The Illogic Of The No Campaign

May 1, 2011

by Martin Odoni

Has anyone else noticed how many of the NO2AV arguments could just as easily be arguments for the return of the Absolute Monarchy?

“Proportional systems mean more arguments!!!” they cry. Well maybe, but then that’s a case against bothering with elected representatives at all. If you have a dictator, he or she will simply make all the decisions, and nobody is allowed to argue with them, period. There’s a reason why we put policy ideas up for discussion and dispute; some policies are stupid and/or immoral. We need people to argue with them, especially as sometimes the policymaker may not have noticed the flaws in the first place. A Government that is unchallengeable is usually assumed to be a strong one. But a strong Government is also one that has a broad perspective, and an effective Opposition can force a Government to consider other sides of a story that may not have occurred to it previously.

“Proportional systems are more complicated!!!” they cry. Again, that could just as easily sum up the case against bothering with elected Parliaments at all. Under an Absolute system, the King/Dictator/Emperor/Benevolent-President-For-Life makes a decision, and the deal’s done. Under a representative system, a policy is put up for debate, potentially hundreds of different MPs will have points to make, sometimes painting the policy in a very complicated light. Outside pressure groups may also get involved, adding to the weight of material to be considered. The policy then gets voted on, and it may be rejected. Even if it goes through, under most systems it will also have to be assessed by an Upper House of some kind as well. During this time, it will be subject to constant redrafts, amendments, additions, edits, clarifications. This is why it can take months on end for a Bill passing through Parliament or Congress. In the pre-Magna Carta days, the King let his subjects know his will, and it just became so. Inclusive Government, by its very nature, makes things more complicated. But that’s ultimately for the best, because political issues are seldom straightforward either, and many of the complications involved can only be drawn to a Government’s attention by someone with an outside perspective.

“Proportional systems are more expensive!!!” they cry. In some cases, that may well be true. But then, how much money do six hundred-plus MP’s cost the country every year, irrespective of the system? Again, you might just as well argue for abandoning Parliament, selling off the Palace of Westminster to a developer, and then putting everything in the hands of the Queen, and just paying her and her alone a salary. Except of course that in a country of over sixty million people, there are going to be far too many issues for one person to address.

The worst aspect in all this is that the arguments aren’t even relevant. This is because the Alternative Vote isn’t a proportional system at all, it’s another majoritive system. In terms of the proportion of results, it really isn’t that far removed from First-Past-The-Post. It might result in more Hung Parliaments (although for reasons I’ve already given above, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing), and it might result in more power for some of the smaller parties (again I don’t see that as a problem per se). But neither of these mean it is a proportional system. By that kind of logic, given that there is a Hung Parliament at the moment and the Lib-Dems have a place of influence in a coalition, you could just as easily argue that FPTP has been shown to be proportional.

Yes, the AV system is rather more complicated at the point-of-ballot, but in the end, all it really boils down to is having the ability to offer an order-of-preference. People do that all the time with all sorts of things – I see similar activities every other day on Facebook, for heaven’s sake. If you really find that too difficult, you probably aren’t ready to make sound judgements at all, in which case it’s questionable whether you’re ready to vote under any system.

But I have faith in you that you can. Yes, AV may seem a bit awkward at the first attempt, but you’ll get used to it! Just like when you first started learning basic arithmetic; it took some getting used to, but you could still count to ten by your fifth birthday. If you can count, you can cope, easily.

In the end, most of the valid arguments against reform – and yes I acknowledge there are some, even though I don’t agree with them – are, when carried to their fullest length, arguments against having democratic systems at all.

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