AV CAMPAIGN ANALYSIS: Why I’m spoiling for a fight by spoiling my ballot paper.

The only small consolation I’m taking out of politics at the moment is that the British electorate seems about to offer one of its occasional dollops of common sense: it has seen enough of compromise politics over the last year to decide it doesn’t want to become Italy. The problem is, I doubt very much  if our descent into slightly Italianate chaos has anything the do with the voting system on offer: we did, after all, get to here with a system unchanged in its basic form since 1832.

If AV is rejected, I suspect the issue of voting reform will go away for at least a generation – if not forever. That would be an extraordinary disappointment for those of us who did genuinely want voting reform – as opposed to a half-baked majoritarian compromise between FPTP and proper ‘list’ PR. This column was among the first to spot the LibDem retreat from real PR before the last election; it was obvious, once Nick Clegg got the scent of power in his nostrils, that his principles were ‘as a dream that quickly fades at the opening of the day’.

The problem remains that no decision is ever simple for the British electorate any more. Gone are the days of, “Right, they’re for that – I’ll vote for them”. Now everything has to be a calculation balanced by trying to get at least some ‘good’ out of the curate’s egg of legislation, individual, or Party on offer. For example, although guilt by association has characterised much of the campaign, this hasn’t always been irrational. I think Eddie Izzard is the funniest man on Earth after Robin Williams, but the ignorance he displayed while talking about AV on the Marr Show two weeks ago did make one wonder if any system he proposed might be better off confined to his stage act. Like it or not, I see completely wrongheaded people like Kinnock, Clegg, Harman or Eds Miliband and Balls supporting it, and think “Hang on a minute…why?”

But then further assessment yields this thought: suppose the AV camp wins. The effect (I suspect) would be yet more drifting across blurred Party lines by backbenchers eager to flex some muscles at last….and a consequently rapid decline in Whip power. New groupings might well spring  to life. Everything might change. And then I again study the Frankenstein AV on offer, and reality intervenes: the change would be nowhere near radical enough to transform UK politics. I’ve been making a molehill out of a mountain, and that won’t do.

I want a fairer voting system, but not one that gives an arbitrary voting reward to those whose only achievement is being like another Party. I’d like to see consensus on some things, but not endlessly circular and cynical government going absolutely nowhere with no principles – or principals. I don’t want to be given the same old Big Business/Left/Union/Bankrolled/Earth Mother alternatives on my voting slip, diluted only by crazy mixtures of shire Tories and urban activists. I want accountable leadership, not cover-ups, leg-ups and cock-ups.

Ultimately, as I keep repeating, the problem is rooted in the culture. Any system will only ever be as good as the ethics, sense and determination of the people taking part in it. When teachers’ Unions voted for Michael Gove to resign yesterday, I smiled while thinking of a suitable headline. The best I could come up with was ‘Turkeys in shock vote to kill farmer’. And I’m afraid that sums up the AV debate for me: as a matter alleged to be important, I now rate the AV controversy roughly on a par with the fox hunting debate in terms of relevance to Britain’s cultural problems: it should’ve been a new beginning, but Clegg the Kopout blew it – as I always thought he would.

I’ve already spoiled (and what a Freudian Establishment verb that is) my postal ballot paper, using The Slog’s by now trade mark jeu de mot: ‘nota bene’ – or ‘please take note – neither of the above’. The Powers that Be will not do any such thing, of course….and that’s what we really need to change.