.Never before in the history of humanity has a referendum captured the interest of a population quite like the possibility of changing electoral system to the Alternative Vote; with the collective holding of breath ahead of the result, thousands of people have called NHS Direct reporting severe spells of light-headedness. The Daily Mail has latched onto this and dubbed this nationwide epidemic “AVitis”, a typically unfunny moniker from a typically humourless newspaper, blaming the outbreak on the inherent complexity of the Alternative Vote system, a fit of scaremongering not seen since the invent of the steam engine.
Whilst I have led us down a fictitious path, the truth isn’t located too far away with scaremongering from both sides characterising this debate over and above anything else. No longer are the public being educated about the various merits of either system, instead we are being subjected to celebrities, personal attacks and poorly judged comparisons. The idea that one system is intrinsically ‘better’ than the other fails my first law of political science, that everything is normative (I only have one law by the way, but it’s like a super-law; a law that can undo all claims, presumptions, assertions and declarations). As with any political system there has to be a trade-off and in this case it is between having a representative with a larger mandate and the possibility that the winner (least loser) after the first count may not be the winner at the end.
It is obvious that the escalating shrill claims by senior Lib-Dems are an attempt to stake a claim for their independence once again, after being flattened by the Tories, much like a dozing person crushed under the weight over their corpulent partner. Take Chris Huhne, he has called an emergency UN summit over idiotic exaggerations by the No campaign, single-handily burying the real debate beneath ten layers of coalition friction, party politics and the petty nature of politicians. Well done Huhney. Although in his defence, they did start it (crowing on about how important democracy is, whilst placing it at the bottom of the list of things to spend money on).
Then there is Nick Clegg, whose year-long rollercoaster ride has seen him induce Clegg-mania, Clegg-phobia and now on to the third and probably longest stage, Clegg-anus in which he is the butt of every joke whilst simultaneously forming the rear end of every political decision. Now in desperate pleas for attention, Clegg is resorting to more hyperbolic feats of oratory such as his recent assertion that David Cameron is “defending the indefensible”. Is a fully democratic electoral system ‘indefensible’? The Gaddafi-Past-the-Post is something that should have that level of vitriol aimed at it, along with the oft-copied Alternative Mugabe (with the Alternative also called Mugabe) instead of the slight blemish on the backside of democracy that is FPTP. Both camps are under the impression that the greater number of headlines they can generate, regardless of plausibility, the more the public will warm to their cause. Yet they would have misjudged the temperature of the nation; the thin, sniping remarks add to the apathy felt and the minuscule levels of public engagement that cannot be described as patronising highlights the large disconnect between the public figures and the actual public.
And even in the internet age the campaigns have played by the rules set by the traditional media: reducing their message to fit in the suffocating space of the headlines, allowing a simple difference of opinion to be framed as a clash with no commonality between the two sides and pandering to cheap sensationalism over true analysis. With only a week to go until polling day, the state of political discourse will only plummet further into barrel scraping territory:
“With Growing Innumeracy, AV Is too Complicated. Vote No”; “AV Can Help Stem Growing innumeracy. Vote Yes”.
Thankfully, slogans are purely in the realm of satire and will never see the light of day: