Sunday, 20 February 2011


Andrew Rawnsley makes some good points in the Observer about how the official No to AV campaign has adopted the most idiotic possible core message in its efforts so far. He takes as his starting point the speech made by David Cameron against AV last week:
The worst argument advanced in the prime minister's speech was that AV is too complicated. He said: "I don't think we should replace a system that everyone gets with one that's only understood by a handful of elites."

Well, let us accept that numbering candidates 1, 2, 3 does require a slightly more advanced level of numeracy than simply making a cross. I think Britain will cope. Many Britons already use AV when electing representatives for charities, churches, companies, trade unions, societies and voluntary organisations. Labour and the Lib Dems both elect their leaders by AV...

Australians have managed to master AV. The prime minister is surely not suggesting that the fine people of Britain have a lower collective IQ than our friends in the Antipodes?

While his speech did not muster any fresh arguments in favour of first past the post, it did draw attention to the general attitude of the anti-reformers. Their propaganda puts most weight on this contention that AV is just too taxing for the poor old British voter to get his or her head around.

The no campaign will probably not put it so indelicately themselves, but they are calculating that their best hope of preserving first past the post is to mobilise what you could crudely call the Thicko Vote. This explains a very revealing switch in their tactics.

A few weeks ago, you may recall, the antis were loudly complaining that it was wrong to hold the referendum on the same day as the elections for local councils and the devolved governments in Wales and Scotland. It was monstrous, they cried. It was damn near unconstitutional, they yelled. The no men in Parliament attempted to amend the legislation to separate the referendum from the May elections.

Have you heard them making that argument recently? No, you haven't. Not a peep from them. Here's why. They've now had a look at what type of person is more likely to agree with each proposition. The polling suggests that AB voters, the more affluent and generally better-educated segment of the population, are more inclined to support reform. DE voters, by contrast, are more likely to be persuaded that we should stick with the status quo. If the turn-out is low, the DEs will be the ones staying at home. So the no campaign now believe it suits their cause that the referendum will be on the same day as the May elections because that ought to boost turn-out...
Well, believe it or not, I agree with nearly all of that – and I'm a "no" on AV. What Rawnsley doesn't say, of course, is that the "yes" camp has adopted an equally idiotic populist message – that "yes" is all about nice cuddly things like "change" and "fairness" and "progress" when actually it's all about a boring old electoral system that has been used in Australia for nearly a century and wouldn't make a lot of difference.

Still, going for the thicko vote is what happens with referendums: plebiscitary democracy is a recipe for populist cretinism. But that's another story...

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