Sunday, 15 August 2010

Open Your Eyes

Our Kingdom has an article, written by John Jackson, entitled "Why the referendum is a Good Thing". In the 'bio notes' it states: "John Jackson is a lawyer who has never practised the law professionally. He is chairman of Mishcon de Reya and ‘History Today’ and a director of openDemocracy."

Whilst the article makes some good points, for example: "Firstly, it represents an undeniable and irretractable acknowledgement (intentional or accidental) by the political establishment that ‘we’, a sovereign people, have the right to decide how ‘we’ are to be represented...", the article also repeats the oft mentioned complaint that, under the present system, it is to parties that MPs owe their allegiance and not to us, the people. It also reaffirms that the system stinks and repeats the method by which ministers earn appointment to their positions. Where I believe John Jackson's reasoning is at fault is in his belief that AV is a better form of electing parliamentary candidates and his apparent lack of knowledge about the outcome, once a referendum is held.

According to the Electoral Reform Society, amongst the advantages of AV are:
  • it more accurately reflects public opinion of extremist parties, who are unlikely to gain many second-preference votes.
  • Coalition governments are no more likely to arise under AV than under first-Past-The-Post. It eliminates the need for tactical voting. Electors can vote for their first-choice candidate without fear of wasting their vote.
  • It encourages candidates to chase second- and third-preferences, which lessens the need for negative campaigning (one doesn't want to alienate the supporters of another candidate whose second preferences one wants) and rewards broad-church policies. 
The first point is blatantly untrue in that, to take a subject such as EU membership, the dyed-in-the-wool Conservative or Labour supporter for whom this is a priority is more likely to make as their second preference a party such as UKIP.

The second point makes an unprovable assertion that coalition governments are no more likely to arise under AV than FPTP. The assertion that it eliminates the need for tactical voting is promptly undermined by the next point in that if it encourages tactical campaigning it must then result in tactical voting. It would also result in loss of argument between candidates on specific differences in policy for fear of losing those second preference votes.

On the matter of a referendum, John Jackson has clearly missed the point that whilst the Coalition has agreed to 'allow' the people to have referendums, there is no timescale when this piece of legislation will be enacted.  Neither does he mention that whilst a referendum on any subject may be granted, on collection of the required number of signatories, it only means the subject will be debated in the House of Commons - not that the matter would be enacted into law. Together with the promised  'recall' of MPs who 'misbehave' for whom a recall can only be initiated once a committee of MPs have sanctioned this (well they have to agree that the 'rules' have been broken - so same thing), the referendum capability is still subject to agreement of those we elect. In other words, the political elite have not loosened their grip on power one iota!

As for all John Jackson's 'coulds' in his last paragraph, all I can say is that had Cameron been a true Conservative we could have avoided the coalition mess in which we now find ourselves and we could have begun the journey out of the EU!

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