Monday, 9 May 2011

An AV Referendum Battering? Good.

I don't mean for the heading of this blog post to signify my pleasure at the core result of the AV referendum last Friday. Indeed, as with any other progressive, forward-thinking individual, I hoped for a Yes vote so that we could at last move incrementally forwards towards a fairer voting system and finally get rid of the First Past the Post system that is unfit for the 21st century.

But it was clear as D-Day approached that the portents all pointed towards a poor result. But whilst the last opinion polls showed a 2:1 feeling against, no-one surely must've realised that far from over-estimating the sentiment to keep the staus quo, they actually under-estimated it with 7 out of 10 voters saying a resounding NO to electoral reform last Thursday.

Discredited Campaigns
The No campaign was nothing short of a disgrace. The lies that they peddled were shocking. Yet, the Yes campaign retaliated poorly and could not get the positive message of why a Yes vote was needed across to a sceptical public. This undermined the hard work being put in by volunteers across the country who faithfully put their all into getting a Yes vote.

What irked me most was that locally, all I got through my door was the No Freepost - no sign of an equivalent from the Yes campaign. If this was all many people read of the campaign, who should be surprised that they overwhelmingly voted No?

I for one spoke to residents on the door-step during the Assembly campaign and put across the positive reasons for why we needed a Yes vote and I made sure that all of the literature that we put out had this positive message on it too. But with what seemed like the bare bones of a Welsh campaigning infrastructure for the Yes vote, it was never going to be enough.

Who's to blame?
Clearly, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, the referendum should've been seperate from the other polls on that day. Only a handful of Council areas voted yes and many of these were in London where it happened to be the only poll of the day. Did linking it onto English Council and Welsh Assembly/Scottish Parliamentary elections work? Clearly not. It meant that those who voted were doing so through the prism of the local and national political scene and with the No camp linking it to Nick Clegg, this was always going to make it more difficult to win.

Holding the referendum on a seperate day would've made it easier to concentrate on the central questions themslves. But what is done is done.

At the end of the day, I'm glad that it was lost so convincingly. That's not to take anything away from those who worked tirelessly for a positive result, but points to the fact that AV really was the 'squalid little compromise' that Nick Clegg had called it before the General Election last year. Do I blame Nick Clegg? On putting it on the same day as the other elections, maybe - but as I said before, hindsight is a wonderful thing. On the question of it being a referendum only on AV and not on the PR alternatives, certainly not. Anyone who now blames the Liberal Democrats for only being able to achieve a referendum on AV and nothing more substantial are living in cloud cuckoo-land. The fact that Nick Clegg was able to get a referendum on changing the electoral system through the Conservative Party as a part of the coalition negotiations is a remarkable achievement in itself. There was no chance of getting the Conservative Party or indeed the House of Commons to agree on a referendum for a proportional alternative - the numbers just weren't there. Indeed, it is the half of the Labour Party that opposed the change that should hang their heads in shame. Call yourself progressives? Hypocritic dinosaurs more like.

Thanks to the Liberal Democrats, we got a chance at last to move away from FPTP but in the end, and for all of the reasons mentioned above and more, it was answered with a resounding no.

Fine. If that's what the people of Britain said then that's what they'll get. No more complaints now about wasted votes and jobs for life - it's what the country wanted.

What then for the concept of AV? Well, at a national level, it will now be confined to the dust-bin of British electoral history. Such a resounding defeat for this particular system means it can never again be put forward to the British public in another referendum - one of the reasons why if it was going to be lost, the referendum may as well have been lost big-time.

What then of the future for electoral reform? Well, there's no doubt in this mind that the battle has been lost for a generation. Here was an opportunity and it was not taken. Why would the people of Britain want another referendum vote on such an issue when the bigger issues in these economically difficult times are more basic - like putting the bread on the table?

For those of us who wish to see a change in the way in which we elect our politicians, we should now embrance the whole shoot. Proportional representation - fair votes in its proper meaning - is the only alternative left. We will not have an opportunity to enact it for decades but it's all there is left.

But here's a warning for those across the political spectrum but particularly in the Liberal Democrat party who see electoral reform as the holy grail - move on. We will not let this candle fade but neither can we cherish it as the be-all-and-end-all of our quest in politics. Sorting out or nation's finances and delivering a fairer and more equal society is what we must now be for. Electoral reform is one piece in this jigsaw of fairness but there are many others. For now, that one piece in the jigsaw has been lost. Whilst we go about finding it over the years ahead, let's not take our eyes off the other pieces on which can play a constructive and positive role in Government over the remainder of this parliament.

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