Sunday, 10 April 2011
The referendum on voting. A keen mind takes a sharp look.
On 5 May we take part in a referendum to decide whether we abandon the present system in favour of a new one. 'Yes' means we switch to the new. 'No' means we stay with the status quo.
One day recently the booklet that is supposed to explain it all popped through the front door here at Melford Hall, and Withers brought it to me while I was having a snatched breakfast.
'Oh! What's this, Withers?'
'A booklet, my Lady.'
'Jolly good. I'll peruse it over another cup of tea. I think I've got just enough time before that National Trust chappie comes to talk to me about fixing the Gatehouse. You know, after that silly car bashed into it the other day.'
'Very good, my Lady.'
It's no joke running a house in the country. Scarcely any time to have a proper breakfast. And I so wanted to tuck into the devilled kidneys.
Well, I believe I've got my little head round what the booklet tells me. You can tell that they've tried to write it in Clear English. Even so, you need a massive IQ and bulging, throbbing, exposed brains to cope with things like this. (I really don't know who is being referrred to in the post title - not me - everyone knows that I'm the archetypical Miss Ditsy!)
As I see it, come 2015 or whatever, when the next General Election happens, we will either elect people on the basis of who gets the most votes in a straightforward count of ballot papers ('First past the Post') or who gets at least 50% of the votes after one or more counts in which second and third and maybe fourth choices come into play - because under the 'Alternative Vote' system you can tick more than one box on the ballot paper, in order of preference.
I haven't yet heard much informed argument either way. Under the current system it does seem pretty clear that IF you reckon on a low turn-out, and IF you can (by fair means or foul) muster enough votes, then you can ensure that Sir Reginald Fatbastard will be re-elected for the umpteenth time as the Right Honourable Member for Carrotshire North-West. Even if only one-quarter of the electorate took any interest in the proceedings, provided that gentleman has secured most of the votes that were cast - let's suppose he has a lot of loyal shooting friends - then the result for him is in the bag. Or, in another setting, that well-known Man of the People (also styled the Voice of Reason, and The Defender of British Values) Mr Adolf Blackshirt will, with the assistance of his loyal and active supporters, win a seat for the Kill All Foreigners Party in Smokewick South-East. It's all reminiscent of how it was in the days of the 'Rotten Boroughs', before the 1832 Reform Act, when in constituencies dotted around the country a brace of aspiring well-heeled MPs could secure a seat in Parliament on the basis of votes cast by six farmers and eight cows, all bought with cash, flattery and promises. (Then, once up in London, they'd soon be seen off in a pointless duel, but that's another story)
So what might change if we adopt the 'Alternative Vote' system instead? Well, with the propect of picking up votes on the second or subsequent rounds of counting, parties will see that it's worth putting up a candidate on the off-chance of winning. There'll be a lot of candidates. So I'd expect to be confronted with a ballot paper on these lines:
Vote by placing a number in the box next to each candidate you wish to vote for, '1' indicating your first choice, '2' your second choice, and so forth.
These are the Candidates [I'll simply list their parties]:
The Sensible and Decisive Party
The Just and Reasonable Party
The Equality Party
The Social Justice Party
The Law and Order Party
The Philosophical Party
The Power to Pensioners Party
The Love and Kisses Party
The Extreme Sex and Sensation Party
The Sunshine and Ice Cream Party
The Chocolate For All Party
The Barbie and Ken Playtime Party
The Boring Old Fart Party
The More Pay For Bankers Party
The Appallingly Bigoted Party
The Mindless Cretin Party
The Hunt Out All Deviants Party
There you are. What a fine choice! But all is not what it seems. You just can't judge a party by its name. For instance, The Extreme Sex and Sensation Party has a cracking agricultural policy. You can't ignore that.
One thing the booklet tells me, which I wasn't clear about, is that you don't have to rank all of the candidates in order of preference. If you simply want to vote for one party, you can. It's just that the Alternative Vote system gives you the chance to elect a second-best candidate. Or a third-best. Or a tenth-best if you wish.
In the above list, I might be inclined to make The Just and Reasonable Party my first choice. But then, if I'd be almost as happy with The Sensible and Decisive Party or The Equality Party, I can make them my second and third choices. And in any event, I'd cast a vote for The Power to Pensioners Party, just in case they get in! And, since I have to think of the Melford Hall farming income, I'd give the nod to The Extreme Sex and Sensation Party's brilliant ideas on ewe and pig subsidies.
And instead of the election running like some midnight Grand National steeplechase, with the first past the post getting the glittering prize, we wait half an hour longer and get the result that best represents the inclinations of the local people.
Oh! Sir Reginald Fatbastard got in just the same. Bugger.
But that nasty Adolf Blackshirt didn't. Hurrah for democracy!
PS It seemed fair and just to let the Three Main Parties know how deeply I've understood this voting issue. So I went to each of their websites, and sent a copy of this post to each of them in an email - that's the Conservative, LibDem and Labour parties, in case you didn't know who were in fact the three main parties. I mean, some people take no interest in what's going on, or who the players are. Well they don't, do they?