Over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to talk across the country and make the case for AV. It’s understandably been an issue on which a lot of people haven’t felt that “bothered”, but that doesn’t mean the outcome is not going to make a difference.
Many have felt aggrieved by the lies and innuendo paraded by the No campaign. I found the first poster of Clegg based on an Obama image one that verged on racist. That may not have been intended – but bad taste has come to dominate their campaign. There must be something deep that the right particularly fear losing – and it can only be power.
Indeed the issue of the cost of AV was rebutted by Lord McNally this week in the Lords who said that the costs of AV would not be significantly higher than First Past the Post. I also remember one event I was speaking at – and being extremely surprised to hear the No speaker argue one way (“Its not enough so just say No”) to supporters of PR, and then argue the merits of FPTP to others. I had no idea by the end of the meeting as to what the speaker actually believed in.
Less than a week after the Royal Wedding – which was a symbol of how the monarchy is modernising - we all have a chance to make a decision that will be a small step in the modernisation of our politics. A great Progress piece talked about AV as a marriage of principle and practice – and it was right.
Let me be clear. Whilst I support AV, I do not support PR. I believe we weakened accountability of our MEPs by removing the constituency link and I wouldn’t want a system that gave fascist parties seats in Westminster.
But what I do believe is that the public still want our politics to change. As the expenses crisis lingers as a painful memory, people have not lost an interest in politics. The evidence is there that in fact people want to feel closer, more connected and more influential in our political decision making.
Whilst we could have chosen another variant of reform for the Referendum, this is the one we have got and it is a sensible next step for our parliamentary reform. It is not a big complex change as the No campaign make out. In fact it is a system used by political parties – for internal elections. Every Labour party member who voted in the leadership elections last year used AV. The change is a simple one. It simply is a change from putting a X to either putting an X or ranking candidates 1,2,3.
When I was initially thinking about which way to vote on AV, I found myself coming down to a very simple question. If the Tories aren’t supporting it as Cameron’s has clearly stated, ask yourself why. If the BNP are against it, ask yourself why. The reason is that FPTP or PR entrenches the self interest of each of those parties. However the decision on AV should not be about your own party’s particular interest; it should be about a fairer voting system. This is a change that gives away a bit more power and choice to people. That’s why it’s important. That’s why the Tories are putting up a smokescreen. They know it is a system that could make them have to work beyond their comfort zone and natural supporters – and rather than change themselves, they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep the status quo.
Secondly, the very act of changing something in our national politics is symbolic of the fact we can change more. A spirit of change could bring other changes in its wake. I’d like to see a lot more be different. Reform to working hours of Parliament. A reduced recess. Job share MPs. Much more is possible, if people believe change can happen. So I believe that this will be the opening to changing our political life more fundamentally, and it’s a side of reform that Progressives should be on. This is not the issue on which Progressives should be conservative.
This referendum, our first in 36 years, isn’t about Nick Clegg or the Coalition.
It’s about the people of Britain. It is a change that matters, and it saddens me that we have so many people across parties – perfectly comfortably about being ‘Meh’ – undecided. Well on the issue of a change that improves voter choice and fairer democratic outcomes that doesn’t bring other problems in it’s wake, I’m not meh, and I won’t be meh about mehs. And if you worry about coalitions under AV – just remind yourself that FPTP produced this coalition – and there’s no reason why it couldn’t happen again.
If you think it doesn’t really matter what happens, take a quick look into the future. The boundary changes, reduction in seat numbers and issues around registration could result in Labour losing the chance to ever have an outright majority again. AV, as a fairer system that keeps the constituency link could be the Progressive’s best chance of ever holding power after the constitutional reforms (which are likely be biased in favour of Conservative forces) have gone through. With all the different changes underway, the future is never going to be the same as the past. Today’s vote has to be about the future.
A few days ago, I voted YES. And I urge you to do so too.
Seema Malhotra (@SeemaMalhotra1)