, 2011 at 5:19 pm

      Well said Nigel. I, too, believe that it is important to participate in the process, just not the result. I usually write “A plague on all your houses” on my ballot paper but I always vote.

  4. May 8, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Concerning ‘Where to now?’: I have given views on the same main blog posting: 1, 2 and 3. One was copied by James here on Orphans for Liberty at May 5, 2011 at 10:09 am.

    My views have not really changed since the result, disappointing though that was.

    Given the referendum rejection of what I have called the ‘UK’ AV system, next time I’d really like to see the AV-with-RON option on the list.

    Best regards

  5. May 8, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    I was reading something over at the Telegraph (Daniel Hannan I think) about who was running the ‘yes’ campaign; Chris Huhne’s bird, and how they weren’t interested in anyone right of centre, so they purposely concentrated on that small minority which could be called ‘Guardian readers’. It is thus unsurprising that they blew it.

    I see this as a shame, because I think it would have benefited UKIP quite considerably, and I loathe and detest the EU and consider all who support it to be traitors and scum. I voted ‘yes’, but I must confess to having finally made up my mind when it was clear that the ‘yes’ side were going to get stuffed.

  6. May 8, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Fair summary, that’s it, done and dusted – a terrible shame if you ask me – move on.

  7. May 8, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    If the Lib Dems are ever in the role of kingmaker again they should probably ask for a change in the system for electing local governments to STV.

    It wouldn’t require a referendum, it wouldn’t have such obvious partisan benefits for the Lib Dems and it would let parties build up their infrastructure in areas where they currently have no represenation.

  8. Zaphod
    May 8, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Abstentions look like votes for apathy. Spoiled ballots are votes against all the choices on offer. Tut. 😉

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