AV: is it really worth fighting for? We could be on the way to an AV system by the end of this week, but why compromise, asks Allison Ogden-Newton
Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire/Press Association Images
My usual instinct is to say "yes" to people most of the time – to cups of tea, gin and tonics, odd ideas – that sort of thing. So when the Alternative Vote referendum turned up, I naturally thought I'd be a yes person and am, quite frankly, surprised at being a no, a refusenik, a naysayer.
The problem is that experience has taught me if I can't have what I want, I usually don't want anything. For instance, when shopping for a frock, if I find the perfect one but can't afford it, if I'm tempted to compromise with the same colour but a different cut or similar concept but not as well finished. It never works and the subsequent CPW (costs per wear) fail to justify any expense. I have come to suspect that in these cases costcutting is almost always a false economy.
It's not that I believe compromise can't work, but I do know that when it's important - as in the case of democratic franchise - if what you end up with is not your first choice, it will invariably become no choice at all.
I am with Robert Browning on most issues but particularly on the subject of compromise, where he said it best: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"
When you look at AV, on the face of it it seems to be fairer, with a potential successful candidate having not only a decent proportion of first choice votes but also second and third. But that's my point: the ground between how much you wanted your first and second choice tends to be a great deal wider than the difference between say second and third. People often know what they want, but find it hard to distinguish between the various things they didn't really want. In this way compromise becomes chaos.
To be frank, a voting system that needs to replace the returning officer with a computer program and has the potential to elect the person that came third in the first preference votes is ridiculous. I'm not saying the current system is an unqualified success; like many people I have often found myself living in places where my vote struggles to count, but that has never stopped me supporting candidates that share my views where I live or in areas where the voting is tighter. We have all seen massive, unexpected swings that indicate the concept of a so-called "safe seat" really only exists in the complacent politician's mind.
I have been talking to folk in the social enterprise world where views seem to be divided, something that has surprised me. Social entrepreneurs tend to be early adopters, mavericks who want change because they can see the potential for improvement and have the confidence to demand it. Because of this, social enterprise has been one of the leading forces of innovation within public services, food production, corporate behaviour and environmental technologies. While many favour the proposed changes, in my informal poll as many do not.
This could be because social entrepreneurs take no prisoners in aiming for what they want, commonly believing that radical improvement seldom occurs in the midst of compromise, change not always being good for change's sake. There is a real fear that AV would expand the middle ground of politics even further, turning all party shades into a muddy brown.
But I for one am not worried that this is the start of a new more reactionary me. I think it might be just this once, at least I hope so.
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