A deafening No

I haven’t had a lot of time to post lately and the topics I have been tempted to write about require a bit more thought than I can really manage at the moment. Still, I can manage a few seconds to point out that the Daily Mail editorial (or ‘comment’ as it is referred to by the Mail) was again telling Nick Clegg that he had received a ‘deafening No’ from the public with regards to electoral reform. I guess I just wanted to point out – as someone did here in the comments recently – that the Mail’s beloved Tories are not exactly in any position to talk about what constitutes a deafening majority. In the 2010 election the UK public had just experienced a massive economic crash and the then Labour government was led by someone who was supposedly about as unpopular as it is possible to be, yet the Conservatives could still only gain 36.1% of the vote – just 7.1% more than Labour.

63.9% of voters said no to the Conservatives.

In the AV referendum 67.9% of people rejected the Alternative vote, just 4% more than had rejected the Tory party in the general election. Considering the Mail considers Clegg to have suffered a ‘resounding defeat in the AV referendum’ can we also assume they realise that David Cameron also suffered a resounding defeat in the general election?

The Mail might try to argue that the two things are very different: the AV referendum was a straight yes or no whereas the general election had numerous different parties to vote for and therefore it would be harder for any one party to pick up a clear majority. This is a perfectly valid argument. However, this also happens to be an argument that leads directly to the thought that perhaps the voting system needs to be rather more complex than FPTP to deal with this problem. All the current system allows us to conclude is that the Conservatives suffered a resounding no.

How politics ‘works’

On the 2nd of June 2009 David Cameron wrote an article for the Evening Standard on why proportional representation was such a terrible idea – it was even chillingly titled: ‘Don’t back a vote system that will let in the BNP’. In it he argued that introducing proportional representation would actually be an ‘unfair, undemocratic, ineffective mistake’. Cameron also amusingly claims that:

The fourth major problem with PR is that the coalition governments it ­inevitably creates inevitably descend into backroom deals that betray the will of the people. Instead of voters ­choosing their government on the basis of the manifestos put before them in an election, party managers put together a government that suits them after rounds of horse-trading and bargaining for power.

Of course, that is a situation that could never come about under the current first past the post system and certainly something David Cameron would never do…

Anyway, think whatever you want about PR, it is the real deal, full proportional representation so that voters can make clear their exact preference of vote and know that such preferences count during an election and will be reflected in parliament. Voting in an election – irrespective of whether you live in an constituency that is always Labour or always Conservative – actually counts. Of course, the Tories – during their ‘horse-trading and bargaining for power’ with the Liberal Democrats would never allow us to have a system in which minority parties such as the Conservatives would be electorally screwed. Instead they gave us the limited change offered by AV – and even that will now only be supported by Labour and Liberal Democrats, with the Tories arguing ‘no to AV’ alongside other simplistic groups who somehow think that having the chance to put more detail onto a ballet paper somehow degrades democracy.

The consequence of this ‘horse-trading’ is that I had to Listen to William Hague employ the most ingenious argument on Radio 4’s Today Programme yesterday. An argument that made me fill my car with expletives and my head with thoughts of punching William Hague in the face repeatedly until he realised just why he is so utterly wrong on every issue he has ever been invited to discuss. Here are Hague’s words – I transcribed them from the BBC iPlayer so you can share my feelings:

Well it [AV] is the worst of all worlds, even if one was going to embark on changing the electoral system this would certainly not be the system to move to. You can argue for the current system – as I do – on the grounds that it is decisive in the vast majority of elections it produces a clear decisive result with the party getting the most votes in the country becoming the government. Or you can argue, legitimately, for a proportional system, as in Germany for instance, where the seats received by the parties in parliament is in pretty strict accordance with the votes that they received in the country. The trouble with the alternative vote system is that it is neither of those… it is the worst of every world.

So, we could argue for PR, but we’re not allowed to because the Conservative party would never allow it. We can argue for AV and even vote for it, but we shouldn’t because it’s a terrible fudge and the worst of all worlds. You have to admire the argument, the tacit admittance that they would never allow us even a sniff of real progressive change and instead we get left with AV, which is a bit crap and we should therefore conserve the status quo. Continued voter apathy and the continued hatred of the Tory party will be the end result of this referendum. Even if we get AV we are aware of its limitations compared to full PR – as Hague rightly points out – it’s just that if you are one of the people in power who could have given us a system that we could have ‘legitimately’ argued for, but chose not to, you’re not just right, you’re a right [insert your own expletives here].