I have to admit that I do like to be right. That doesn’t mean I have such entrenched opinions that others have no hope of persuading me of an alternative. A few of you may have read my Good Friday post which has been by some as ‘Suzie’s quest for truth’. I freely admit that I like what opinions I do hold dear to be based on a genuine truth. Not spin; not doom-mongering media; not right or left-wing dogma.
This can make decision-making difficult and I have been particularly confused by my emotional response to the upcoming vote on electoral reform. ‘Yes or No’ to the alternative vote?
I trust the BBC to give me a clear sense of the facts behind the arguments. They have a helpful web page ‘What is the alternative vote?’ which explains in some detail the different system that will result if the ‘Yes’ campaign gets its way on May 5th. I won’t go into detail here, they can explain it far better than I can, but suffice to say that I actually felt I understood what a ‘Yes’ vote would mean. So far so good.
However, the BBC also examines what difference AV would have made to recent general elections. It seems that the outcome would not have been any different, other than to inflict an even greater defeat on the Conservatives in 1997 and offer a few more seats to the Liberal Democrats. It also seems that in Australia – one nation that uses AV to determine election results – polls suggest a preference for our ‘first past the post system’. So, I wonder, what would be the point of changing things?
Part of me – that tiny little bit of my soul that enjoyed Constitutional Law at college – thinks we should stick with what we know. Tradition is not inherently fuddy duddy, stuffy and out of touch with the real world. Why make the BBC’s ‘swingometer’ even more complicated?
But yesterday two things happened. First I saw the Conservative party leaflet supporting the ‘No’ campaign. I admit I loathe the sight of waxy faced Old Etonian David Cameron. I acknowledge my bias. He may still have had my cross in the ‘No’ box on the 5th however if he had not spoken to me directly in print using clear untruths. He said of AV that the ‘Australians want to get rid of it’. He said that those that vote for the BNP will get their votes counted many times where nice, sensible, respectable voters will only get their vote counted once. This will therefore make it more likely that the BNP will win a seat in parliament. He suggests it is an expensive waste of time at a point in history when we should all be concentrating on tightening our proverbial belts.
My unscientific ‘truth’ monitor started bleeping straight away. Polls in Australia (and they are just random polls) only suggest that Australians might get rid of AV if asked to vote. There is no cohesive drive for change. Furthermore, research has shown and experience in Australia supports the fact that extremist parties achieve no benefit from AV. The BNP in the UK is campaigning against AV because they know that there will be no one constituency they can target that will offer them the opportunity to shoe in a candidate on a minority vote. Lastly, I resent the use of cost in relation to electoral reform. It is either a better, fairer way to ensure my vote counts or it is not. Don’t tell me how to vote on the basis that I might or might not be contributing to cuts in public sector services. Stick another tax bill on Sir Philip Green or an investment banker. That will cover it.
Secondly, I saw that Eddie Izzard is covering 15 cities in 4 days to promote AV. Seen by the right-wing press as a last-ditch attempt to sway voters, I see this as another ‘marathon’ effort by a principled man who believes in the potential benefits of AV. I admit here another bias – I love Eddie Izzard. He is an intelligent man who makes me laugh, which is always attractive. However he is also willing to stand up for what he believes in. He is a long time campaigner against extremism, hate crime and racism. I trust him to support a system that would not make it easier for worms like Nick Griffin to achieve power.
So what now? Who do I trust? My heart says Eddie Izzard every time. Is that a good enough reason to vote ‘Yes’ on Thursday?
Trying to put things in perspective I urge you to consider here a fabulous programme on BBCThree last week that will be repeated tomorrow. Called So What if My Baby is Born Like Me? it follows Jono Lancaster and his partner in their discussions with experts about starting a family. Jono suffers from the rare and disfiguring Treacher-Collins Syndrome, the nature of which means that any child he has will have a 50% chance of inheriting it. I saw Jono interviewed about the programme. He said something that really resonated with me. The couple have not yet decided whether to try for a family because the issue has now become so knotted and thorny he no longer has a clear idea of the right way forward. He put it much more succinctly. He has an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other and they have both thrown off their robes and discarded their halo and trident. He doesn’t know which is which anymore.
He is an incredibly brave young man who is struggling with a real dilemma. In his search for truth he has highlighted one for me. We live in a world where the terms ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are now so mixed up, so abused and so spun that any decision we make one way or another can be transient in the extreme. What is right one week can seem a huge mistake the next. I say this as someone who voted Liberal Democrat at the last election.
Will this be the same of AV? Answers on a postcard please……