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Secret sympathy for Clegg opens my mind to viewing AV on merits – which means voting Yes

Posted on 3 May 2011 | 4:05pm

Fiona and I discovered almost simultaneously on Sunday that we were thinking and feeling the same thing. It is a thought and a feeling that dare not speak its name, other than in the confined circumstances of a close and long-standing relationship like ours. I cannot remember which one of us said it first, but out it popped …

‘I’m beginning to feel sorry for Nick Clegg.’ … ‘Oh, so am I.’

We felt so much better when we had said it. We could admit to each other we had been harbouring these thoughts for some time. I kicked him as hard as anyone over tuition fees, but it was when I realised that he seemed to be taking all of the kicking, and that his Tory masters were virtually unscathed, that I felt a teeny weeny bit sorry for him. He does seem to take a lot of hits for the Tories.

Of course pity is the last thing a politician needs or wants, but it does mean that when Clegg says he understands why Labour voters want to ‘give me a poke in the eye,’ but he hopes they will put their feelings to one side when they consider the AV issue, and consider it on its merits, I am less minded to sneer and snarl, and more inclined to do as he says.

There is no doubt that kicking Clegg has been one reason, even the key reason, why some Labour voters are opting for No rather than Yes It was indeed my own instinct early on, but having thought about it a bit, and having heard some of the nonsense spouted by the No campaign, I have come round to Yes. This will come as something of a surprise to my colleagues from the TB days. Whilst TB was playing around with Roy Jenkins and PR, I was very much in the First Past the Post camp.

AV is not going to change the world, but it might make the electoral system a bit fairer, and it might help with a bit of re-engagement. It is certainly not the disaster its opponents talk of, and the Tory self-interest in the status quo has become clearer as the campaign has gone on. Issues of democratic renewal hold very little sway with them.

Clegg has been something of a human shield for David Cameron, and I think if I am in eye-poking mode, on balance Cameron deserves it more. However, eye-poking of either of them is not the best reason for deciding which way to vote. It’s just that I needed that little bit of sympathy for Clegg’s predicament before I could open my mind to the possibility of voting Yes. And before anyone calls me to try to win me back to No, I’ve already voted by postal ballot and tomorrow I am off to Croatia where, I am a little alarmed to learn, my event has been advertised on TV and in a billboard campaign. I hope they’re not confusing me with someone else.

  • Clegg has been more than a human shield for DC – He’s been sold down the river and to mix metaphors, is only perhaps now realising just how far he has been stitched up. I wish I could share yours and Fiona’s sympathy for the worm, but as a former Lib Dem member I guess it’s a bit like being an ex-smoker – you get really angry about it all. That aside, I have always supported AV (but never PR in spite of my background) and would not let my dislike of Ramsay MacClegg change my mind. I’m glad you’ve considered the issues and come to a conclusion. My fear is that the anti Clegg vote will bury PR – but I really hope I am wrong. Well see – like you say, it won’t change the world – but at least it will be a black eye for the Tories!

  • Speaking as a probable Labour No voter (still not entirely decided), it’s not really that short-term Clegg-kicking that I’m worried about, fun as it is — more the prospect of Clegg’s heir kicking _me_ in some future ‘progressive coalition’.

    P.S. Should ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ be swapped around in “There is not doubt that kicking Clegg …”, &c.?

  • Anonymous

    I’ve come to the same view and will vote yes on Thursday, but not because I feel sorry for Clegg – more because although I dislike and despise him, I’ve decided to vote on the merits of the case rather than against Clegg, and it’s taken me a long while and a lot of self-discussion to decide that AV is fairer, because of the requirement for 50%+ of the constituency to vote for the winner.

    Why do I dislike and despise Clegg? His sanctimony, his virulent language and contempt for his opponents (historically and recently), his hypocrisy and his opportunism. Is that enough?

  • Mabozza Ritchie

    In the absence of any meaningful discussion on the pros and cons of each system – the scare tactics from both camps cloud any reasonable points being made – I have simply looked at who is supporting which side and gone for the system whose supporters annoy me least. So it’s a Yes to AV for me.

    For example, if you believe the brochures AV both helps and hinders the BNP simultaneously – quite a system.

  • Othermotte

    I favour proportional representation and am most definitely in the No camp. AV is just terrible and favours only third parties, at the expense of parties like the Greens who would do well in a truly proportional system such as that used in Germany.

    And btw, Alastair, Flashman is just such a perfect description. I have to own up to knowing some people who know some people who were at school with Flashman and it IS accurate.

  • lusina

    Bravo Alistair. You exactly translate my journey on Clegg and AV since the election. I agree with you hundred per cent. AV is fairer than FPTP. For that reason alone Labour voters should put aside any bad feelings against Clegg and the SD and vote overwhelmingly for AV. This will be bring an end to the Tory hegemony. It explains why the Tories are carrying out such a negative campaign. They will stoop very low to destroy their opponents and preserve their hold on power.

  • Richard

    Are you sure it did not happen with TB on the road to Damascus?

