AV referendum: a sad day for British democracy

May 06, 11 AV referendum: a sad day for British democracy

So, the results are in. At the time of writing, the referendum on introducing¬† is all over bar the shouting. It’s blatantly apparent that the ‘NO’ campaign has won a comprehensive victory, with more than two thirds of the vote. However much the result is touted as a clear signal from the British public, we’re more inclined to see it in the context of plummeting Liberal Democrat support and a lack of true understanding of what was at stake.

According to this piece in The Guardian, many saw the referendum as much as a straw poll on the performance of the Liberal Democrats in coalition, rather than recognising it as a potential first step towards a genuinely representative democracy. Its rejection suggests not only that the public are unready for AV per se, it also sends out a signal that attempts at further reform will be met with less than full receptivity. Had we voted ‘YES’ to AV, we would have opened the door to further shifts down the line. Voting ‘NO’, and by such a large majority, slams that door shut.

Just as poignantly, the result gives those who want to call into question the more widespread use of referenda a platform for doing exactly that. Yesterday’s vote was the first time in 36 years that the British public has been asked to voice an opinion on a specific question. The fact that so many seemed quite content to keep things as they are fuels the fire of those who want to claim that referenda are pointless, costly, and a waste of logistical effort.

We, the British public, missed our chance on Thursday. We fluffed our lines and laid a foundation for the rise of regressive politics and the upholding of the status quo. We’re not referring to any party specifically, here, by the way. We’re describing an electoral system that entrenches two-party rule and squeezes out progressive voices — voices that might challenge the multitude of incursions into our civil liberties and the quality of our public life that we currently face.

As Alexis de Tocqueville is reputed to have said: “In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.” When we were stuck with electing our leaders under First Past the Post, there was some justification for claiming that we were hampered by an unfair and unrepresentative system. Now that we’ve rejected AV, and demonstrated our lack of appetite for reform, we’ve only got ourselves to blame.

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