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Sunday, 15 May 2011

Why the country couldn't care less about the Clegg Dems, or AV

It seems strange to be posting about the British AV referendum nearly 2 weeks after the event, but sometimes the significance of such events isn't immediately obvious until a little while later.


So, almost a year to the day since Britain went to the polls in a general election which may yet define a generation, once more the country's church halls and primary schools  were opened for voting. For the first time since A Level Politics, many under 40s were forced to think about AV, and became surprisingly popular amongst friends for knowing anything at all about it. 
"What's this AV lark all about then?" and for a moment, just a moment, the politics geeks became some kind of demi-Rockstars amongst hitherto apathetic friends. Rock stars that is, until they began to explain AV of course, at which point any women who may have been momentarily turned on, promptly turned off. 


You see, the problem with AV is that it is so very boring. Like the Lib Dems who advocated it, the AV campaign completely failed to grasp the basic principles of appeal. Women and men alike are drawn to passionate issues, to polarized opinion; to that which divides us or pulls us together. Thatcher was one such person, the poll tax was one such issue. You may not have agreed with her, or her policies, but for every one that didn't, there was one that did. Thatcher (and Blair to an extent) were the political epitome of the fabled Marmite scenario, either loved or hated, but definitely never ignored, forgotten or bland. When it came to General Elections, Thatcher's turnout never dropped below 72%. The AV referendum turnout? Not even 42%. It seems then, that if you want people to care enough to get out and vote, you need to have a powerful idea, or ideas, but mediocrity certainly does not a high turnout make.


AV was a 'miserable little compromise' between FPTP (First Past the Post) and PR (Proportional Representation). It inspired no-one. To ask people if they'd like to vote one way or the other on a compromise is never going to illicit a large amount of public sentiment one way or the other. It is this lesson that the Liberal Democrats must learn if they actually care enough about themselves to attempt their own political survival. Quite simply, because the Liberals are neither Labour nor Conservative, neither black nor white, they do not cause enough people to vote one way or the other, or in fact to vote at all. 
The Lib Dems aren't Marmite, they aren't left or right; they are margarine - not liked or disliked or simply even noticed. Bland and uninspiring as the middle choice is, the Lib Dems somehow manage to make it even more dull than AV. Indeed, they, like the mediocrity of the AV they championed, will get nowhere by hiding in the centre ground.
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