Why I’m voting Yes to AV and why it’s crucial to vote

a ballot paperTomorrow sees a momentous occasion in British politics. It will be only the second time in the history of this country that the public will be asked to give their opinion in the form of a referendum, yet not many people seem at all excited about it.

Before I lay out my case for AV, it’s worth considering why the turnout is likely to be so low.

Particularly in my region, London, where there are no local elections to get people out to the polling stations, the turnout is predicted to be pifflingly low. We’re talking 15 per cent compared with 35 per cent in the provinces.

Despite weeks of explaining the pros and cons of both systems and some heavy-handed political mud-slinging, people just aren’t that interested. I believe this is down to a key disenfranchisement at the state of our electoral system, something that AV could fix.

Under First Past The Post, its easy to feel like your vote doesn’t count and be forced into a tactical voting compromise. Growing up in a Tory heartland, I felt there was little I could do to change things, especially with the centre left vote being split between Labour and the Lib Dems.

Simply put, under AV, you can have your say on a sliding scale, i.e. ‘I want the Lib Dems to get in, but if not them, then Labour and whatever we get, don’t let the Tories in again.’

Or, to put another way, the general collective consensus is more powerful than a concentrated group of people why think exactly the same way, as in the beer vs coffee metaphor put forward by the Yes to AV campaign:

the av system explained as beer vs coffee

The suggestion that this system is too complicated for the public to understand is one of the most self-damaging arguments that the No to AV campaign has put forward so far. For starters, it insults the intelligence of the population and moreover it conveniently skates over the fact that the AV system is already used and readily understood in many mayoral elections, such as the one that saw Boris Johnson elected in London in 2008.

The second myth that urgently needs debunking before we go to the polls is that of price. AV will not cost us £250 million. That’s just a bare-faced lie and Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg have both had the guts to say so in so many words. Electronic voting machines are not an essential or even necessary part of switching to AV and public education about the new system needn’t cost that much for the reasons outlined above.

Finally, I really don’t buy the idea that we shouldn’t switch to AV because only three other countries in the world have it. When we abolished slavery we were one of the first countries in the world to do that, so sticking with what we’ve always had and what few others are doing isn’t always a bad thing.

Whatever your political beliefs and thoughts about AV or FPTP, please go and make your voice heard at the polling station tomorrow.

It’s our first chance to directly influence a major policy decision in nearly 40 years and may be our last for another 40. Please don’t let it pass you by.
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The Return of Red Ken

'Red' Ken Livingstone, Former London Mayor, on the cover of the New StatesmanKen Livingstone came storming back into the London limelight today, thanks in no small part to a gushing front page from the Evening Standard. The momentous event was Ken launching his Mayoral comeback campaign today – but this was not news, we had long known that he would be up for the scrap in 2012. The real news was that London’s most influential paper (yes, still) had welcomed the Lambeth-born left-winger back into its bosom after two years in the wilderness.

If the front page left us in any doubt as to the Standard’s approbation of Livingstone, then the 1,000-word editorial on page 14, penned by Ken himself, rammed home the point. This highly partisan soap-box rant serves as a wide-reaching manifesto, and includes populist measures, such as cracking down on bankers’ tax breaks and reducing bus fares, although Livingstone does stick by his principles in threatening to raise the 4×4 congestion charge to £25 per day.

The Standard’s reasoning for switching to back Ken can be easily explained. After two years as Mayor, Boris Johnson’s honeymoon has long since finished, and it is widely believed that he will step down instead of run for re-election (with one eye on No 10, no doubt). Furthermore, Labour achieved significant gains in London during the general election, with a swing of nine borough councils to the reds, so the wind is thoroughly in Ken’s favour.

But most interestingly for me, it can be put down to the change in editor at the Standard. Under Veronica Wadley, the Standard was loudly critical of Livingstone before the 2008 Mayoral election, with vicious headlines such as “Suicide bomb backer runs Ken’s campaign.” But it seems that, under the stewardship of Geordie Grieg (as of February 2009), the paper has taken a step back towards the left. Grieg has pinned his colours to the mast  today, and the Standard looks certain to be campaigning for change in City Hall in 2012, just as it did in 2008.

UK Election 2010: Sorry seems to be the easiest word to say

Gordon Brown is a glutton for punishment. This is the only explanation I can give for his flagellant display yesterday after the so-called bigotgate blunder. After spending 45 minutes of valuable campaign time at Gillian Duffy’s terraced Rochdale home to apologise for calling her a bigot behind her back, I can only conclude that he is a masochist. To make matters worse, he even cracked out that smile. Gordon Brown smiles outside Gillian Duffy's Rochdale house after bigotgate
What does he have to smile about at this point?

He (or rather his aides) made a grave error in not switching off the microphone on his lapel after he climbed into a waiting car, but this is the kind of thing that could be swept under the rug easily. Move on, pick a new topic (say, the economy, which you are meant to be debating tonight), and distract the public. Instead, Brown castigated himself over and over again, issuing six apologies in six hours and branding himself ‘a penitent sinner’. What does this achieve?

