There’s a rule, in the pub, which is essential to avoid leaving the establishment in a bad mood. Avoid, like the plague, two subjects: politics and religion. Now I would not infer that this is because intelligent people cannot have sensible debate on divisive subjects, and nor would I suggest that either subject should be ringfenced from the freedom of inquisition that defines our version of democracy; but these tend to be subjects that in some way define people, even more so than which football team they support, and when you question someone’s political or religious stance you are questioning what fundamentally makes them who they are, and the psyche tends to interpret this as threatening. Add to this the suppressive effect of alcohol on those parts of the brain which are good at spotting when you’re starting to upset someone, and the risk factor increases exponentially. So, all things considered, it’s better to avoid the subjects altogether and maintain the number of friends you started the evening with.
Disappointingly however I am not in the pub with any of you (although I am certainly open to offers), so I feel at liberty to embark headlong into either of these two. Both have permanent pertinence, being the cause of the majority of every news bulletin you will ever see*, but there is one in particular which resonates with me today. In most parts of the UK we will have the opportunity next month to register our choice for either regional or local representatives. To this end roughly one in three of us on average go to the effort of redirecting our normal daily routines to write an X on a piece of paper. However, the difference this time round is that there will be an additional, very important choice to make, in fact one which in my view is far more important than deciding which party will have the biggest say over what day your bins get collected. We will be entitled to have our say over whether we want to approve the biggest change in the general election voting system since women were given the vote.
The decision we will be able to make is whether or not to move from the current “First Past The Post” system (FPTP), in which the person with most votes in each constituency becomes the representative for that constituency at Westminster, to “Alternative Vote”, in which the person representing a constituency has to have mandate from a majority of those voting. Let me explain that a little further, as much has been made by the “No” campaign about how the complexity of this system will cause confusion: instead of putting an X on your ballot slip, you’ll put a 1 against your preferred candidate, a 2 against your second choice, and so on down to a maximum of 5. Then, if your preferred candidate is bottom of the list on first count, they will drop out and now your second choice becomes your first choice, and so on until someone has over 50% of the votes.
Not really rocket science, is it?!
But why would this be a good thing? Well, it means that, for starters, you won’t need to “tactically vote”, which the big two parties often exhort you to do in order to keep the other out, claiming your vote is otherwise “wasted”. You can go with the party you really want to represent you, knowing that if they aren’t one of the favoured parties in your constituency, your second preference will count, and the party you really don’t want to get in will not benefit from you voting for the party that most closely matches your views.
The other biggest factor in its favour for me is that it reduces negative campaigning (one doesn’t want to alienate the supporters of another candidate whose second preferences one may need) and therefore rewards “broad-church” policies. (That’s not my phrase by the way; I shamelessly nicked it from the Electoral Reform Society, which just wants what is fairest for UK voters.)
In the interests of balance I shall also give you a link to a website campaigning against this idea, but because I am not balanced I will point to the fact that their strongest argument is cost (bear in mind that abolishing slavery cost our economy a fortune), with their weakest being that only three other countries use this method (looking at this list, I’m not overjoyed by the countries we share current practice with; plus, there are many variations on AV, such as Runoff voting, which are used in many countries, including some of our European neighbours). And as for the third argument, that “AV leads to more hung parliaments”, I say good – compromise is surely a positive and civilised thing, despite all the representatives from the big two parties maligning the Lib Dems for much publicised “u-turns” (i.e. compromises).
In summary, I believe AV is an appropriate halfway house between FPTP and proportional representation (or variants thereof) which offers popular mandate without constituents losing their direct representative. I will be voting in favour of it, and I hope you will too.
Trying to link that to a vegetarian recipe is something close to a nightmare, but I am going to have a go anyway, or I will threaten my “food blog” claims. So, covering both religion and the voting system, I’m going for something involving hot CROSS buns, which (for the second time today) I have shamelessly nicked, this time from a supermarket advert; despite which it’s actually quite pleasant!
Baked Hot Cross Bun dessert
• Six hot cross buns (shortly to be replaced with hot numbered buns if AV is approved)
• A good schlopp of marmalade – orange is fine but we found lemon to be even better
• One pint of fresh custard
Split the buns in half and spread with lashings of marmalade. Lay out in the bottom of a Pyrex dish. Tip the custard over the bun halves and slap it in a preheated oven (200C should do it) for 20 minutes. Serve.
*Except of course local news bulletins. We actually look forward to these nowadays, as we have a competition to guess which of the national news stories East Midlands Today will try to hook into in a desperate search for sufficient content to fill ten whole minutes every night, and then split our sides laughing when the researchers manage to dig up a local family who once had a lodger who was Japanese and they’d not heard from him since the earthquake, or discover a local film collector who has footage of the last Egyptian uprising, or something similarly tenuous.