Wednesday, 4 May 2011

I think er no, I mean er yes...

I have no idea whether anyone reads this blog from outside the UK, but if they do they might be unaware that tomorrow I get my first ever opportunity to vote in a referendum; in fact here in London there are no other elections on the same day so I get to go to the polling station for that reason alone. The subject is whether the voting system should be changed for parliamentary elections, a complex and potentially important question with many potential implications: so it's disappointing to report that the official campaigns on both sides have been so reluctant to even try to explain them.

Readers, especially those overseas, will doubtless be pleased to learn that I have no intention of trying to summarise the issues here, still less of expressing a preference one way or the other, not least because the above failure to get down into the question means that I don't even know myself. If anyone is looking for explanation, the best discussion I've seen of the case for and against was on the newsgroup of a radio soap I no longer listen to. On the one hand, the Yes campaign have gone for celebrity endorsements and the glib and largely unexplained assertion that MPs elected with 51% of the vote or more will "work harder" than those who currently get in on a minority. On the other, the No people sent me an ugly leaflet full of scare figures about the cost of a new voting system (including the cost of the referendum itself, which is of course the same whichever way the result goes) and the reverse of a celebrity endorsement: they have an out-of-focus picture of Nick Clegg and captions saying that he approves of AV because we would have coalition governments. Er, like the one he's Deputy Prime Minister in now.

Actual politicians on both sides seem equally determined to treat us as idiots and refuse to take the arguments seriously. Indeed the Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that referring to the current system as First Past The Post in many of his public pronouncements, including one at the Grand National which encouraged me to write this post in the first place; yes, that's how fast I write. And the media have been only too happy to cast the whole thing in terms of party and personality politics: the policitians have no reason to discourage them either, as they're competing against each other in the other elections. To their credit, Radio 2 did have a discussion about the merits of the idea today: their representatives of the two sides were the satirical comedian Armando Iannucci and Peter Stringfellow. Any hypothetical overseas readers who have got down this far: if you don't know who Peter Stringfellow is, you're probably better off that way.