COLIN DRURY: AV? Abandoning their vocation is it?

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DEFINITION of referendum?

A government shirking its responsibility.

This is my conclusion as the two great debates of our time come to a head tomorrow: should British elections be run using the Alternative Vote system? And does anyone – proper people, I mean, rather than politicians and soap-box superstars – really care?

I cannot bring myself to be concerned with a vote about the way we vote – other than to ask don’t we pay MPs and ministers to make these decisions for us?

Isn’t it their jobs to do the research, hold the inquiries, debate the issues and, in so doing, find the best solutions and come up with a best democratic system for Britain?

Isn’t that why they exist?

Isn’t that why we accept them buying plasma screens and duck houses with our money?

So why, instead, are they asking us to do it for them?

Why are they giving a say to, for example, that bloke in the pub who you wouldn’t expect to spell his own name correctly?

Why are they giving one to me?

I can’t be trusted to get it right. I haven’t a Scooby-Doo what the best voting system is. Why would I?

I have other stuff on my mind - deadlines worries, money issues, why my pot plants appear to be wilting already.

The government doesn’t ask us to vote on other issues - why is it on this one?

As long as I have a vote, once in a while, I’m happy.

More than happy, in fact, because even then I hardly use it.

Yeah, I know I know. People died for my right to cast my X (or in the future, possibly, my 1, 2, 3), but voting with your feet and staying away is just as pure a form of democracy as voting for the monkey in the red tie or monkey in the blue.

Or, in my ward, the monkey in the yellow, or the monkey in the green who keeps pushing paper leaflets through my door calling for an end to profligate waste.

Aye, and it’s not like I’m alone in staying away. Voter turn out at this year’s local elections is expected to be about 30 per cent - and that’s a bumper year because there’s also the AV question being decided.

But that still means 70 per cent of us, when the leaflets have all been dropped, when the door-knockers have finished destroying the peace, will essentially look at what’s on offer – and say meh.

Why? Because those people – like me – simply don’t believe changing a ward councillor – or even a council, or perhaps even a voting system – makes any difference to anything much at all.

Councils don’t run public transport, they barely have a say in education or policing, and they’re dictated to by officials on health and social issues. Even on things they can make their own decisions on – bin collections, perhaps – they are constrained by party loyalties.

Councillors may have good intentions but they are rarely allowed to make good decisions. They are the tools of central Government and their own civil servants; existing essentially to legitimise change, not create it.

Will changing to an AV system for British elections change the limited power of local people?

Not likely. Even I know that.

Ever get the feeling the wrong question might be being asked?