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Referendum results - John C. Kirk

May. 6th, 2011

10:22 pm - Referendum results

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Yesterday I voted "Yes" in the AV referendum. Today, the results came back with a resounding "No". I'm quite disappointed and disillusioned by this: I've now reached the point where I have to say that democracy simply doesn't work. I realise that this may just sound like sour grapes, but there's more to it than that.

As I said in my previous post, there were a lot of false claims from the "No" campaign. The BBC have an article by Alan Renwick (from 12th April), where he says similar things:

"The No camp asserts that the Alternative Vote (AV) system gives extra votes to supporters of fringe parties. This is simply untrue. In each round of counting under AV, every voter has one vote and one vote only. They say that AV would require expensive voting machines. Again, that is just plain false."


Yesterday, the New Statesman reported that David Blunkett had admitted that the £250m figure was "made up":

"We are in the middle of an election campaign. People in elections use made-up figures. I have never used the £250m figure. It [AV] would undoubtedly cost more but I have used an extra £90m."


(Apparently the original source is The Times, but their article is behind a paywall so I haven't read it.)

So, if these claims are objectively and admittedly false, how can the "No" campaign get away with making them? Apparently it's completely legal, and there's nothing that the Electoral Commission can do about it. Quoting from a previous New Statesman article:

"As in election campaigns, there is no body with the power to regulate false claims. There is an exception that election candidates are subject to laws barring them from making false claims against rivals. But in a referendum, there are no candidates."


This just seems fundamentally wrong to me. Meanwhile, there's a problem of balance. The "No" campaign had big donations, so they could afford to send out leaflets, put up billboard adverts, etc. I saw one of their online adverts at Cracked.com a couple of days ago; that's an American site, but apparently there are enough UK visitors to justify running adverts there. When I went to vote yesterday, one of the volunteers asked me whether I'd received a leaflet from the council. She showed me what it looked like, but I didn't recognise it at all. This is supposed to be neutral, summarising both campaigns, and every household in Britain should have received one, but she said that lots of people didn't recognise it: either they hadn't received it, or they just hadn't read it. I'm cautious about conspiracy theories, but I think that the "No" campaign would benefit more than the "Yes" campaign from those leaflets going missing. Also, the "No" campaign have proven that they don't have any qualms about using immoral tactics. However, I'm not sure how widespread the problem is, so here's a quick poll:

Poll #1738753 Referendum leaflet

Did you receive a (neutral) referendum leaflet from your local council?

Yes
4(50.0%)
No
4(50.0%)
N/A (e.g. ex-pat)
0(0.0%)


So, what now? I'd like to think that if a system is broken then you fix it. However, we just tried that, and it didn't work. The people with the authority to change things (e.g. making it illegal to lie in your adverts) are the people who want to maintain the status quo. The only solution I can see is to have an educated electorate who will make a well-informed choice. Fat chance. Apparently the turnout was 41%, i.e. the majority of people couldn't even be bothered to turn up and vote at all, so I don't realistically expect them to make a bigger effort to actually research the issues.

Looking at the BBC's live feed, it includes this item:

2041: Elections expert Prof John Curtice says the No campaign has apparently won the referendum by securing the support of older people, Conservatives and those who have not enjoyed a university education.


I can't find a detailed article, and it will be difficult to prove/disprove that claim (since it's an anonymous ballot). However, I'm willing to believe it. It does seem odd that the vast majority of people I know all voted Yes, but that we are in a minority compared to the electorate as a whole; the thing that most of us have in common is that we've been to university.

Maybe people should have to pass some kind of exam before they're allowed to vote, to prove that they at least have a basic understand of the issues. However, the risk is that this could easily be twisted. E.g. "Question 1: Will you vote Conservative?"

It's tempting to just give up on politics altogether, i.e. stop voting. However, I would then be part of the apathetic majority. I remember an incident in Durham, when someone proposed that the toilets in Dunelm House (home of the Student Union) should be renamed "The Baroness Thatcher Toilets". Typically, most of the people who turned up for DSU meetings were on the council, so this was a tiny proportion of the student body. In this case, the people who proposed the motion got about 50 of their friends to come along and vote in favour, so they pushed it through. They relented later, because they weren't really concerned about the loos: they just wanted to demonstrate how easy it was for a small group to distort the democratic process. The more people who opt out of voting, the closer we get to a similar situation, so I won't do that. I'm also not going to give up on the LibDems just yet; I don't blame them (or Clegg) for this. However, they won't be my default choice anymore. I can say that I will never vote Conservative again, unless I actually know the candidate personally.

Beyond that, I just don't know. Maybe local communities can secede from the state? I suspect this will wind up with me living in a hippie commune somewhere.

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Comments:

[User Picture]
From:shuripentu
Date:May 7th, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)
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Among other reasons (e.g. people are dim, politicians lie, news at 11), there was at least one genuinely rational argument for voting no: a supporter of either Labour or the Tories may want the voting system to favour their party. Selfish and unfair, but entirely rational, and a potential motivator for a majority of the voting population, if last election's percentages are to be taken at face value.
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[User Picture]
From:johnckirk
Date:May 8th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)
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Hmm, yes, good point. If the Conservatives were funding the "No" campaign because it would work against them, it does make sense that their supporters wouldn't be keen on the idea either.
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