"Jesus would vote Yes 2 AV"
If the nation rejects AV and votes to retain First-Past-The-Post, Mr Bartley prophesies the burning of churches (seriously), the moon will turn red, pregnant women will be in distress, nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
At that time we will see Jonathan Bartley coming in a cloud with a ballot paper. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
AV, he avers, is the once-in-a-generation opportunity for the Church ‘to atone for its sins’.
So, if you’re feeling a bit remorseful about the Crusades, racked with guilt over the Inquisition, tormented for burning a few heretics or buggering a few choirboys, vote for AV and you’ll be square with God.
It is the ultimate good deed: no need for cultic rituals of bloody sacrifice. Just vote AV and your conscience will be purified to approach God with a full assurance of faith and a clean heart. The old things have passed away: forget the blood of the lamb; you are redeemed by the ballot box; purified by plebiscite; sanctified with the casting of a vote. The cross of Calvary is as nothing compared to the cross you can place against ‘Yes’ to AV.
The particular atonement Jonathan Bartley has in mind is the church’s historic opposition to the Suffragettes a century ago. He muses: ‘The episcopal purple should not be of a notably different hue from that worn either by today’s campaigners, or the women pioneers of the early 20th century.’
Perhaps if this had been iambic, His Grace would have some idea of Mr Bartley is talking about.
And it is difficult to grasp Mr Bartley’s point about the sin of a few bishops and vicars desiring to withhold votes from women while their successors desire to prevent them entering the Episcopate.
Yet he asserts: ‘There is a strong theological and ethical rationale for voting for reform. The Christian bias toward the vulnerable, the powerless, and the voiceless sits uneasily with a first-past-the-post system that favours the powerful and the vocal.’
Difficult one, that.
Democracy is nowhere in the Bible, though Mr Bartley doubtless knows this and is referring to the scriptural principles which underlie the democratic structure: liberty, accountability and equality.
Just as Moses led the Israelites from slavery to freedom, Jonathan Bartley sees AV as a kind of liberation theology. While St Paul emphasised the liberty that comes with a new life in Christ, Mr Bartley sees the Yes2AV campaign as a work of the Holy Spirit. The gospel of Jesus Christ levels Jew and Greek, male and female, high and low, rich and poor: Jonathan Bartley believes AV to be the outworking of a Lucan privilege to the poor.
Apparently, the stench of FPTP which so offends the nostrils of God is this:
As things stand, one rich donor can potentially fund a change of government by resourcing 100 or so candidates in a handful of marginal seats. And the existing system perpetuates unaccountability and inequality in other ways, too. In some constituencies, many votes are effectively wasted where there is no hope of unseating an MP. Many votes count for nothing with MPs elected on just 30% of the votes cast.He explains:
There was a clear correlation between the safety of seats and involvement in the scandal over MP’s expenses. Many safe Labour seats, too, have seen turnouts diminish over decades, while levels of joblessness have risen, as successive Governments ignore their plight.Both of these points may have merit, and the Lord may undoubtedly affirm Mr Bartley’s discernment.
But He may also ask precisely how AV resolves these issues.
He might point out to Mr Bartley that the whole AV agenda is a diversion and a deflection from the real crises facing democracy: no party advocated it in their manifesto, and the people are being given a referendum they have never requested.
There are many flaws in FPTP, but at least you only get one vote to expend upon one candidate, and you can be sure that the winning candidate received more votes than any other candidate; that is to say, the winning candidate is sure to be the most popular of all the candidates.
The Lord does not mind winners and losers: FPTP is a little better than drawing straws (Acts 1:21-26).
With AV, what you get is the least unpopular candidate, as seen in Labour’s leadership election. MPs were for David Miliband first and placed Ed second or third; Labour Party members were for David Miliband first and placed Ed third or fourth. But the Unions were for Ed Miliband first, so Ed won.
That wasn’t an election for the best: it was a raffle for the least worst.
Would the Lord support an electoral system which supplants the most popular with the least worst?
Jesus was a religio-political rebel; he didn’t toe the line with the Pharisees or Saducees, and neither did he pander to the Romans. He dined with tax collectors and welcomed prostitutes. He rendered unto Caesar that which belonged to Caesar: no more, nor less.
Parliament needs eccentrics, rebels, principled recalcitrants and independent minds.
Yet AV will exclude them.
It is interesting to note that in the London mayoral elections, voters prefer individualists to party loyalists. They like originality and conviction rather than bland centrism.
While the existing selection system for candidates often denies them that choice, the chief effect of AV would be to push parties further into the middle ground, making them even more like one another and even less like the electorate they purport to represent. Under AV, you get elected not by being the most popular choice, but by attracting the most second and third preferences.
Mr Bartley’s theology might incline him to prefer an eternity of Heaths and Majors, but His Grace prefers and the nation needs the occasional Churchill and Thatcher.
The Lord was more Whig than Tory: He’s more of a Douglas Carswell or Daniel Hannan than a Chris Patten or a John Gummer.
Jesus was a reformer who said narrow is the way, but AV is predicated upon broad appeal. Candidates will need to stand for nothing so strongly that they might offend their potential second and third preference voters. This will not improve the calibre of parliamentarian: on the contrary, what Mr Bartley advocates will lead to perpetual, immovable and immutable mediocrity.
Jesus Himself would be unlikely to win under AV. And if the Lord would not be elected, how many Christians might be elected to Westminster under the system? Could they ever talk about something as divisive as religion? Have a stance on abortion? Support faith schools? Utter a word on ‘gay rights’? Venture an opinion on religious liberty?
