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.