  • Nicky

    It may be sobering for Clegg if he reads that piece. He has received no such kindness and genuine sympathy from DC and the rest of the Tory toe-rags. Clegg’s willingness to utterly trash his principles and reputation has been rewarded with his appearance on Tory funded leaflets as a handy hate figure. He may consider himself well and truly dumped on. But I have to admit that I don’t share Fiona’s and your generosity. He’s slandered Labour so outrageously and extensively that any sympathy I might have had for him has evaporated.

    I’ll be voting No for several reasons.
    – The Yes vote is linked to the gerrymandering reduction of MPs.
    – The enticement of electoral reform is what’s keeping many LibDem MPs acquiescent with policies they’re unhappy with. With that gone, what’s to stop them bailing out?
    – DC is less keen on No to AV than he makes out. It’s merely his concession to his backbenchers, whom he despises. He’d be quite happy to carry on with his Thatcherite programme with the backing of the LibDems.
    – It’s wishful thinking by the Tories to think FPTP is going to favour them in the future. They couldn’t get a majority even with the slobbering adulation of a fawning media and a desperately unpopular PM. Having an ongoing coaltion with the Yellow Tories (AKA LibDems) is their only realistic chance of forming a government.
    – Personally, I would take some grim satisfaction in seeing Clegg humiliated.

  • Robert

    List systems do not appeal to me so I’m happier with AV than PR based on a party list.

    They haven’t since I was a Young Socialist when I felt that the dinosaurs leading the Labour party could wangle themselves well up the party list so get elected without anyone actually having the opportunity to vote against them personally.

    I had the pompous Roy Jenkins in mind – some ten years before he formed the SDP – though the same principle would have applied to Derek Hatton and the hyper-organised entryists that plagued us back then.

  • ChrisBuck

    Alastair, we crossed swords when you came to the Octagon in Sheffield, but I was both surprised and very pleased to see this blog. What sickened me was the attack on Clegg in the No literature, for accepting the collective responsibility of coalition and accepting the Tory policies that came with it.

    I don’t recognise Colin’s and Zac’s descriptions. Clegg has secured a number of significant victories, by engaging with the pragmatic and sometimes sordid world of coalition politics. This has required shrewd judgment and considerable courage. Clegg’s problem is that his kind of political courage does not fit easily with the British national narrative.

  • Quinney

    Dear Ally,
    Please don’t ever feel one bit of sympathy for Clegg. Through his ambition, his ego, his smugness and his arrogance he has actually shown up the Liberal Democrats for what they are. Hopefully the biggest bunch of liars, cheats, hypocrites, opportunists and chancers will be hung out to dry on Thursday. Don’t worry about Clegg, Dave will sort him out with a safe tory seat or a peerage.

  • Janete

    If the main objective is to kick your chosen hate figure, either vote could do the trick, but you will have to decide whether to kick the organ grinder or the monkey.

    I’m one of the 50% or so Labour Party members who will vote No to AV, not because I dislike Clegg, which I certainly do, but because I find most arguments for AV to be weak at best.

    It’s inaccurrate to say that under FTTP, some people’s votes don’t count; every vote counts as much as any other, but those whose choice is in the minority don’t win. Whatever system we use will mean some people won’t get the outcome they want, as I discovered when I supported David Milliband for the leadership.

    I object to second and third preferences being counted for some voters but not all with only those preferring fringe candidates likely to have several bites of the cherry. The argument that MPs need to work harder for your vote does not convince me either. In fact I’m worried that there’ll be more pressure on MPs to avoid being honest for fear of alienating potential supporters. Second and third preferences are more likely to go to politicians who appear to be everyone’s friend (the pre May 2010 Nick Clegg approach).

    By far my biggest concern is more coalition government, which it has been generally assumed would ensure a moderate compromise between two extremes. The experience over the last year has proved how wrong this assumption is. A compromise on tuition fees would have been to leave well alone or at most allow a small increase. A compromise on deficit reduction should have taken into account the majority of voters who preferred a slower, safer programme of cuts. In truth, both parties have disregarded what they know to be the people’s policy preferences in favour of furthering their own narrow party interests or pet projects. Once in power, manifesto promises have been ditched or issues introduced which have no public support (e.g. NHS upheaval).

    I’m not suggesting our present system is perfect and couldn’t be improved. We need to address voter apathy, the problem of 3 million people missing from the electoral roll and we could consider compulsory voting. I would like to see a second chamber elected with some sort of proportional system. Whatever the problem, I don’t see AV as a solution, as I think it introduces more unfairness into the process.

  • “Vote Yes to be nice to Nick Clegg.”
    I hadn’t heard that argument before. As a No voter, I just wish you had said it sooner and louder.
    Once AV is defeated there is no reason for the Liberals to hang on in government. And at that point, Ed Miliband shoulsd say to Clegg what Clegg said to Brown, “Before there can be any serious chance of working together, you have to go.” The difference being that Labour might be sincere.

