July 14th 2010
The referendum designed to facilitate a vote on whether or not we change the constitution and the voting system under which Members of the United Kingdom will be elected will be held, if the relevant enabling legislation is passed, on the same day as the local government elections in 2011.
The Bill that, if enacted, will facilitate this referendum will, sadly, not also generate a vote on our continued membership of the European Union but it will give the go-ahead for the Boundary Commission to reduce, in time for an election that might be held in 2015, the number of parliamentary seats by 10%
For the record, my own view is that the latter measure is desirable but not bold enough. Scotland is over-represented and there are many other seats that are either geographically or numerically unnecessarily small and a cull of 20% ought to be achievable.
The referendum battle is, it would seem, already under way. Faced with the prospect of an amendment to a Bill that has yet to be drafted but that might require the support of at least 40% of the electorate (as against 40% of those actually voting) before a change in the voting system may be made, those in favour of Alternative Voting (usually as a prerequisite to a move to fully proportional representation) are screaming "foul".
It seems to me that if we are fundamentally to alter a system that has seen this country in good stead for many generations then such a change should have the support of a reasonable proportion of the electorate. A purist might even say that at least 51% of those on the electoral register should be required to vote "yes" to generate an amendment.
Let me, at this early stage, make my own position absolutely clear: I am wholly opposed to the Alternative Vote system and I shall campaign vigorously against its adoption if a referendum is indeed to be held.
I do not believe that AV is in fact "fairer" or "more representative" as some seek to suggest. I have never shared any admiration for those who, unable or unwilling to be decisive, seek to be all things to all people and I fear that AV is designed to deliver not Members of Parliament that a majority of those voting support but rather the men and women that most people dislike least - which is scarcely a brave way to elect a government.
While I shall, given the opportunity, support the requirement that at least 40% of those eligible to vote will be required to support a change in order to bring it about I nevertheless genuinely hope that the overwhelming majority of the British people will turn out to vote on 5th May 2011 in order to resoundingly reject the proposition that we should subject ourselves to permanent coalition administration.
And if the net result of such a vote precipitates a general election rather earlier than might otherwise have been anticipated then that is the price that we may have to pay to protect our electoral integrity.