Tuesday 19 April 2011

Give us a referendum that matters

I consider horse racing even more tedious than most normal people find politics. So the fact that I spent Sunday at a point-to-point meeting says much about the ‘miserable little compromise’ that is marriage.

Very firm ground meant that the fields were sadly diminished: to such an extent that the first race was a one-horse walkover (I always vaguely wondered where that expression came from).

But at least it was all mercifully quick once the racing finally started. When the horses crossed the line, people knew the result and could tear up or cash in their betting slips. They did not have to wait a couple of days while boffins with electronic counting machines worked out the real result based on the second, third and fourth preferences of those who had backed the most egregious losers.

Which is the way our electoral system will be heading if the ‘Yes to AV’ campaign triumphs in the forthcoming referendum. This is a system no one really wants, and has been put forward with the same sort of care and consideration that attended Mr Blair’s brilliant reform of the House of Lords.

The only real object of the change is to place more Liberal Democrat bottoms on the benches of the House of Commons. Though admittedly that looks a pretty long shot now that the Lib Dems have made themselves so monumentally unpopular through their participation in the Coalition.

And would more Lib Dem MPs, in any case, be a good thing? Did most of the people who voted for them in the past ever understand what they actually stood for? Is there any solid evidence that they have proved, on average, less expenses-hungry or sexually incontinent than their peers in the two larger parties?

More of these? Former Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik
More of these? Former Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten
More of these? Sitting Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock

True, they tend to work hard in their constituencies, because they don’t feel the God-given right of Labour or Tory MPs in ‘safe seats’, but that just encourages the regrettable trend for MPs to become glorified social workers.

What is wrong with our politics is not the system of voting, but the fact that it has become a career choice. Oddly enough, we were better served when the Labour benches were stuffed with thick ex-trade union officials, who found their Parliamentary salary a nice little earner, and the Tory side with thick knights of the shire who were too rich to care about remuneration. Both groups viewed going into Parliament as a public service rather than a way to advance their own interests.

Today’s brighter careerists expect to match the rewards and recognition achieved by their contemporaries who went to work as high-flying local authority administrators or investment bankers. The problem has only been made worse by insisting that becoming an MP must be regarded as a full-time job.

Those dutiful thickoes somehow helped to run the largest empire the world has ever seen. The present shower do little more than rubber stamp the instructions issued by the Brussels-based empire of which our country has, in another one of its periodic fits of absence of mind, become a province.

Which is why, if £90 million can be found in these cash-strapped times to hold a referendum, it would have made a lot more sense to devote it to clearing up the running sore of our European Union membership. An ‘in or out’ vote on that would surely arouse the sort of passions on both sides that seem singularly lacking in the AV campaign. It might even get the public re-engaged with politics, as politicians claim to want.

But God forbid they should hear from us on anything important. AV matters only a little bit to just some of them, and will do nothing at all to improve life for the rest of us. The simple, first past the post answer can only be this: just say ‘no’.
Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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