England sends A V-sign to Westminster – which sees it as a V for victory!

So the results are in: 4,824,357 (or 30.93%) say Yes to AV; 10,774,735 (or 69.07%) say No to AV. For clarity, that’s the result in England. Across the UK as a whole, it was 32.1% in favour of AV and 67.9% against. So England appears to have rejected AV even more decisively than the whole UK.

But hang on a minute. Turn-out in England was a mere 40.95%. Across the UK as a whole, turn-out wasn’t significantly higher (42.22%), despite fears that holding the referendum on the same day as national elections in the other countries of the UK would skew the result – although turn-out was quite a bit higher in Scotland (50.43%) and Northern Ireland (55.20%).

So adjusted for turn-out, only 28.12% of English voters rejected AV, while a pitiful 12.59% supported it. That leaves a further 0.25% of English voters (or 0.61% of those who bothered to turn out) who spoiled their ballot papers. Accounting for this 0.61%, the proportion of those who came out to vote that supported AV was actually 30.74%, while 68.65% opposed it.

OK, then; so the real totals in England are:

Yes        12.59%

No        28.12%

Spoiled        0.25%

Didn’t vote    59.05%

Who are the real winners and losers here? While it’s certainly a massive rejection of AV, this is no endorsement of the First Past the Post voting system used for Westminster elections. In fact, it’s pretty much a rejection not only of any actual voting system used for the Westminster parliament but of the whole Westminster parliament: a clear majority either rejected the non-choice that was being offered to them, thought Westminster-parliament elections weren’t worth bothering to vote about, or didn’t think about it at all, including those who didn’t even know a referendum was taking place.

So for me, the AV referendum provides categorical evidence of the disconnect that exists between the broad mass of the English people and the UK establishment that presumes to govern them – in contrast to Scotland and Northern Ireland, where a majority did vote in the UK referendum and are by implication more engaged by UK-wide politics, paradoxically because they are also engaged by the devolved politics of their nations, which motivated them to vote in their national elections. So England duly sent a V-sign to Westminster: either rejecting a reform that seemed like a devious tinkering with the existing system designed to lever more Lib Dems in to Parliament, or telling the whole worthless bunch of Westminster lackeys where to go.

But did the politicians get the message – did they heck? They immediately started to spin it as a clear rejection of electoral, and even broader political, reform; as an endorsement of the existing system of voting and governance; and as a sign of approval of the government’s focus on making the tough decisions on the economy and (English) public services necessary in the ‘national interest’. I heard both Simon Hughes and Nick Clegg for the Lib Dems, and David Cameron talking in such terms.

This is, however, by no means an expression of support for business as usual nor a ratification of the legitimacy of First Past the Post and the whole system of UK governance that depends on it. Just watch as the politicians conveniently ignore the fact that the clear majority in both England and across the UK either spoiled their ballots or did not come out to vote, and by implication rejected both options. But they’ll say that 68% of British, not English, voters support FPTP. Well, they don’t. For a start, technically, the referendum didn’t ask whether people supported FPTP but only whether they wanted to replace it with AV. I and millions like me – the silent majority – refused to legitimise Westminster rule over England based on either system. The fact that the politicians go on about the verdict of the people having been given is just a way for them to talk up their own importance and legitimacy; in reality, the people refused to give a verdict at all.

And by the way, thank you to anyone who might have decided to spoil their ballot or not vote influenced by anything I might have written on the subject. The politicians may ignore or misread the message we’re sending them; but for me, our silence is DEAFENING!

It’s a bit like the old ‘is he waving or drowning?’ syndrome. We’ve sent them a V-sign of contempt, rejection and indifference; but they think it’s a ‘V’ for victory for the established order.

Well, England says No: not just to AV but to Westminster itself.


AV referendum: for the sake of England, don’t vote!

Do you think the First Past the Post voting system used for electing UK MPs should be changed to the Alternative Vote? Do you even care?

Firstly, should anyone who supports the idea of an English parliament give a monkeys about the voting system used to elect the UK parliament? On one level, no: the fact that this AV referendum is being held on the same day as the elections for the Scottish parliament, and Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies, but that the English have never been consulted about a parliament of their own; and the fact that we’re being offered only the disproportional AV system, whereas those very devolved elections use a different, proportional system, is a downright insult. So not only is there no representation for England as a nation on offer, but there is to be no proportional representation for England even within the UK parliament. So I know where I’d tell them to stick their AV.

On the other hand, a ‘better’ electoral system for electing English MPs would surely be a gain for the nation even while we’re being governed by an unrepresentative UK executive and parliament. Does AV constitute such a gain? Well, in my view, AV is marginally – very marginally – better than FPTP. It does ensure that parliamentary candidates have to secure the explicit support of a larger proportion of their local electorate in order to win – though it doesn’t guarantee that MPs must obtain the support of a majority of voters: that depends on how many voters don’t express a preference for either / any of the candidates remaining after the less popular candidates have been eliminated.

However, in reality, this greater share of the vote MPs have to win, which includes the second and subsequent preferences of voters whose first-choice candidates have been unsuccessful, already exists in latent form under the FPTP system. The only difference that AV makes is that it allows voters to explicitly express that support with their preference votes, so that – for example – a winning plurality of, say, 40% is turned into a winning ‘majority’ of 52%. That extra 12% of voters who are broadly content for a candidate to win on 40% of the vote are still there under FPTP; so AV in a sense just legitimises what happens under FPTP: the election to parliament of MPs who fail to be the first choice of a majority of voters.

AV is, therefore, mainly a means to secure buy-in to an unfair system that has ill-served England. That’s what FPTP has been: over the past few decades, it’s given us Tory and Labour governments that have never commanded the support of a majority of English men and women. It gave us the divisive, confrontational and egomaniacal Thatcher regime; and it was responsible for Blair’s New Labour, with its legacy of asymmetric devolution, British-establishment Anglophobia, public-spending discrimination against England, and the overseas follies of Iraq and Afghanistan, with so many brave young English people exploited as cannon fodder in unwinnable, unjustifiable wars.

FPTP has failed England. AV is only a very slightly mitigated version of FPTP. Both will lead to more disproportional, unrepresentative UK parliaments that will continue to ignore not only the just demands for an English parliament but England’s very existence. Under the present UK political settlement, England as such is completely discounted and passed over in silence. The pro-AV campaign says that, under AV, your vote really counts. But England will still count for nothing, whether we have AV or FPTP.

So make your vote really count this Thursday in the AV referendum by greeting it with the silent contempt with which the political establishment treats England. England’s voice is not being consulted; so respond with sullen, stern silence in your turn. Don’t vote for a system – the UK parliament itself – that disenfranchises you. And let the result – whether a win for AV or FPTP – be rendered as meaningless as it really is through a derisory turn-out across England.

England will have its say one day in a meaningful referendum: on an English parliament. And I bet neither AV nor FPTP will be on offer as the voting system for a parliament that truly represents the English people.

Send A V-Sign to Westminster: Spoil your ballot in the AV referendum on 5 May

Check out the article of the above name at Rise Like Lions and sign up to the Facebook campaign to send a message to Westminster about the referendums we really want (English parliament and the EU) by spoiling your ballot in the AV referendum next May!