AV, Maria?

Some choices are easier to make than others (although I always seem to get caught behind someone in a coffee shop for whom the hot beverage issue is akin to that of predestination). “Your money or your life” is one that you’d have thought would give people little difficulty although I’m starting to suspect, given the campaigning over the AV referendum, that it’s only a matter of time before adverts paid for by a coalition of highway robbers grace our billboards advising a swift handover of the cash – good for the economy and good for Britain.

AV has been variously portrayed as the best thing since sliced bread, the saviour of democracy, the ruination of the nation, the path to putting a BNP/Monster Raving Loony coalition into Downing Street (anyone else see a sitcom there?) and more confusing than the operating manual for the Large Hadron Collider badly translated into Cuneiform.

In fact, in terms of voting reform, AV is the smallest possible change to the electoral system short of simply using a different font on the ballot papers. Compared to proportional or ranked voting systems, AV will barely make any discernible difference – which makes one wonder why there’s such strident hysteria.

I know that the nation is holding its breath to find out which way my vote will be cast so, to prevent the tension becoming unbearable; I’ll be voting in favour of AV.

Do I think that it’s a good electoral system? No.

Do I think that it will change the outcome of elections in any meaningful way? No.

I have two compelling reasons. The first is that ‘Call me Dave’ Cameron is against it and the thought that my vote might piss him off just a little is sweet indeed.

The other is that it’s change. It’s not a big or an effective change but it’s all I’ve been offered. There are two points here that I think are important. The first is that people, institutions and even countries have inertia. It’s hard to get a ball rolling but if we change the electoral system this time and we don’t like it, it’s going to be that tiny bit easier to change again and that might open the door for something that will make a bit of a difference. Change begets change.

The other point that’s important is about how we change things. I could join a protest group and march along the street with banners but to be honest, most of what I’m concerned about makes for some unfeasibly large, detailed placards and the dullest revolutionary chants in the history of civil disobedience:

“What do we want?”

“An in-depth, impartial and independent review of the nation’s energy strategy, considering decentralised and sustainable power and cross-policy issues without giving too much weight to existing providers and without the tacit assumption that the economy can be grown indefinitely.”

“When do we want it?”

“At the same time as a genuine debate about the nation’s economic future.”

Long live the revolution, sisters.

Herein rests the problem. If I get out there on the streets I can’t help but align myself with every knee-jerk reactionary with a ‘Down with the Bankers’ placard (and I’m no friend to the bankers but neither do assume that the enemy of my enemy is necessarily my friend). One of the problems with such a connected, complex world is that when you do listen to the people many of them will be somewhat misled. Or just nuts.

I believe that there is time for people to take to the streets; there are single issues that demand action. Unfortunately they’re often the very issues that are so complex; that split opinion so many different ways, that a collective voice is all but impossible. Take the recent revelations about the oil companies’ influence on the invasion of Iraq: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/secret-memos-expose-link-between-oil-firms-and-invasion-of-iraq-2269610.html

Now there’s an issue on which the government should be accountable to the people of this country. But how? How do you get the baying, placard-wielding mob to form an inquiry? Who gets to take the government into a court room?

I digress.

I’ll be voting for a change to the electoral system next month because for me, it’s a rare easy answer to a simple question. Do I think that the democratic system in this country works properly? No. Do I think that this is one tiny step in the right direction? Yes.

And if the ‘Yes’ campaign want to garner popular support, they should put up a picture of Cameron and Osborne looking their most smug, with the legend: “Vote yes – piss off this pair of smug wankers.” It would be a landslide, however you count the votes.

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