  • Viviane

    Putting aside the politics in this referendum, I’d like to advise your readers that Australia has had AV for many years. It is in one form or another at local, state and federal elections. The only complication is that the different tiers all have voting systems. But that is not the fault of AV, just disjointed govt and a hangover of the days before before federation.

    In spite of what the No campaign has been saying, AV has not been to blame for compulsory voting here nor did it result in Australia losing the Ashes.

  • Duncan Phipp-MacIntyre

    Too many muddled matters going on here.
    Sympathy for Clegg? He sold his soul just to be Dave’s Downing St doormat – anything for a whiff of power.
    AV is as devolution – a fudge wanted by few and thrown in to placate those who want to travel further – a drogue to slow the boat.
    Just as in the General Election the country needed a “no to any of the above” option. So we got a committee’s camel of a con-dem coalition. First-past-the-post is flawed, AV is not PR and this referendum is not going to answer the questions this country is asking.
    Clegg is a mouse.
    It was another mouse, Loonquawl, who brought us

    “Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.
    “The Answer to the Great Question, of Life, the Universe and Everything”

    “Forty-two!” yelled Loonquawl. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?”
    “I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”

    Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide.

  • Stevo

    Thank you Alistair……………………………………but still undecided.The desire to kick Cleggie is so great………………………but then again Flashperson must be championing FPTP for his own ends-they are all that matter to him and his henchmen.Alright then-vote for AV it is-perhaps with some vomit in my throat………………….

  • Olli Issakainen

    AV will not be a boon to extremists like BNP. It will not cost as much as claimed. And it is not a complex system.
    England is a mother of all parliaments. A pioneer of representative democracy.
    First-past-post was made for another era. An era of two-party system.
    It is time that Britons can have an opportunity to set the basic rules of democracy.
    AV is an evolutionary change, not revolutionary.
    Last May two-thirds of MPs were elected without the support of a majority of voters.
    The outcome of the referendum is in Labour´s hands. Cameron is campaigning for No vote. The Lib Dems are, of course, in the Yes camp.
    Electoral reform will create conditions for a progressive bloc against the Tories.
    This is not a time for tactical voting to punish Nick Clegg. You can punish the Tories by voting Yes.
    And remember that you cannot build a fairer society on unfair politics.
    AV can provide a progressive alliance majority of Labour, Greens and social Liberals.
    Do not let the Tories, the City, media barons and big corporations to rule.
    The Conservatives are determined to win the referendum. Too many on the left unwisely agree with them.
    In theory the Lib Dems will benefit from the reform. But on their current support they would win only 31 MPs, or 5% of seats.
    But the FPTP was meant for a time when 95% voted for the two main parties; at last election this fell to 65%.
    There is now a greater pluralism in politics. And it is right that MPs will need to secure at least 50% of the vote.
    Vote LABOUR. Vote YES.

  • I was going to vote NO to give Papa Clegg a kick which he deserves, but, I have changed and think he will get a kick anyway with the local councils so now I am voting YES!

    Still hate Papa Clegg

  • Tim

    the reduction of mps will happen regardless of whether the vote is yes or no.

  • postageincluded

    This reminds me of Thatcher, during election ’83, saying “There’ll always be a Labour Party”. It looked at that point as if the Lib-SD Alliance might overtake Labour and she was anxious to scotch that idea straight away.

    You’re right, Mr Campbell, we don’t want Mr Clegg’s head just yet. A better moment can be found.

  • Davie Steer

    We had 2 ‘Hobson’s Choices’ here. In the locals Tory or LibDem (no other candidates) and 2 rotten electoral systems. It was a case of voting for the lesser of 2 evils in both. Yes for AV and LibDem. I could have chosen not to vote, but I remembered those dignified voters in Zimababwe queuing for hours in the sun and risking life and limb to vote for freedom. I cast my votes as a tribute to them

  • You felt sorry for Clegg, how wonderful for you.
    The wider public have to suffer because of New Labours arrogance, Labour have lost the plot and sadly will remain in the darkness for years to come.

    New Labour never listened to the people of this country and are now having to sit in the political duldrums for years.

    Labour don’t have a leader as yet that’s worth voting for, Milliband looks like a little lost boy, it’s embarrassing to see him on TV.

    The other reason Labour won’t get in power for quite a while is that you’ve all become too much like the bloody conservatives, on the outside you all profess to be for the working class but in reality your so far removed from that group of people that it’s laughable and tragic, one only has to look at the corruption involved with the welfare reform you lot started, paying companies like Unum formerly UnumProvident to help set out the new rules etc for reform were downright criminal in my view, how could new labour use a company that in America have been prosecuted and sued for millions, new labour is no longer for the poor or unfortunate, it’s all about writing books and making money on the speech circuit, feel sorry for Clegg, you must be joking…

  • Ehtch

    No doubt the Coalition think-tanks have even eventually realised that “make people feel sorry for Clegg” is a good move, even Clegg himself, since it seems he is a closet-Tory. They no doubt had it pinned on the wall of their blue-sky thinking room.

    The coalition has manipulated this AV vote for their own ends, and it stinks a bit. And I still think Clegg will cross the floor to the Torys just before the next General Election.