In my Normblog profile last week, I mentioned that the single change I would effect in government would be to the electoral system, because I think it would/will change everything else. It looks as though the referendum on AV will take place first Thursday in May 2011. AV is not perfect and there are many critics but as James Graham sets out today in Comment is free, it's AV or nothing and for that reason, campaigners for electoral and political reform should support it.
There has been a lot of blogging/comment about the LibDem 'obsession' with electoral reform, much of it dismissive as not addressing the real, more pressing issues people have to face every day. It's certainly the case that it's a complex subject but then so are many others such as public sector reform, how to stimulate a private sector recovery etc. I suppose it's harder to find emotive ways of explaining it in simple terms which would resonate and make ordinary people care.
But I suspect that's the whole point. So often it seems to me in a system which favours a 2 party duopoly, politicians don't have to really try very hard to explain complex issues, instead relying on old emotive slogans to bolster support. Then see what happens when they are not forced to 'work harder' to explain for instance, why membership of Europe is important (UKIP emerges) or welfare reform and immigration issues (BNP emerges). They then use examples of these, more extreme parties who nevertheless represent the concerns however misguided of real people, to warn of the dangers of electoral reform since it might allow those parties access to real power.
The current system is a mess - electorally and politically, since it allows our currently elected politicians to dodge the tough issues. It always worries me that mainstream politicians appear horrified by the emergence of the BNP as happened for instance in Barking & Dagenham , ignoring the fact that however despicable these parties may be, they have gained legitimacy because of a monumental failure of leadership by those self-same, mainstream parties.
AV will not make an enormous difference, it's true. But it's a start and that has to be a good thing. I believe that in certain areas (not all I accept), it will force incumbents to address and explain uncomfortable issues and debate with and defeat extremist parties legitimately, in order to win.
As James Graham mentions in the article linked to earlier, AV is essentially a Labour policy. It will be interesting to see whether they campaign for a Yes vote, especially since Toby Young suggests in the Telegraph that David Cameron may be forced to, to save the Coalition.
You see, already electoral reform is up-ending the way politics is done!