Monday, April 25, 2011

No to Cuts (absolutely) and No to AV (just about)

Having had a couple of days away from the daily diet of cuts and redundancies, I have had a chance to think about my answer to the question, “how are you voting in the referendum?”

Initially my sympathies were with the (under-reported) “Meh to AV” camp. With hundreds of job losses in my branch alone and threats to vital public services in the here and now, never mind the rolling back of mass access to higher education, the intended destruction of the National Health Service and comprehensive education and the imposition of a benefits regime bearing comparison with the early Victorian New Poor Law, it almost seemed that spending time thinking about the referendum was a near criminal waste of time and energy.

Indeed, it is because of the vicious class war being waged by the Government of millionaires against millions of working people that I have no sympathy with the idea that there would be anything wrong with casting a vote in the referendum because of its presumed impact upon the struggles being waged around us (and by us). If by voting either “yes” or “no” we could be sure to weaken the Coalition’s attacks on us ahead of the next General Election, then I would certainly say that the urgency of our current need would take precedence over any argument about this or that voting system.

However, this is not the case. A “no” will damage the Liberal Democrats, a “yes” the Tories. Neither party will willingly precipitate an early General Election as a result. Neither result will, of itself, give heart or confidence to the struggle against the cuts, which matters far more than the outcome of the referendum. I hate Cameron far more even than Clegg because I know the monkey only does the bidding of the organ grinder – and because I know what Tories are (lower than vermin) – but that emotional response isn’t enough of a reason to cast a vote one way or another.

A thoughtful response to the question of how to vote in the referendum should depend upon what you think democracy is for. I think that the point of democracy, of “rule by the people” is that the people should have power over Governments, which we should be able to exercise peacefully and lawfully when possible – as opposed to the way in which our ancestors had to try to hold the executive to account two centuries ago (what Hobsbawm called “collective bargaining by riot”).

I am not interested in the idea that the purpose of an election is to secure some “mathematically accurate” reflection of popular opinion. Elections can’t do that. Opinions are multi-dimensional and cannot be reduced to a preference for one political party or another. Even if they could, that would, I think, miss the point of democracy.

The most important thing we can do in any election is sack our Government or our elected representative. The point of democracy is to secure the accountability of power and therefore, the electoral system which makes it easiest to oust an incumbent (individual or Government) is the best system from the point of view of the working class (a calculation which might change in a future society but is best remembered whilst we live in this one). (Incidentally this is also the argument for the election of all those union officials who negotiate on behalf of our members, but that’s another blog post…)

Of the flawed options which confront us in next week’s referendum I think that the status quo of “First Past the Post” is marginally more likely to assist in achieving this purpose of democracy. I don’t say there’s much in it – there isn’t, but since there are only two boxes to tick in the referendum, my vote will be “No” (in line with the policy agreed by the National Committee of the Labour Representation Committee, of which I am a member).

I understand, and sympathise with, the motivations of some of those on the left who will vote “Yes” in the hope of an electoral system which may encourage voters on the left to give first preferences to the left of Labour, secure in the knowledge that they won’t thereby “let the Tories in” – and I can see that such displays of socialist views by a proportion of our electorate could exercise a positive impact upon Party policy and practice (although of course the UKIP first preferences from a larger chunk of Tory votes might pull the centre of political gravity even more firmly in the opposite direction).

However, unless someone can demonstrate to me that AV makes it easier to oust a Government (a proposition for which I can see no convincing evidence) then I will hold my nose and vote “no” on Thursday 5 May.

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