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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MPs Expenses: The Apathetic Fallout

(Photo: Flickr User eddiedangerous)
(Photo: Flickr User eddiedangerous)

My feelings about the Daily Telegraph’s exposure of MPs’ expenses and the ensuing scandal are mixed to say the least. Whilst this  is undoubtedly a great public interest exclusive and a massive victory for freedom of information, it has left me feeling somewhat cold.

The Telegraph grabbed this story with both hands and ran with it, understandably. Friday’s revelation warranted nine pages of broadsheet coverage, 11 on Saturday and a further nine on Sunday, and it seems no other national could resist delving into this story. Today’s publication of the Tories’ expenses gives the lie to traditional allegations that The Telegraph is exclusively a loyal Conservative paper. With Cameron cruising to Number 10,  The Telegraph will have to get used to criticising its favourite party, even if it will not be championing Labour’s opposition as much as it has done for the Tories. Who knows, after Smeargate, the Lib Dems may even regain their status as Britain’s second political party? (Wishful thinking perhaps.)

But the main thing which surprises me from all this is the suggestion that the suitable remedy is increasing MPs’ salaries, which I find frankly preposterous. Rewarding them for abusing the system is comparable to giving wasteful investment bankers multi-million pound bonuses. Instead, I have to agree with Gordon Brown (for a change): “The system doesn’t work… it’s got to be changed.”

That’s right, changed, but not scrapped. The second home allowance, controversial though it may be, is based on sound reasoning. MPs almost invariably have and need two homes. The failing of the system has been twofold. Firstly, ministers have got greedy, pushed their luck and got away with it for years and years. Clearly this cannot and will not continue. Call it the court of public opinion if you must.

But secondly, and more importantly, there has been a failing in regulation. The House of Commons fees office has not been strict enough, and this is a combination of the Green Book guidelines being too generous and the rules not being followed closely enough.

MPs’ expenses should be restricted to extra costs incurred by coming to parliament that should not be covered by their (already handsome) income. The second home should be defined as within 10 miles of Westminster, and the first home must be more than a commutable distance away from the House (say 50 miles).  If Keith Vaz thinks 12 miles is an unacceptable length to be commuting, he should try the rush-hour train from Guildford to London Waterloo and see how he prefers that. Nonetheless, there is nothing to say the system cannot be saved, it just has to be policed much more rigorously.

What is truly concerning about this whole fiasco is that everyone seems to be tarred by the same brush, labelled as greedy and deceptive. Cameron will probably come off better for his readiness to offer an apology, with Brown hot on his heels, but overall the main impact will be growing political disenchantment. What with all the scandal going around, it seems logical that more and more of the voting public will start to see all politicians as greedy liars and simply not turn up and vote in the next general election. Regardless of who gets the chop from the Cabinet, this scandal could have much further-reaching implications for the state of democracy in this country.