I used to work in the democracy movement for a short time. I got very disillusioned very quickly. It was rarely if ever a real examination of how to give disenfranchised people more power, but in fact how to give more power to the people who demand it most.
So I can’t say I care an awful lot about the AV referendum. I don’t see how a voting change that is arguable less enfranchising of supporters of smaller parties is more democratic. I also don’t see how a system that ensures that the party that really loses the election – i.e. comes behind two others – is the most likely to partake in government is more democratic either. I don’t see how a system that introduces binding changes agreed to behind closed doors which weren’t in a manifesto days after the election (take rape anonymity for example) is more democratic. At the very least there should be nothing in a coalition agreement that wasn’t in one or the other manifesto.
However, I will almost certainly vote yes on the day. My preferred of the many flawed systems is AV+, which retains the constituency links but might help the Greens to be bigger players (thus giving rise to potential new partnerships if the coalition becomes a merger), and this might be a step in the right direction, but I can’t say it will be my number 1 priority. Good luck everyone, but I’ll be too busy fighting the cuts to go to the barricades on this one.
Plenty of other Labour Party members will though (and a small minority will campaign against) and good luck to them. It was one of our Manifesto commitments, and if at all possible, we should try to make it happen.
But we can only do so if we are able to do so while fighting the rushed and ill-judged measures the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill also contains. Left Foot Forward have done a brilliant analysis of the myriad problems with the bill as it stands, and it needs serious rewriting to get it into a fit shape to be supported.
If the ConDems really care enough about getting this issue out to the public in a referendum, than frankly they should present it to Parliament in a form that can be supported by all sides of the house. Otherwise it could just seem that Cameron is getting Labour to do his dirty work for him by presenting us with a bill we can’t in good conscience support, knowing that enough of his backbenchers will rebel that it might fail altogether. Unlikely, but he can at least turn to his backbenchers and show them the gerrymandered constituencies that they gain from it.
There is no need for these issues to come together, and to be honest if the coalition think they are going to last to 2015 no need to rush the referendum. We have plenty of time to register the millions of unregistered voters, and in the 2011 census, to count the millions of children who will mature to voting age before the next General Election is even held. Labour needs to ask why we’re rushing something imperfect when we could have a great and truly reforming bill and registration drive that enfranchises millions more, not millions less.