13 February 2011

Debating the Alternative Vote (AV)

In recent weeks I've become a little embroiled in the Alternative Vote debate on Twitter.

The debate there is very limited, not because of the 140 character limit, but because most of the vocal protagonists (particularly on the #yes2av side) just throw blandishments like "fairer", "better" and "reform" around as if vocabulary was a fair substitute for debate.

And so I was easily tempted to go to a real debate on the topic organised by the UCLU Debating Society.

I had been to a few events at UCL before, mostly in connection with SSEES, but this was my first time in the magnificent Wilkins Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre.

Getting there was something of an achievement in itself as UCL is as well signposted as most hospitals and there were obstacles like a keep fit class along the way.

Arriving early meant a good choice of seats (on the end of a row about a third of the way up) and also time for a little wine kindly provided by the society.

This was billed as a public event but, apart from the speakers, I'm pretty sure that I was the only non-student there. It was a little weird so it's lucky that I don't get fazed by things like that.

The speakers for the motion, This House Would vote YES to AV, were Jonathan Bartley and Murad Qureshi AM (2nd and 1st right) who were opposed by Dr. Robert McIlveen and Stephen Parkinson (3rd and 4th right).

This was a formal debate, rather than a discussion and normal debating rules regarding length of speeches, interruptions and rights or reply.

The disappointment was immediate with Jonathan Bartley's opening remarks repeating the familiar vague claims and also the misleading claim of needing a majority of votes to win.

Robert McIlveen responded well by pointing out that AV will make no difference at all in the 1/3rd of seats that are already held with over 50% of the vote going to one party.

He also pointed out that a more complicated voting system will work against the less intelligent to which Murad Qureshi later responded by saying that it was OK for these people to vote with a single X. An appalling attitude.

The AV leads to PR claim was also demolished to complete a very convincing speech by Robert McIlveen.

Sound-bite of the evening went to the Nos with "AV moves us from wasted votes to wasted elections" as coalitions will means, as we have seen with the current administration, the policies we voted for being discarded by politicians in favour of agreements made behind closed doors.

The debate livened up a little when the audience were allowed there say. Unfortunately most of these were written beforehand and so were unrelated to what had gone before. For example, one speaker argued that AV would lead to PR when this had already been dismissed.

The two best speakers were both for abstaining on the vote. One pointed out that the debate was not being taken seriously by the government as they had put the referendum on the same date as other elections that the political parties would give priority to. Another said, quite rightly, that nobody had explained why AV changes anything.

The lowest point of the evening came in Jonathan Bartley's closing remarks when he mentioned his disabled son meeting David Cameron for no apparent reason.

The evening recovered a little after that when I joined some of the student in the nearby The Bar @ TCR for some closing drinks.

If this is a sign of the standard of debate that we can expect over the next three months then politics is going to be the loser, whatever the result of the referendum.

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