Thursday, 31 March 2011

Alternative Votes And the Three-Legged Race

As a child I was energetic enough, wiry and fit, but team and competitive sports didn't, and still don't particularly interest me. Sitting on the side-lines watching a cricket match in the comfortingly warm sun of a late summer's afternoon was activity enough for me, even though I didn't understand cricket. Alternatively, perhaps a sauntering walk to a favourite spot beneath the shade of an old oak where I could sit with a book and sense the evening creeping up on the world to envelope us all in night-time’s comforting blanket.

Come sports day, of course, every effort would be made to ensure no one felt left out, it never occurring to anyone that a person might simply dream of being left out. Consequently, we timid touchline layabouts were drafted into some games considered so easy that anyone could play. Quoits, the sack race, different versions of the egg-and-spoon race, throwing bean bags about and, of course, the three-legged race.

Two children would be tethered together at the ankle and, incredible as it may seem, were expected to run towards a finish line such that they would prove the acme of triumph in co-operation. Of course, the true intent of those into whose charge our innocent parents had entrusted us soon became apparent as a series of stumbles, falls and tearful cross words met with peals of uncontrollable laughter from the side of the track where, if there was any justice, I would have been sitting during this three-legged farce.

You never saw the much celebrated top athletes of the school taking part in this absurd buffoonery and for good reason. Athletes are fiercely competitive and the last thing one needs is to be hobbled by some spotty Herbert with a flare for sonnets and coming in last. The school athletes would compete on their own terms and just as well or who would play the games at whose side-lines I might sit and dream?

On May 5th UK citizens are being asked to vote on electoral reform, on whether to replace the first past the post system currently used in general elections with the alternative voting system. Make no mistake, this is important because it will determine the method and outcomes of all future elections; You can find out more from the Electoral Reform Society.

Who gains from this reform? We are led to believe that the voter will benefit because his or her vote will have a greater chance to count but I have serious doubts. Do we really want a three-legged government, with two (or, heaven forfend, maybe more) parties tethered together in a forced marriage hobbling down the track, stumbling, falling and uttering increasingly louder complaints about how unfair it all is that this or that party's agenda is being subsumed by the other?

What would that look like? Well, you only have to look at the growing resentments at the grass roots of the current coalition government. There is a sense that the Tory party is being hobbled by its farcical partnership with the bookish Liberal milksops while the liberals hear this government routinely referred to as Tory because no one believes the Liberal party is in any way setting the agenda for change and governance.

There is no illusion about which party in this three-legged race is the athlete and which dragged from the touchline to run a race in which they never expected to be entered. The liberals have not been in government for almost 100 years and I can't help think this is because not that many people want a Liberal government and perhaps we should consider the possibility that the current system works very well in that it has recognised that fact. Maybe the alternative voting system is going to give us what we have consistently rejected for almost a century, a Liberal government.

Back on my schools sports fields if anyone had suggested reforming sport so that someone who came in behind the winner, the first past the post, might still take the trophy would have been laughed to derision. If anyone had suggested the athlete coming in first, having trained long and hard all year, should share the glory with another who has been consistently rejected for the team would have been considered mad. The also rans and the three-legged hobbledehoys were expected to be good losers and if it didn't suit them to lose urged to make a greater effort next year.

In the race of life there are winners and losers and coming in last is a mighty clue to the fact that you didn't try hard enough. Maybe the Liberal school report should read, “Must try harder next time.”

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