Last winter students and schoolkids rioted outside parliament, lighting fires to keep warm, screaming to have their voices heard and to stop their votes being abused, misused or ignored.
While people are rioting in the streets, being kettled and batoned by police, MPs are being imprisoned because they felt so complacent in their jobs that they thought they could use our taxes to buy their houses, clean their moats, build homes for their ducks and to rent tacky porno films.
Only half of those of us eligible to vote bother exercising that right, despite that right being won through wars, fights, blood, battles and self sacrifice.
And then there are the bankers – they took almost a trillion pounds of pounds of public money to balance their books. Books that were so grossly unbalanced because of their reckless gambling and vulgar bonuses they lavished on themselves to pay for their penthouse flats, their private jets and swimming pools.
And yet, there are people out there who say that nothing is wrong. That the system works and has served us well. Who’s saying that? The Bankers are saying that. The lords are saying that. The media moguls are saying that. The aristocrats are saying that. And they have a right to say that. The system has served them very well. It is the support of these powerful people that turns political parties into governments.
But the thing that worries me is that some normal people seem to be repeating this assertion. Recent polls show that around half of us want to keep the crappy voting system that has made it so easy for the super rich to wield such disproportionate power.
This Thursday we have a once in a century opportunity to shake this up. The first chance we’ve ever been given to change the way we elect our MPs. And yet it looks like we’re going to fuck it up. Under the Alternative vote no majority government can be formed without having 50% support. That means if the bankers, lords and moguls want their chosen party to rule, they’re going to have to convince a lot more of us than they currently do.
It might seem strange that we’re being offered the chance to change a system that benefits them so well. And it is strange. We’ve never been given an opportunity like this. So why have these powerful people given us such an opportunity?
Well, they have taken a gamble, and they expect to win. For all the money that the bankers and lords poured into the Conservative party at the last general election (the party best positioned to protect their interests) and for all the support from the right-wing and Murdoch media, the people of this country still managed to resist giving the Tories an outright majority in parliament.
And that’s why they had to offer such a huge concession the Liberal Democrats in return for help completing their Thatcherite project. The concession was the one thing that could hurt them –a referendum on changing the voting system from First Past the Post, a system which has allowed the bankers and lords so much power over the years.
Under our current system, a party needs only the largest minority of the vote to win power (sometimes they can win even without the largest minority), so they needn’t enact policies which satisfy the majority of us. They can get all of the power by winning as little as 35% of the vote. It’s therefore easy for the super rich to put a fraction of their massive wealth into convincing just a small chunk of us that voting for their chosen party is a good idea.
So at the last general election, they ploughed millions into the Conservative party, and the Tories targeted this money at the few chunks of the UK that were capable of swinging the election in their favour. When you’re funded by the richest and most powerful in the land, it’s not a difficult task to convince a small percentage of voters to give you their votes.
So that’s what happened. A tiny minority – just 1.6% of the voting population determined the outcome of the election. And the Conservatives became the biggest party. But even for all their spending, they didn’t get enough votes to form a majority goverment. They were about 16,000 votes short. An extra 16,000 votes out of a country with a population of 61 million was all that was needed to give the Tories 100% of the power. That’s how close we came, and thankfully, they fell short.
So for the Tories to realise their Thatcherite ambitions they had to bribe the Liberal Democrats to support them – and for the Lib Dems – changing the voting system is an irresistible prize. It’s easy to see why.
It was a Labour government that made the first moves to give us this referendum on the Alternative Vote, but the legislation didn’t go through before the general election and if the Tories took control of the government they were sure to stop it. They oppose any change to the system which has served their vested interests so well.
So in the coalition negotiations, the Lib Dems managed to ensure that the Conservatives continued the plans to give us the referendum, but in return had to betray loads of their own voters and support a project that included raising tuition fees.
However, the betrayal of Liberal Democrat voters happened long before any of this. On polling day in 2010, a quarter of UK voters chose the Liberal Democrats to symbolise their views in parliament, yet the system gave them only a tenth of the representation. Despite getting 1 in 4 votes, they got 1 in 10 seats.
This broken system keeps us out of politics and allows our voices to be completely ignored. This is where the betrayal started that led to those makeshift campfires outside the Houses of Parliament on the 9th of December last year. The truth is that the Liberal Democrats were handed no power to enact the policies that 1 in 4 voted for. So of course they jumped at the chance to change this crappy system.
But although the Tory party’s wealth failed to give them the majority they needed to realise Thatcher’s right-wing vision of Britain, they still had millions in the bank, and now a referendum to spend it on. The NO2AV campaign may boast support from some right-wing Labour MPs and Lords, but they are really a front for the same Tory lords and bankers that ploughed money into their general election campaign.
We have seen lavish adverts on TV and youtube, and glossy leaflets posted to every house in the UK, all riddled with lies. And well thought out emotional lies too. They’ve got so much money they can afford to do this, and it’s working. The latest polls show that the NO campaign is winning by about 60-40. And the sad thing is that I’m sure many of these people are voting NO because of the lies they’ve read or heard from the ridiculous propaganda the NO camp have been putting out.
But we still have some time. We need to convince as many as people as possible to vote Yes in the referendum on Thursday. We need to get people out to vote. Ironically, in this referendum to change from a system where so many votes are wasted, every single vote counts.
We can win this if we motivate enough people, and they are sure to be motivated when they realise the stakes. Lord Ashcroft, David Cameron, George Osbourne, Tory bankers, Rupert Murdoch – they all want you to vote no. They don’t want you to have a say in this democracy. We need to win this referendum on Thursday. We have to take our parliament back.
Editor’s note: OhDearism says Yes To AV!