Thursday, 21 April 2011


OK, so I said 'sod politics' in the last post, but the forthcoming referendum for AV has been making me think. A painful and unusual sensation.

Nearly a year ago I was able to share with you a startling vision of how the prospect of electoral change formed part of the birth of the Conservative/LibDem coalition. Having moved on, the LibDems are getting the chance of a popular vote for electoral reform, one of their main demands before forming the coalition. They're getting the chance of a fairly minor reform, and one which Nick Clegg is reported to have described as a 'miserable little compromise. A bit like the coalition, yes. But a stepping-stone towards a more profound reform, they hope.

I haven't yet decided which way to vote. On the one hand, I believe that if someone's proposing any significant constitutional reform, it's down to them to make the case, and the default position if you're undecided, or find the case unconvincing, is that you vote that things should stay as they are. And I find the pro-AV case unconvincing. On the other hand, I believe that our current system is unfit for purpose, and perhaps any change is preferable to leaving things as they are, even if we have no clear idea of the consequences of the change.

The real trouble to my mind is that however we elect our politicians, the kind of people who are politicians, and the political system itself, aren't what we need. The main parties are so closely aligned along the middle ground that there isn't a great deal of clear water between them anymore. If you're old enough you can remember a youngish Maggie Thatcher facing off an elderly Michael Foot, with people like Norman Tebbitt and Arthur Scargill chipping in from the sidelines. Plenty of clear water there. Nowadays they're all Euro-Pols, from the same three or four bloody schools and the same two universities... professional politicians from their teens, doing it for a living rather than from conviction. They don't seem to argue about what they'd do so much as how quickly they'd do it. And in any case, it's increasingly clear to me that the politicians make very few decisions, and set very little policy. That stuff's all a bit confusing, so they leave it to the policy advisers in the Ministries. These advisers are of course not elected, and can do their planning of policy without having to worry about popular approval. For example, when Ken Clarke talks about prison versus community punishment, you can bet half a dollar that most of it has come via a nice lady called Julie Taylor, who is Director of Offender Management, Strategy Directorate, Ministry of Justice. I will apologise if wrong but as far as I can find out, she hasn't risen to her current extremely well paid level by being a lawyer, or a prison governor, or a probation worker. Apparently she's a former hospital administrator. I'm sure she's a very able woman. But I'm sure you'll take my point: who is actually in charge? How fitted to the task are they? And on whose authority do they act?

A plague on all their houses, then, say I. (Bet they're worried now, eh?)

The last word on the forthcoming referendum goes to one of my neighbours, overheard outside the pub earlier on:

"Tell you what I'm going to do... I'm going to put a tick in the box marked 'yes', then write underneath 'but alternatively, no'. That's an alternative vote, innit?"


  1. I agree with your point about politicians. The people who usually become politicians are the ones least likely to be very good at it (with a few notable exceptions).

    All the more reason then to move towards a system that holds out the prospect of making it easier to hand some power to parties like the Greens.

    AV probably is a 'miserable compromise' when proper PR is what we really need but if it moves us closer to this then it has to be a good thing.

    Better to vote Yes on 5th May I think, than to lose the chance of getting a say on changing our electoral system for at least another generation, which is what a No vote will probably mean.

  2. You make a solid argument, Alan, and I'm closer to 'yes' than 'no'. Certainly your comment about more power to the Greens resonates, as I voted Green in the last Council election and intend to this time – though that's largely because of our local candidates rather than any total commitment to the Green Party on a national level. But I take your point, indeed.