I’m stubborn. And, for that reason, there are few things in the world that irk me more than being told I’m wrong when I’m CERTAIN I’m right.
That’s very much how I feel tonight as it becomes clear that Britain has said a resounding ‘NO’ to the introduction of the alternative vote. Exasperation doesn’t begin to cover it.
My mom often tells stories about how, even as a toddler, I was into politics. I’d sit in front of the TV and, in between episodes of Postman Pat and Thomas The Tank Engine, I’d revel in the activity of the likes of Thatcher and Gorbachev. Turning 18 heralded the magical moment when I could first exercise my democratic right. I was the first through the door at 7am when the 2002 council elections rolled around, and I’ve not missed an opportunity to have my say since.
However, therein lies the problem – I’ve NEVER ‘had my say’ because my vote hasn’t once counted for anything. May 1979 saw Conservative Richard Shepherd claim the Aldridge-Brownhills seat from the Labour incumbent. 32 years on, he remains our MP. And I’m certainly not a Tory.
Some will point out that, having secured 59.3% of the vote at the last General Election, AV would not have been called into play in Aldridge-Brownhills. Obviously, I can’t argue with that. But, I can only wonder whether, under the current first past the post system, there are some who are reluctant to vote for a smaller party because it’s ‘a waste of a vote’? Perhaps some are so resigned to yet another Tory victory that they don’t even bother to head to the booth?
With AV, a fairer system which guarantees that the majority of people get to have their say, I would at least go into the polling station with a bit of hope that something MIGHT happen, rather than the familiar inevitability that it’s all in vain.
While not perfect, I haven’t seen a single compelling case to retain FPTP ahead of AV. The ‘NO’ campaign was based around the vague, the irrelevant and the notion that it was somehow so complex that our mere human minds would explode upon trying to comprehend it. Funded by the same out-of-touch ageing millionaires who bankroll the Tories, the ‘NO’ campaign took the form of one of most spiteful, condescending and morally bankrupt political crusades I’ve ever seen, compounded by David Blunkett’s admission that the oft quoted ‘£250 million’ figure was nothing but a great big whopping lie.
Compare and contrast the promotional material. On one hand we have this wholly logical and eloquently laid out argument from the ‘YES’ campaign. The ‘NO’ campaign, meanwhile, were peddling this clichéd metaphor WHICH DOESN’T EVEN EFFING MAKE SENSE.
And so, why did such an obviously superior system lose out to the current archaic method? There will be an element of ‘the better the devil you know’, obviously. Some will have fallen for the blatant lies emanating from the ‘No’ camp. Some will have voted ‘No’ because The Sun and The Daily Mail told them to. Some will claim they didn’t understand what AV was, which I can only assume means they didn’t bother to try and find out – after all, you’d need to be a total simpleton not to grasp the concept, and none of us are, so we’re all fine.
Most idiotic of all, though, are those who refused to support AV simply because it was a proposal that was forced through by the Liberal Democrats. The anti-Lib Dem sentiment that has existed since the election has puzzled me, purely because many of the arguments against what they’ve done in parliament seem to highlight a fundamental lack of understanding of the situation.
Let’s start with the initial condemnation (no pun intended) of the decision to partner with the Conservatives in the first place, and the constant insinuation that they have somehow ‘sold-out’. The truth is that the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was the ONLY viable option. A Labour-Lib Dem partnership would not have been enough to form a majority. A Conservative minority government would have been unworkable.
Here’s the reality – the Liberal Democrats lost the election. Five seats down on 2005, they hold 57 seats compared to the Conservatives’ 306. And yet, some people seem amazed that government policy is weighted towards the Tory manifesto. A coalition requires some give and take by its very nature. When you barely have one seventh of the stake in the partnership, you need to be prepared for more give than take.
The fact of the matter is that this is as good as it was ever going to get for the Liberal Democrats. If you went to the polls last year on May 6th expecting the sun to rise over Clegg’s Britain on the 7th, you are, frankly, an idiot. A Liberal Democrat majority was simply not going to happen. The possibilities were clear – either being the perennial third party, where none of the pillars of the manifesto would be implemented, or the minority player in a coalition where at least some of your policies will be utilised. As a supporter of the party, offered these two options, there’s only one logical choice – otherwise what’s the point?
Of course, mistakes have been made. The student tuition fees saga was as cringeworthy a political scenario as any I’ve ever witnessed. However it boils down, once again, to the Conservatives wielding the balance of power within the partnership. Clegg’s mistake was not backing the proposals in government, it was signing a pledge whilst in opposition.
And yet, despite all the concessions made to Tory policy by the Lib Dems, they’d managed to secure one of the greatest parts of the bargain of all – the chance to secure a fairer political future for us all, a genuine once in a lifetime chance to achieve a greater freedom of choice, a greater democracy, to make our MPs work harder, and to make our government more representative of the country as a whole.
We blew it. And we may never get the opportunity again. But then, I’m used to being on the losing side of a poll…
Bravo, Britain. Bra-bloody-vo.