Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Guest Post: Cllr Peter Cannon

Dartford's newly elected councillor Peter Cannon has written this article which is excellent: 

The rejection of AV- another massive failure of the 'progressive majority'

With the monumental rejection of AV by the huge margin of 68% to 32% in the second UK-wide referendum ever in British history, the Guardianistas and Independent / New Statesman ‘progressive majority’ types have not had so much egg on their faces since they jumped on the Cleggmania bandwagon and backed the Lib Dems at the last election. Despite the ‘anti-politics’ mood, people voted overwhelmingly not to change our much-maligned electoral system. The Guardian, Independent and New Statesman largely justified their backing for the Lib Dems on the ‘historic opportunity’ for electoral reform – now the British people have crushed that dream. What can electoral reform advocates moan about now? They had their chance, and they blew it. The people said no, by more than 2 to 1. They can’t blame the voting system for that one.

It was amusing that the only ten areas (out of 441) in the whole of Britain that voted yes were university cities like Oxford and Cambridge, trendy-lefty London boroughs like Islington and Camden and the student parts of central Edinburgh and Glasgow Kelvin. I don’t know who it was who started the vicious rumour that Scotland and Wales were likely to vote Yes to AV: they both voted overwhelmingly No (regardless of the support of the SNP and Plaid Cymru for the Yes side). So did Sheffield and Doncaster, the cities represented by Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.

An article by Tom Clark, leader-writer of the Guardian, says sadly: "No one ever claimed that Guardian readers were representative of the wider population, but compare the referendum result with the views you expressed in our own survey a couple of years ago, and you could be forgiven for thinking that planet Guardian exists in an entirely different universe." Indeed.

So who are the Guardianistas going to blame, and what are their excuses this time? As always, they obviously cannot blame themselves, or accept that the British people really didn’t want what they wanted.

Tom Clark claims: "But this is not, in fact, a case of a chasm between those branded the chattering classes by their detractors, and the wider population." Really? With a 68-32 No, despite all the condemnation of the No campaign? Clark goes on to hilariously blame leaflets from the Electoral Commission for "making AV look horrendously complex" and including "entirely superfluous information (aka the truth), such as the fact that the lack of an obligation to rank all of the candidates means an election can, in certain circumstances, be won with less than half the total votes." Ah yes, the fact that AV doesn't work.

So will the electoral reformers accept that they have lost? Not a bit of it.

Katie Ghose, the chair of the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign, lamented: "The referendum hasn't been the debate on issues of democracy that people would have hoped for. Too often the debate has been about party politics and the public has been shut out of discussing how we choose our MPs." Well, when they were finally ‘let in’, they made their views rather clear. She adds: "Over five million people voted for change - a tribute to our campaigners." And over eleven million voted against it.

Chris Huhne went further, writing in the Independent that "No reform now means bigger reform later". He writes: "When change comes, as it will, it is likely to be more radical. The problems to which electoral reformers are responding have not gone away and will continue to demand an answer." What breathtaking arrogance and contempt for the electorate – the British people have given you your answer. This reminds me of the argument that it was 'inevitable' that Britain would join the Euro - look how that one turned out.

In a ridiculous line of attack, Chris Huhne argued: "Last week, David Cameron proved that he is a real Tory, because he fell in line with the long tradition of Tory leaders who resisted devolution, votes for women, and even votes for all men." What a pathetic and spiteful argument - how is campaigning for people to vote No to AV in any way equivalent to denying rights to anyone?" Huhne, of course, conveniently forgets that it was in fact a Conservative government which introduced universal and equal suffrage. But that does not fit in with the simplistic left-wing fantasy version of history.

The Lib Dems, who are reacting to their defeat with childish outbursts against their Conservative coalition ‘partners’ must not be rewarded for this disgraceful behaviour. Nor should they be compensated for the verdict of the British people, or given a consolation prize for their losses at the ballot box – that would be a display of contempt for the electorate and an inversion of the logic of democracy. The Lib Dems are in no position to demand anything, nor do they have any right or mandate to. They had their big prize – a referendum on electoral reform – but the people voted no. It is absurd that they should feel aggrieved that the public voted ‘the wrong way’. They now seem to feel betrayed because they got it into their heads that part of the coalition agreement was not only that they would have a referendum but that they would win it – that the Conservatives would just sit back, say nothing, and let them win unopposed. That seems to be the Lib Dems’ idea of democracy. Not merely an electoral system stacked in their favour, but a referendum stacked in their favour as well. Thank goodness they have been denied the boost in power which AV would have given them.

Perhaps the other people who need to think again are those who go on about the so-called ‘progressive majority’. The argument from Vince Cable, Peter Mandelson and others that AV would bolster the ‘progressive majority’ against the wicked Tory minority, presumably with an endless future of Lib-Lab pacts, evidently did not appeal to much of the electorate. Perhaps they need to wake up to the fact that the ‘progressive majority’ does not exist beyond their own imaginations. The reality is that many Labour voters do not subscribe to the trendy ‘progressive’ causes of social liberalism, multiculturalism, European integration, pacifism, republicanism, secularism and nuclear disarmament. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are not the same. Did anyone really vote ‘progressive’ at the last election? I thought not. The AV referendum is a clear example of the majority of Conservative AND Labour voters uniting to reject the ‘progressive’ cause of the moment.

The ‘progressive majority’ myth died with AV.

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