Lost referendums don’t lead to a return to the political status quo

And she still hasn't got her new maternity unit, either.
And she still hasn’t got her new maternity unit, either.
The two major referendums we’ve had during this Parliament – 2011’s on AV and 2014’s on Scottish independence – were both very different, but I think the after effect of both of them has been quite similar. In both cases, it was expected by many that the rejection of change would be the end of the issue for a long time, and things would go back the way they’d use to been. The issues that had led to the referendum being called would slowly fade away, and there’d be no need to consider any further change.

The result of the AV referendum was not just presented as a disaster for the Lib Dems, but also an indication that we would return to an age of two-party politics. After all, at that time Labour and the Tories were both up around 40% in the polls, and the growth in support for other parties hadn’t begun. The people had spoken, it was thought, and would now get over the idea that we could have multi-party politics in this country.

Unfortunately for that view, things haven’t proceeded in that way. The factors that led to the breakdown of old party loyalties which led to the 2010 election result that gave us the circumstances behind the AV referendum were all still in place, and a single referendum was never going to end that. The social factors that supported the old two-party system – the class-based cleavages – have been losing their power for years and that wasn’t changed by the AV campaign. Instead, what we’ve seen is a continued unravelling of party loyalties and the situation we’ve got now where reaching 35% in the polls regularly would seem like a commanding lead.

In retrospect, the most important electoral event of May 2011 is clearly the Scottish Parliament election where we had the supreme irony of a proportional electoral system delivering the single-party majority that our existing national system now seems unable to. That of course laid the ground for last year’s Scottish referendum which again was meant to settle a question for a generation or more.

Yet again, in the aftermath of the vote, the assumption was made that the issue was over and that the SNP would fade away again. That’s most clear in David Cameron’s speech the morning after, where he clearly thought the Unionist position was a lot stronger than it turned out to be. Again, the assumption was that after a referendum, the people would have spoken and the issue would be somehow resolved by this, yet the underlying issues that had led to the referendum happening hadn’t been resolved by it. If anything, the referendum result clarified them even more, and that’s led to the SNP’s rise in the national polls.

This is why referendums aren’t good ways of making decisions because they imagine that a result will ‘resolve the issue’ regardless of which way it goes. What referendum proponents neglect to understand is that they an only tackle surface factors, and because they’re concentrated on just one piece of an issue, they can never address the wider factors. Those advocating that we should have a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU ‘because we’d win it, and that’d end the argument’ should be aware that recent evidence suggests it would do anything but, and could well create even more issues in its wake.

Worth Reading 50: One L of a good time

Half a century down, how many more to go?

Leicester’s Mayor sacks the man supposed to scrutinise him – As many cities reject the idea of an elected Mayor, Jonathan Calder provides an example of why mayors don’t make for good governance.
Electoral Reform RIP – One year on and Milena Popova is still angry. I think she’s right to be, and for those people who think that the change of the electoral system is just around the corner, I suggest talking to the Australian republicans who voted no in their referendum to see how long they’ve been waiting.
The day after the count – Some interesting ideas to improve election turnout from Edinburgh Eye.
The religious fanatics behind Tory plans to block porn – Unity at Liberal Conspiracy explains some of the flaws in the ‘independent’ report that recommended the Government censoring the internet on your behalf.
So you want to get elected? Then think like a clown. Or a penguin – Amidst the usual sardonic humour of Charlie Brooker, an interesting point: “The problem for politicians is that their chosen sport looks increasingly weird and arcane in the present day – like water polo or lacrosse. The uniforms are antiquated, the rules are stifling, the action is boring, and they’re constantly terrified of upsetting their sponsors. The spectators don’t understand the lingo, don’t think there’s much skill involved, and suspect the game’s rigged anyway.”

Worth Reading 42: Where Chris Chibnall rules

Warning: contains a double dose of tactical nuclear bastard.

The 24 types of Libertarian – Cut out and use as a game of bingo in certain comments threads. (via)
Liberal – but not so democratic in the Lords – James Graham looks at why Lib Dem peers seem so reluctant to abolish their cushy, well-rewarded sinecures and proposes a radical suggestion.
My ‘yes’ campaign hell – I’m thinking of compiling a book featuring all the post-referendum reports from Yes To Fairer Votes staffers, entitled How Not To Run A Campaign. This is James Graham’s chapter.
Illiberal conference: Blog post roundup and things you can do – Zoe O’Connell on the way the party has acquiesced in allowing police vetting of delegates to Conference, and how to protest about it.
Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors – Lots of useful tips in there, even if some of them are contradictory. (via)

Worth Reading 38: Strontium Dogs

Did aliens establish a primitive postcode system in ancient Britain? – The answer, of course, is ‘no’, but what a great headline.
Would cannibalism cost you your bonus in the banks? – “The defence given by learned counsel on that would be that at no stage did his contract stipulate that his bonus and exit payment would be forfeit if he devoured members of staff.”
Antony Green’s Election Blog – Can’t really pick out a single post here, so go read it all as he points out just what the Australian experience of AV is. Unsurprisingly, it’s not what No2AV say it is. (via)
The Lost Pubs Project – A catalogue of some of the pubs that have closed in this country, and not just recent closures too. There’s a large number of listings for Colchester, too. (via)
No to No to AV – Another take on a No to AV leaflet (contains the sort of language some people get offended by).