No, on all of these ‘extremist’, ‘eccentric’ and ‘minority’ issues they would need to be mute, for fear of offending their potential ‘moderate’ and ‘reasonable’ supporters.
There’s not much opportunity to let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ with AV: vibrant and combative election debate will be smothered beneath a duvet of maybes, possiblies and other expressions of vague potentiality.
Yet Mr Bartley insists that AV is fairer because it empowers the weakest.
This is the eternal cry of the LibDem.
But if you vote for one of the two most popular parties you only get to vote once. If you vote for a party that cannot win you effectively vote twice, as your second preference then helps decide which of the front runners has won. Why is this fairer, Mr Bartley?
How is it ‘fair’ that, under AV, our three-party state takes the decision of who forms the Government away from the voters and places it in the hands of the third party – the Liberal Democrats? As John Redwood observed, it’s like getting chips with every meal. He said: “If I go to the races, I expect the horse that comes first to be the winner. I do not expect the judges to say that as the first and second were close they will ask the losers who they would like to win. Nor do we say that as it was close the first and second place have to run it again without the others to see if one is faster without the others getting in the way.”
Why would the Lord support such a system?
FPTP is one person one vote: it is simple, straightforward and comprehensible. AV is Complicated. Granted, not as complicated as some PR systems, but FPTP and PR can both be defended in simple language. His Grace has yet to hear anyone make a simple, concise, comprehensible case for AV. And he begs you not to dismiss this point. We are politicos; we bother to read newspapers, watch Question Time and pore over blogs because we enjoy politics, engage and understand.
But we are the minority: there are millions out there for whom putting a tick in a box really is the extent of their political engagement.
Ask them to rank candidates, number them, vote for parties and individuals, and you end up potentially with what happened in the 2007 elections to the Scottish Parliament: more than 100,000 votes were discounted as rejected ballot papers, so five per cent of voters were disenfranchised. Their votes are in the bin. In Glasgow Shettleston alone there were 2,035 spoiled ballots and most constituencies saw at least 1,000 papers rejected. In some areas, the rejected votes outnumbered the winners' majority.
Would the Lord support such darkness on the face of the deep?
But Mr Bartley is persuaded that AV is a step in the right direction: it is ‘modernisation’.
This is a New Labour cry.
To them, FPTP is a curios relic. Yet it is still used by much of the English speaking world, and they use it because it produces strong government. FPTP, like Habeas Corpus and Trial by Jury, happens to be one of our most successful exports, used by many countries across the globe.
By contrast, the number of countries that use AV to choose their elected representatives now stands at a very impressive three: Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia. The latter recently saw a political party that polled fewer votes than its rival bargain its way back into office. And Fiji is about to ditch AV.
If AV is such a righteous and moral system, why is not widely used across the whole of Christendom?
AV will not address ‘political disenchantment’. It does not solve the problem of ‘safe seats’ which reduce an election to a tiny number of swing voters in key marginals which leads to low voter turnout.
Mr Bartley is right about there being a disconnect between Parliament and people. But that is not because of FPTP: it is because of a centralised system of policy formulation and the power of the Whips to ensure legislation is then passed.
As a consequence, entire streams of often very popular opinion are excluded from the legislature. For example, 55 per cent of voters say they want to leave the EU, but just two-and-a-half per cent of MPs agree; and many Conservatives would like to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, but the Party has decided not to. Essentially, MPs have more in common with each other than with the people they are supposed to represent.
AV is no cure for this. It does not improve or increase accountability.
In 1998 the Jenkins Commission looked into the merits of PR. His Grace is struck by his scathing comments on AV:
AV on its own suffers from a stark objection. It offers little prospect of a move towards greater proportionality, and in some circumstances… it is even less proportional that FPTP.Is Lord Jenkins wrong, Mr Bartley?
FPTP may be unfair because it throws up disproportionate majorities and excludes small parties, ie it isn’t proportionate. But AV can also lead to freak results whereby the party with the greatest number of votes do not win the greatest number of seats: the dream of PR is not realised by this reform.
Before the last general election, Nick Clegg attacked AV as ‘a wretched little compromise.’
Yet now he supports it.
Would the Lord condone such capriciousness?
AV is an odious coalition compromise, achieved quite literally in smoke-filled rooms (Mr Clegg is partial to the taste of nicotine) and smacks of precisely the sort of grubby little backroom deal that Mr Bartley (and the Lord) might find antithetical to notions of truth, justice, integrity and accountability.
Churchill once denounced democracy, but he said it was undeniably better than all the alternatives which have been tried from time to time.
FPTP can be criticised, but it is without doubt the least worst option; the lesser evil.
A referendum on STV would be a referendum worth having. No such case can be made for Alternative Vote. AV would wipe away most of the advantages of the existing system while retaining all its flaws. It is neither simple nor proportional nor fair. Far from making Parliament more representative, it will make MPs less diverse. The fact that many MPs are a caste apart, having more in common with one another than with their constituents, would be amplified, so the powerful would be further empowered and the weakest made even weaker.
AV allows democracy, as Winston Churchill put it in 1931 ‘to be determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates’.
AV is not, as Mr Bartley avers, ‘a step in the right direction’: the church would not atone for its sins by supporting such a system; it would compound them.
His Grace urges a No2AV.
And, Mr Bartley, His Grace has no wealth, no status, and no ‘vested interest’.
He would simply like to point out that there is nothing in the Bible or Church tradition that would support the claim that God is behind the Yes2AV campaign in a unique way, or that by voting ‘Yes’ we may atone for our sins.
And as for the absurd scaremongering that a ‘No’ on 5th May 2011 will result in people setting fire to churches, His Grace will leave his intelligent and discerning readers and communicants to make of that what they will.