Thursday, 17 February 2011

Why I'm Angry About The AV Threshold Issue

Last night the House of Lords gave in and allowed the Commons to reject the amendment placing a 40% threshold on the AV referendum. This would have meant that if the turnout had been less than this figure, the referendum would have been non-binding and referred back to Parliament for debate. The Commons had to reject the amendment several times before the Lords admitted defeat.

Now, although the idea of sending something back to Parliament so they can decide on it isn't a great solution to a problem the whole country is asked to solve, it seemed to be a sensible one. With the threshold in place, the onus was on the Yes to AV group to prove their reforms are wanted. That is the way it should be. This is a major overhaul of our voting system: the people wanting it should have to ensure that they have a majority of the nation happy with the decision. It goes beyond whether you will vote for AV or against it; it's a simple courtesy.

We as a nation are generally lacklustre in voting, particularly in local elections. There is little evidence to suggest that the public have been captivated by the AV referendum. What is likely to happen is that the people who go out and vote on May 5th will be the people who generally vote in local elections (widely, this figure is under 40%), along with the people who feel strongly on the issue of AV. A massive alteration in our voting system should not come down to who has the most activists willing to vote for it. It should be for the good of the nation, and voted for by the nation.

What would have the threshold have done? Well, ensured that a new voting system isn't automatically implemented on the say-so of a minority for a start. Just imagine, we could have an average 30% turnout on May 5th. That would mean that the Yes group would only have to secure 15.1% of the population's votes. Again, I stress that this is the greatest overhaul of our political system in recent memory. Why should a small percentage of activists speak for the majority?

There is a simple reason why the threshold was repeatedly denied by the Commons. You see, David Cameron promised Nick Clegg a referendum without a threshold. Whether this was because Clegg believed AV could only prosper without a threshold is down to speculation. However, this kind of back-room dealing is precisely the reason I despise AV in the first place. More significantly, Lord Ashdown conceded that the AV issue was the deal-breaker for the Coalition. If the vote had gone the wrong way we could easily be looking at a government falling apart. And why is this? Because they are selfishly trying to push through a piece of legislation which will assist them at the detriment of the country.

But more of that in the coming weeks...


  1. It's kind of ironic (not aiming this at you specifically) that the side getting so annoyed at the threshold not being implemented is the side that is supposedly against "counting your vote twice", or having "multiple bites of the cherry".

    If everyone acted honestly I too, as a Yes supporter, would like a threshold. However we don't live amongst honest people. By No supporters not turning out they do two things with one action. First, they make a statement through their absence, and second they potentially force a loss for the Yes camp despite, should they have turned up, Yes would have won..potentially even above the threshold that would not be in place!

    It's all well and good to support a threshold in principle, but in practice it gives an unfair weighting to the side of the debate that doesn't want to change something. That's not a good start to a discussion about democracy, is it?

  2. What I'm most annoyed about really is that the apathy of the country generally will prevent a true reflection of what the population wants on May 5th. As someone deeply interested in the machinations of our political system, I find it extraordinary that most of the country won't bother going to the polls because they've got something better to do.

    I understand your point about the threshold problems, though, and I agree that we don't exist in the kind of situation where that kind of honesty is generally forthcoming. However, as the 'unfair weighting' towards the No side is removed, it's replaced with one towards the Yes side. I know we can't really win here but it still seems unbalanced.

    I'm still of the view that the Yes camp require a mandate to change given by a significant number of the population. What kind of figure would the Yes camp be content with? If they won with only 15% of the country on their side?

  3. Speaking for myself, I would be happy with any threshold (though very happy with something like 40% turn out), because the ends justify the means on issues like this. I believe the facts speak for themselves on why AV is a fairer system, fairer to local constituents and more representative of their views.

    Some things in life should just happen, no matter how little popular support they have, because they are the right thing to do. I can't begin to think of how many changes there have been to various things that most of the public couldn't care about at the time, but now take for granted now.

    But I would definitely rather people cared more, hopefully we'll both be proven wrong come May and the public will show they do want to have their say :)

  4. Hmm, and then you enter into questions on the Iraq war etc which cause epic controversies! It's hard to discern which will be the popular and unpopular choices until after the fact.

    Anyway, I've found this quite refreshing - alternate viewpoints and yet a mature discussion. And, yes, let's hope the country proves us both wrong!

  5. Hej, somehow I am not able to follow your blog.. So I am going to visit it from time to time. Call me a shadow follower.. ;")

  6. I was having similar issues with yours... I think Blogger just likes to make things difficult! I'll consider you lurking in the shadows.