AV, New Politics and The Agora

Throughout the campaigning for AV, and for some time before, there has been a lot of talk of “new politics”. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of what the term means has been assumed by both those who use the term and those who hear it: accountable politicians, an end to scandals, and politicians responding to the concerns of their constituents and the public.

There is an enormous debate to be had as to the effects of AV and whether it will result in any of these things, but what about the campaigning itself?

A lot of attention has been given to the role of the BNP. Opponents of AV claim that it will give greater prominence to the party. Supporters of AV use a slightly more direct approach: they have argued that the fact that the Conservatives, Communists and BNP are the only ones openly opposing AV “tells you volumes” about the campaign.

I don’t believe that anything being related to the BNP “tells you volumes”. I don’t like the BNP, but just because they advocate something doesn’t mean they must be wrong because they’re the BNP. To my mind, any “new politics” should take into account arguments, not party politics. No argument should be dismissed by mere association – it should be reasoned and discussed.

Before the expenses scandal, politicians weren’t the most loved people in the country regardless of the number of incidents given the suffix “-gate”. Turnout in elections was already dropping – the scandal just cemented the public perception of Westminster. There’s more to fixing politics than expenses.

It is fairly widely acknowledged that the AV campaigning has failed to increase public interest in the issue – it has, to be fair, had competition for headlines with the Royal Wedding. I suspect though, that if the polls are to be believed, it is just because people don’t believe the hype. The public don’t believe that a change in the voting system will change the nature of Westminster or that it will make politicians “work harder”, in the same way that they don’t dislike politicians just because of expenses or recent events.

Personal attacks from either side don’t help this perception. Instead, they damage interest in politics. (Side note: if the No2AV campaign want to seal a win, they merely have to point to the bickering and say that coalitions clearly don’t work)

The party affiliation and partisanship is why I’ve built the Agora. I’m not suggesting that it will somehow revolutionise politics, or increase turnout, or even increase interest in politics. What it should be is somewhere to discuss issues without the sideshow, bickering or labels, and to come up with ideas which are evaluated on their merit, rather than the affiliation of the person suggesting them.

That’s the plan anyway.

An AV Referendum Could be a Political Minefield

This morning on PoliticalBetting.com, Mike Smithson speculated that the proposed measures to scrap free milk for under-5’s would be “saved” by the Liberal Democrats to try and retrieve a few points in the polls. Doing so would balance-out the fortunes of the coalition parties a little, especially given the Lib Dem’s plummeting poll numbers. My initial reaction to this was that it turned a political disaster into a crafty, if slightly dangerous piece of political manoeuvring.

Then Number 10 rejected the idea.

This will almost certainly become a non-story today, although it is still the middle of the day, so with my track record on predictions it might well have escalated to international incident by the 10 o’clock news. Either way, the fact that political bloggers are speculating on Lib Dem attempts to pick up a few points in the polls does raise the question as to what sort of a reaction the 12 point polls are getting from the coalition.

Nick Robinson’s excellent “Five Days that Changed Britain” programme (which is on iPlayer until Tuesday if you missed it) highlighted the importance of voting reform for the Liberal Democrats a coalition deal, and how negotiations with Labour forced Cameron to offer a referendum.

The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that this means to a great extent this term will be judged by the referendum. Even though the Alternative Vote system isn’t the full Proportional Representation they want, a “No” vote would do some serious damage to the Lib Dems. At the same time, a “Yes” vote would probably give them a huge boost, but wouldn’t be the full measure they want.

On top of all this, there are still a few splits amongst the party. There are some rows to sort out, and it has been made clear that some would have preferred a coalition with Labour rather than the Conservatives.

What might be interesting is if the Lib Dems find a way to inoculate themselves against a “No” vote by arguing “we didn’t really want it anyway – we really wanted PR”. Any split might prove useful in this, with further left MPs being able to speak out. The only thing left open with this theory, is what happens to those who made the coalition, and in particular Nick Clegg.

This is all speculation, and depends heavily on not only the referendum, but the intervening time as well. Still, the prospect of a referendum on changing the electoral system will have significant consequences before the next general election.