Worth Reading 37: The rise of little boots

Libertarian Liberties – A quite hair-raising post by Anna Raccoon on some of the bizarre characters who run the Libertarian Party.
NUS Democracy? – Interesting news for us former Student Union hacks, as Free Radical reports on moves to abandon attempts to democratize the NUS from within and instead replace it with something completely different.
No to AV: A campaign of the Tories, by the Tories, for the Tories – Left Foot Forward on where the ‘cross-party’ campaign is getting its money from.
Cleggmania to punchbag – How Clegg inadvertently set this up himself – Interesting take from Matthew Gibson. Not sure he’s entirely right, though I do think there were some mistakes in the emphasis of the campaign after the debates last year. (via)
Raising Katie – Interesting American tale of a black family adopting a white daughter (via)

Worth Reading 36: Square triangles

Around the world in five links:

America: The Grim Truth – “I am not writing this to scare you. I write this to you as a friend. If you are able to read and understand what I’ve written here, then you are a member of a small minority in the United States. You are a minority in a country that has no place for you.” (via)
New Account of a Russian Cosmonaut’s Death Rife with Errors – As I linked to an account of the death of Vladimir Komarov a couple of weeks ago, here’s a counterpoint, arguing that many of the claims in the book that article is based on are erroneous (via)
Why I have joined the Liberal Democrats – Blogger and lawyer David Allen Green (aka Jack of Kent) explains why he’s joined the party. “There is only one political force which is having an actual liberal effect in our polity as it is presently constituted, and it is the Liberal Democrats.”
AV is the voting system for non-fanatics – Jason O’Mahony gives an Irish perspective on the referendum, including a lovely takedown of a pointless opinion piece in the Telegraph. “By her own words, it took Melissa an hour to count eight votes. I’ll say no more on the subject.” (via)
The Grand Tour – A New Yorker journalist joins a group of Chinese tourists on a trip round Europe. (via)

Worth Reading 33: First preference

Probably far too many AV links for some people, but never mind…

This Movie Made Me Feel Bad To Be Alive: A Review Of Sucker Punch – This looked atrocious from the trailers, but the reality of the film appears to be even worse. (via)
AV myths – A handy collation of answers to all the disinformation being put out by the No campaign.
Warsi makes hypocritical claim on BNP pandering – And I bet the next time she trots out some lies about AV on TV, no journalist will confront her with this.
How complicated is the Alternative Vote? – A tale of two flowcharts to show you which of FPTP and AV makes it easier for the voter.
The Liberal Democrats tug hard at the Concession-O-Meter – For those of you doubting Lib Dem influence on the Government, the sound of Tories wailing about the power of Chris Huhne could be interesting.

And here’s your traditional occasional bonus piece – a letter by me on AV in the local paper.

Worth Reading 31: One for every day of the month

And still they come…

The Best Alternative Histories in Literature – A list of 25 from the Abebooks site. The ten of the list I’ve read are good, so I’ll have to start working my way through the rest.
A Truly Fair Tax On Flying – Donald Strachan questions some of the arguments made to support cuts in Air Passenger Duty.
Obscure Blogger Vilifies Johnny Ball? No, Actually – What happens when 80s kids’ TV presenters don’t quite understand how the internet works and then the press don’t bother to check up on what they say. (via)
Electoral reform: why failure will not breed success – Sunny Hundal explains why voting no doesn’t help the cause of further electoral reform, it just strengthens first past the post.
At Last! The Terry Gilliam Interview – Tez Burke gets to interview Terry Gilliam, the lucky sod.

Worth Reading 24: Still a better channel than ITV News

Yes, we still have links, even if we don’t have much other content:

The Battle for the No Campaign and a Prime Minister in Peril – Interesting WSJ piece on the AV referendum. I’d question some of the assumptions in it, but worth reading nonetheless.
Tuition Fees: Did The Coalition Get Its Sums Wrong? – Just in case you thought the whole tuition fees issue wasn’t a big enough debacle, here’s another complication.
The Beasts in the Arena – A free short story in the Romanitas universe from Sophia McDougall. Works as a good introduction to the series if you’ve not read them.
NUS President will not stand again – What I find most interesting about Free Radical’s thoughts on the NUS is that I heard most of them twenty years ago when I was involved in student politics. I’m not sure that NUS has ever been properly representative, or has ever had a strong idea of what it’s for. (via)
David Cameron: Gun Slut – Justin McKeating on what David Cameron’s doing after talking up democracy in Cairo: selling weapons to dictatorships.

Yes to Fairer Votes in Colchester

I’ve had word that there’s going to be an informal meeting for people in Colchester interested in the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. It’ll be at the Albert pub on Cowdray Avenue on Friday night, starting aroun 7.30pm. Details and more information here. I’ll be there, will you?