AV Referendum: “politics, like life in general, is full of panaceas”

The Guardian’s Michael White is still undecided over AV or not AV ahead of the May 5 referendum.  But in returning to the topic he makes an important point.

In tough times, and easy ones, politics, like life in general, is full of panaceas: joining Europe (or the euro), going decimal, getting rid of the Windsors, putting fluoride into all drinking water, banning page 3 girls in the Sun, promoting complimentary medicine …

In this case the Yes camp claims MPs will be more responsive, more hard-working, more representative if they are elected by “more than 50% of the voters” – by which they actually mean those who turn out to vote. Clegg said it again at the weekend.

As for panaceas they sometimes achieve useful reform, sometimes unexpected consequences, benign or otherwise. But life’s difficult choices remain what they were before. The core case for a Yes vote on 5 May is that up to one-third of voters now repudiate the binary voting tradition – Tory or Labour (formerly Liberal/Whig – of the past. They seek greater pluralism and choice. To deny this is “unfair” and a “wasted vote”.

That’s a powerful claim which impresses me. Systems are designed to meet human needs. Yet I remain sceptical about both the substance of this argument and the extent to which there is an overwhelming case for changing the traditional way of deciding most things – first past the post is a sporting metaphor, after all – just because a lot of people want it.

After all, a lot of people want cheaper petrol, capital punishment, better public services and lower taxes. Not enough people value liberty, itself an elusive concept on which so much else depends.

Read the whole thing.