As Cameron and Clegg make their last minute preparations for the AV referendum, I’m mildly curious to see what happens. ‘Mildly curious’ just about sums it up. My feelings about this non-event are not that different from my lack of interest in the Royal Wedding. In neither case have I rushed out to organise a street party.
My views haven’t changed. I will still be voting no. My reasoning has become moderately more sophisticated than it was when I wrote on this theme a few months back. Then the Neanderthal part of my brain simply saw an opportunity to give Clegg a bloody nose and to punish his party for their duplicity in allowing the Conservatives to act as though they had won a landslide when they had no mandate for the measures they are bringing in. I still want that small revenge; that noise you can hear is my grunting as I polish my club in readiness. But when I manage to lift my knuckles off the floor, I also have some more principled reasons for voting against this.
I’m troubled by the power AV gives to minority parties. I’m troubled by the watering down of agendas in order to court those minority parties. I don’t like the idea that some people will in effect have two votes to my one. I don’t like the assumption that MPs aren’t working hard for all their constituents when my experience says they very much do. My MP is incredibly committed and hardworking. He’s even managed to wow one of my most Tory neighbours with his efficiency at addressing the issue of some noisy neighbours who’ve been giving her grief. And in the interest of balance, a Labour-voting friend whose MP is the PM himself thought he was of considerable help in her battles with the Department of Work and Pensions.
Behind the AV vote is the assumption that a change to the voting system will mean people get more politically engaged. An easier way of doing that would be to introduce compulsory voting but no one seems to have suggested that idea. My experience on the doorstep suggests that people are vaguely aware of the referendum but no more than that. Their main concerns tend to be with immediate local issues and finding solutions to them. The people I spoke to were exercised not by AV but by the redevelopment of a local car park that will effect local businesses, the need for good cycle lanes, and what’s happening to the local swimming pool.
Much newsprint is currently being given over to ‘Blue Labour’. When I first saw this phrase, I thought Bernard Manning had been brought back from the dead to hold a fundraiser for the Party. I was looking forward to some new Jeremy Hunt jokes. Sadly, it’s less exciting than that. Think Philip Blond’s short-lived Red Toryism which fed into Cameron’s Compassionate Conservativism (and how well that's worked out eh?). Blue Labour is an oxymoronic phrase designed to remind the party of the traditional values of family, friendship and responsibility that lie at its heart.
Initially I dismissed this as the return of New Labour through a piece of subliminal rhyming slang (Blue = New; geddit?). Grudgingly, I think beneath the irritating slogan there might be an important kernel of truth. Most people aren’t interested in the minutiae of political argument or theory. What they want are solutions that improve their lives and communities.
I’m not sure how AV will achieve this. Given the linking of this issue with the gerrymandering of constituency boundaries so that Labour will lose out in its city heartlands, it may lead to less rather than more representative government.
Rather like the other event when Kate and Wills tie the knot, I suspect AV will prove to be a rather expensive distraction. Perhaps AV will surprise me and if it’s passed people will suddenly be more engaged in the political process. Only time will tell, I guess.
Pass me that royal wedding tea towel and I’ll get on with something more useful while we wait to find out.