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Monday, April 18, 2011

To 'av and to Hold, 'til election do us part.

It had to happen. At some point there was going to be a lapse in my concentration and determination, and my head would be turned, and my blood pressure would rise, and of course then I'd have to say something. I'm sure you'd rather I didn't, and so do I really, but then again, this is kind of important stuff so here it is....  May the 5th will be the UK's referendum on AV and while (as I've said before) I'm not a particularly political animal, something like this deserves some attention.

Part of the reason for my lack of engagement in the political process isn't down to apathy, but the difficulties that are put in our pathway towards getting involved. There was a TED talk last year that, while its US based, goes some way to explain some of that issue. Dave Meslin puts it very well in "The antidote to apathy". Well worth a watch..

It's a hefty few weeks coming up. This week we have a four dayer, with good Friday stopping us being productive at the end of the week. Next week it gets better still with a three day week. Monday being Easter Monday and Friday being the Royal Wedding for which we've all been given a day off. And yet more bank holidays with the following Monday being May Day and so another 4 day week. And after all that lazing around doing nothing we have to decide as a country what to do about the way we vote.

I may be at risk of explaining to my father's mother the correct method for reverse blowing an egg, but for the benefit of the uneducated, I need to cover off the problem in simplistic terms first. Bear with.

Currently we have the "first past the post" system. This consists of a ballot paper with a candidate for each party on it and as a voter you have a single vote for your local candidate. Local candidates are competing for a seat. Government is decided on the number of seats each party acquires.  The most seats determine the governing party. Note how this is not the most votes, but the most seats. What becomes absolutely crucial in this system is where the constituency borders are drawn because that effects the numbers of voters, and available number of seats. This system means it's entirely possible, and actually a regular occurrence, for 51% (or more) of the population to vote for a party that doesn't run the country.

In an effort to make the voting system fairer, we're now being offered "AV" - The Alternative Vote. But is it fairer? How does it work?

"AV" consists of a ballot paper with a candidate for each party on it and as a voter you get to rank the in order of preference. If none of the candidates earn more than 50% of the vote, then the ranking can be used to allocate. Put simply, if a candidate earns 51% of the first choice votes they are elected. If not then the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated and their voters second choice is then counted instead. This is repeated until a candidate has over 50% of the vote. If the second choice has already been eliminated, then the vote passes to choice 3.

OK, so it's complex, but probably more representative of the will of the people. But... That doesn't mean it's right.

What do our current leaders say about it?  Well the current PM (Diddy Dave C - Conservative) is all for keeping it as it is. I suppose, after all, it got him to where he is today. However, his bezzie mate (Nick middle of the road Clegg) who got Dave the job of PM, is all for changing it in the name of fairness. I'm not 100% clear on either of their reasons. According to some research from the BBC, the overall outcome of the contests in recent years would not have changed, but the Liberal Democrats would have gained the most seats and the scale of the Conservative defeat in 1997 would have been much greater. Perhaps it's this that explains their leanings.

I have a basic problem with the local candidate / seat system in the first place. Surely to be truly representative, we should have one vote for a governing party? Let's face it, the candidates are usually crooks, so who has any faith in them?  Moreover I'm not convinced that the borders and community sizes for each constituency are the fairest or the most balanced numbers either.

I think when we talk about electoral reform, we need to consider more far reaching and radical reform. If we're going to bugger about with it, lets do it properly. I think the system needs simplifying to get maximum engagement from the voting population and we need to be voting for a government rather than a local representative who typically doesn't represent. Even after last years shenanigans with expenses, and for example, my own (now ex) MP watching "the match" instead of showing his face in the house to vote on the digital economy bill, there still isn't much evidence of "them" working for "us". In fact I see them taking slopey shouldered options to palm off the rough jobs to local councils (closing libraries, reducing spending on policing etc) while trying to take credit for anything that might be construed as positive.

I'm happy to have a locally elected council still (although I'm sure there is plenty of reform needed here to - the ability to vote on all your local councils major decisions for a start) and I think we need departmental ministers, but do I want my representative to be responsible for a department as well? Simply, no. One job only. And as they've been so poor at representation, let it not be that. In fact remove local MPs altogether. They are the equivalent of a layer of middle management, happy to spend our taxes, and no real measurement of delivery.

OK, so now you're thinking where do we get these departmental heads from if we're to have no local MPs?  It's a job, like any other, that you or anyone else can apply for, but essentially it's a civil service post. There would be departmental posts for all three major parties, with two in opposition to the elected party. While this seems like an increase in costs, it's actually a reduction because we loose all the constituency MPs in favour of departmental MPs.

I'm aware that these suggestions are pretty radical, and of course I haven't fully explored them, crossed any the T's or dotted associated I's, but I do think this is the level of reform that we actually need. A damn good shake up to get rid of the cash black holes and give the electoral power back to the people. However, these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg.

As for how I'll be voting in May. I'm still reading, but maybe a change regardless will put the "thought of change" back on the agenda and perhaps people will see an opportunity to claim their power back....  Of course, being Brits, were just as likely not to bother getting involved with the process anyway and turnout at the poles, given the recent number of bank holidays, could actually be infinitesimally small.

Interesting, if not power changing times.

If you're looking for some more far more biased info from both sides of the argument, take a look at these:


This post originally appeared here: Posterous

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