Thursday, 5 May 2011

Voting on voting

I've been a voter since 1979, and at every election - national and local - I have exercised my democratic right and cast my ballot. So why am I so reluctant to do so today?

There are two ballots being taken here today: one to elect members of Sheffield City Council, and the other the referendum on the Alternative Vote system as a replacement for 'First Past The Post'. In both of these polls I am still wondering what to do.

The vote for a local councillor should be easy. We have some excellent councillors here in Sheffield, and the Broomhill ward in which I live has been well served by the incumbents. My natural inclination is to continue to support them, and based on their local record I should. If it were simply a matter of local issues, and competence at the job, my vote would be secure.

But politics isn't as simple as that. Our councillors are Lib Dems, a party I have supported at every election (either them or their forebears), but their role in the coalition government, and particularly a) giving the country a Tory PM and b) Clegg's blatant lies about student funding have caused me to question whether I can support the party this time. I have always advocated local elections being fought on local issues, and not treating them as a 'referendum' on the national government, but I am savvy enough to know that that's not how they are perceived. My head says one thing, but my heart says another.

The AV referendum causes me equal concern. I have always thought that the FPTP system was unfair in many respect, and that an alternative was needed. But the AV system proposed doesn't seem to me to be the right alternative. I want change, but not this change: so how do I vote? Do I vote for AV in the hope that, if the system is changed it can be changed again at a later date to a fairer PR system, or do I vote against AV, and hope that there will be a further chance to change the system? The risk is that if AV is defeated that will be taken as a mandate to keep tings as they are, rather than look for a better alternative to the present unfair system we have.

I don't think I will know how to vote until I get to the Polling Station. But I will go, and I hope everyone who can go will go. We have a right to determine our future that many in the world are denied: that's democracy. But democracy also gives us a duty to live with decisions with which we may not agree - I think I may well have to do that after today.