In common with many people I find the speed of change in government both baffling and frustrating. Sometimes there are good reasons for taking a bit more time but most of the time the process is frankly overengineerd by people who are enjoying the journey a bit much rather than focusing on the destination. But change is hard – and change within a centuries old system which has been designed to withstand the vagaries of what can be a complete change of direction every 5 years and which still has bits of vellum and ermine as part of its business process engineering is especially hard.
For this reason if for no other I support the switch to AV – I think we need to start a process of change. It will not end with one decision but with complete modernisation of our democracy. But we have to start somewhere and my greatest concern around the AV referendum is that a “No” vote is taken as a signal that the public are not interested in profound change and as a result we lose what momentum we have.
But in watching the coverage I am increasingly struck by the the obsession that first past the post – and the No campaign – has with the idea that there must be a winner. I am turned off politics every time I listen to the deranged braying from the House of Commons as politicians grandstand and barrack each other – winning cheap points and sounding like a school yard at best and a farmyard at worst. I don’t want my politicians to win – I want them to debate and reach a reasoned consensus.
Now accuse me of being a moral relativist if you will but there are very few decisions – and fewer complex decisions – that don’t have many different aspects to them. We shortchange ourselves every time we let people get away with the idea that there is a single right way to do something.
More than that, having a minority view shouldn’t automatically exclude you from the rest of the debate. You can accept that your view is not going to prevail and still want to participate in decision making. In fact it’s vital that your contribution is valued and you continue to participate even after your view has not ‘won’ if we want to keep people engaged.
I heard an unusually lucid analogy for this on Any Answers last week (affectionally called ‘Any Lunatics‘ in our house) from a caller who pointed out that just because your family don’t want to join you in eating fish it doesn’t mean you should not have a say in what is actually served.
And that’s the goal – I can see that people don’t agree with me, but I still want to be part of the final decision rather than slinking off in disgust because I have ‘lost’ the debate. The real loss is when people feel that their vote is not counted and that they have not part in the decision at all – that’s the point at which we lose people from the democratic process and we are not good at getting them back.
So – I’m all for AV. It’s not perfect and I sincerely hope it’s just the first step in a wider democratic reform but it is a change in the right direction. However we reform our decision making processes we need to open up opportunities for people to be involved and we need them to feel that there contribution is actually meaningful.
Our current system rewards the idea that there are winners and losers. It’s adversarial. It’s impossible to bring about greater participation without embracing the fact that it will require greater collaboration and consensus building. We won’t all agree and few people will win – but just as importantly fewer people will lose. The point is that more people can meaningfully participate.