One conclusion to be drawn from this is that we, as a nation, have become over-reliant on the power of ‘sorry’, as if saying it enough could erase our mistakes and bring instant, total forgiveness and atonement. But ‘sorry’ is a word which suffers from the law of diminishing returns. The more often you say it, the less powerful it becomes. It is often the most stubborn characters who can issue the most effective apologies; all the more effective because of their rarity.

Gordon Brown, Radio two, Gillian Duffy, bigot, bigotgate, microphone
There goes the election...

Before the election campaign started, Brown was 10-1 to apologise for anything during the televised leaders debates. This is because the public views Brown as a stubborn ox, unwilling to concede an inch to Cameron in PMQs. This is at once his greatest strength and biggest weakness. However it could have got him out of jail yesterday – simply apologise once and move on. The apology would have been all the more striking in isolation.

Where now for Labour? Can they resurrect their wounded prize-fighter before tonight’s crucial final debate?
I’m sorry, but I haven’t a clue.

UK Election 2010: First Televised Leaders’ Debate brings ‘Presidential Politics’ to UK

“Presidential Politics arrive in Britain tonight” yells the cover story in The Times today. It’s hard not to get excited about the first televised leaders’ debate on ITV tonight, but this description is indicative of a general confusion amongst the electorate.

UK Election Debate Graphic
Tonight's Line-Up (graphic by timesonline.co.uk)

After the last election, I asked a close relative who she voted for. “I voted Labour,” she told me “because I like Tony Blair.” As sound as that sentiment is, it was largely pointless in a consituency where Labour came a distant third with less than 10% of the vote. The glamorisation of the leaders, their wives, their houses etc. only serves to add to this general impression that we vote for the leader who we like/trust/admire the most. But in fact, depending on your constituency, you may be unable to effectively support the party of your choice.

I am a natural Lib Dem, but in my constituency of Poplar and Limehouse they lie a distant 4th. A vote for them would be nothing but symbolic. But, to come full circle, that makes tonight’s debate even more interesting. For my vote to count, I need to decide in my mind between Labour and The Tories. Oh the joys of being a floating voter in a swing constituency…

One For The History Books?

Can you smell what Barack is cooking?
Can you smell what Barack is cooking?

This has been the week that Obamamania reached fever pitch, and let me say first off, I’m very glad that he won. Barack Obama will make a much better president of the USA than John McCain, and with his powerful majority in congress, he is in a position to bring about big changes in American foreign, economic and environmental policy.

But let’s not get carried away. A great number of reports marked this as an historic event, a momentous occasion, a new dawn (if you would believe the words of the great man himself). This seems a bit sensationalist to me. Of course having a black man in the white house is a landmark victory for the civil rights movement, but from here on in the rhetoric from Team Barack will change. Let’s not forget just how serious the global economic problems are, or the fact that the Middle East is as unstable as it’s ever been. Obama’s rhetoric in his campaign was fantastically well-aimed at cultivating an aura of hope and excitement around his policies. Now he must force all of America to lower its expectations, or we will all be severely disappointed when we find out that he can’t actually walk on water.

This has all been said before this week, and much more cogently, by Martin Samuel and Matthew Parris at the Times. What I think I can bring to the table however, is the question of Obama making history.

It’s easy for us to look at this week and be pretty damn chuffed that the Americans have elected the first black man to run their country. But, as Orwell once put it, history is written by the winners, and this holds true even in these modern times. At my delightfully backward-thinking Private school where I toiled away for seven of my teenage years, we were taught that nothing can be considered history until 50 years have passed. We need this distance and perspective to accurately and objectively judge the actions of political leaders. Anything more recent, we were told, was just Politics. Whilst this may be a step too far, I think we need more than four days to judge an event to be historical. We need about four years.

The tenure of Barack Obama as President of the USA will be judged on results and not origins. The true measure of his success will be gauged in four years time. If he can bring about the changes he promises, then America stands to become a much better place. Furthermore if he can win a second term in office then he will have a great opportunity to shape the future of America. Until then it is important that we are cautiously optimistic. Piling any hyperbolic expectation on his shoulders will only make it even harder for him to really get a grip on his new job.

Obama on the Home Straight?

With nine days still to go before the American Presidential election, many are already calling this a one-horse race.
On Roy Greenslade’s Media Guardian blog today, he highlights that Alaska’s biggest newspaper title, The Anchorage Daily News, has ditched Sarah Palin and formally endorsed Barack Obama as the best man for the job.
Yet, Roy also points out that Alaska is still seen as a Republican stronghold, so maybe this will make little difference on November 5th. Do local newspaper’s editorial stances really hold that much sway over their areas?
Newspaper endorsements aside, can anyone really see Obama losing from such a strong position?
Not the BBC.
Today they published 5 expert projections, all predicting an Obama win.
Ben Macintyre from The Times suggests the Tom Bradley effect could come into play, but many discredit this idea, calling it outdated.
For my part, I’m looking forward to a historic election result, but can’t rule out the off-chance that Americans will side with an experienced conservative in these times of high economic crisis.