Letter to my Prospective Tory Councilman
We had a brief, fleeting talk on my door before you ran away, doubtless scared off by my unkempt and hairy appearance (I'm a writer by trade which means I keep my own odd hours and don't have to be presentable much of the time).
I'm afraid there is absolutely no way I will ever vote Conservative, barring a complete change in all their policies or someone going back in time to assassinate Margaret Thatcher as she came to power and thus changing the course of the country in the past... but that would create a temporal paradox and those tend to be headache inducing - as well as being unlikely. I have lived through too much curtailment of civil liberties, too much corporate bottom-kissing and too much erosion of civic society.
That aside I wanted to talk to you about the Alternative Vote, I would have done so more on the doorstep (I'm the kind of person that even invites Jehovah's Witnesses in for a chat) but you seemed to be keen to be off.
I suppose the fundamental question that you have to ask yourself, as a citizen - and as a politician - is whether you think a government should concentrate on being effective, or upon being representative. An 'effective' government would be one that wouldn't be answerable to the people at all where it could just rule by decree. A representative government, taken to a similar extreme, would be Anarchism (capital 'A', not small 'a'). Ideologically I am an Anarchist, pragmatically a Socialist, but I recognise that neither of these extremes are viable (at least in the current state of the world when it comes to Anarchism). However, that doesn't mean that I'm willing to accept poor representation.
The FPTP system only works so long as the MPs truly represent their local constituencies and, since the advent of the party system and the whips this simply hasn't been the case. It's even less the case since lobbying and so on came to the fore and the traditional defence of FPTP that it protects the link between the MP and their constituency is so much balderdash and piffle given the state of modern politics. Eliminate parties and whips and you might have an argument, otherwise, I'm afraid not.
AV is not PR which is what most of us who are into the idea of an actually representative government want, but it seems there's no chance of pushing that (or democratising the Lords) until we overcome some of the inertia against change. AV isn't perfect, it is a crummy compromise, but it is a step forward, it does remove (somewhat) wasted votes and it does make our system much more representative.
Allow me to illustrate the problem with FPTP with a very, very simplified example.
Say there is a nation, Micronia let's call it, which has three constituences, each of which provides an elected person to their Triumverate government. Each constituency has 100 people in it and there are two parties. The Purples and the Greens. They have an election and the following results come in:
Constituency 1: Purple 51, Green 49
Constituency 2: Purple 51, Green 49
Constituency 3: Purple 0, Green 100
Under FPTP the Purple Party would have the balance of power with two seats, despite only having 102 votes. The Green party with 198, despite having almost double the number of votes, would not hold the power.
This is obviously an exaggeration, but we've had governments that have not been consented to or supported by the majority of the British people in a similar but lesser fashion quite often and a great many MPs are elected despite being unwanted by the majority of their local electorate.
This is absolutely not representative.
The no campaign likes to quote Churchill, here's another quote of his: "Democracy is the only form of government that gives the people what they deserve." A witty, pithy and biting quip but one that only applies if the people's choices are truly represented which, under our current system, they are not. Many of us, particularly in 'safe seats' like this one have our views utterly ignored and our votes wasted. AV at least does something to lessen that and makes our votes count a little more. It's unlikely to make much of a difference in a Tory stronghold like Hampshire but give people the freedom to actually vote with their conscience and you'll see LESS tactical voting, not more. People will be free to vote how they want and elections will, as a result, much more accurately reflect their views.
As to being too complicated, we already do it for European elections and the regional Parliaments use it as well. It's no more complicated than rating your favourite foods, choosing your desert island discs or rating your preferred fast food indulgences in descending order.
While it may not guarantee someone's first choice it does at least mean that whoever is elected has the greatest possible assent of the greatest number of people.
That's a small advance, but one worth grasping while we can before we - hopefully - move on to a genuinely representative PR system.
Thanks for reading,