It is not often that I make comments on this blog on national, or international topics, but the latest bun-fight between the 27 member states of the European Union has compelled me to.
Let’s start with a little bit of praise for Gordon Brown. If it was not for his instistence of the five economic tests being passed, Tony Blair would have had us signed up and using the Euro quicker than the coins could have been minted. Also his other great move was to make the Bank of England independent from the Government. Well done, Gordon. Then again, he did change the banking regulations to a more relaxed, self-administered process which you could argue is part of the cause to the worldwide financial mess we are now in.
The latest summit to save the euro had 26 of the member states sign an accord. Britain decided to use its veto and say no. Was this the right move? Well who knows because the actual details to why the PM turned it down is a little blurred. Those who want to find a simplistic answer say it was to protect those greedy banker mates of his. I feel this is child like simplicity because the financial industry is not just about a bunch of slacked-jawed, pinstriped suited buffoons. It is a world trading market, which is taxed by the UK Government. So it is right the PM makes sure it is protected.
However, this leads on to the bigger debate of Europe. Historically Britain has always had suspicions on the motives of ‘Johnny Foreigner’ from across the channel. The French, and in my opinion, the ungrateful General de Gaulle vetoed Britain’s membership of the EEC in ’63 and ’67. It was not until de Gaulle fell from power that Britain joined the EEC on the third attempt in 1973. As de Gaulle is quoted: “France has no friends, only interests”. Has much changed since then?
Since 1973 no one in Britain outside the various governments, has had a say on Europe. We have been promised a referendum by the various political parties, but when is comes to discussing a referendum, all the parties find an excuse not to have one. Is this because the answer will be an Agincourt style two-fingers up at Europe? The again, if the country was allowed a sensible debate on Europe; how Britain fits in, the result might be different.
Until such a time as there a referendum we will have to listen to the various political European squabbles from the sideline. Who knows, maybe my son’s children will finally get a say on Europe.
The once in a lifetime chance to take part in a Referendum has passed. It took me less than 30 seconds to complete, and I was the only person in the polling station (apart from the election staff). I will tick it off the list of things to do, but it will not be a chart topper in that list.
The turnout was better than expected with the South West having a turnout of 44.6% (1.8 million people); with Cornwall’s turnout 40.2%, (and double what I predicted in a previous blog).
The result was a resounding No to AV. The split of the vote is as follows:
No to AV – 117,770 (69.71%)
Yes to AV – 51,184 (30.29%)
168,954cast with 279 spoiled ballot papers
You can’t argue with the result and the winning margin. The people have voted and made it very clear what they think. Out of the 37 areas in the South West Region, not a single one voted in favour of Yes to AV.
On Tuesday night I was invited to the Yes/No AV debate organised by the BBC, but held at County Hall. By attending I was hoping for serious points being made as to why I should vote yes or no in the Referendum on the 5th May.
There were four panel members, Candy Atherton, former Labour MP and George Eustace MP both in the No to AV camp. In the Yes to AV we had Lord Dartmouth, MEP for UKIP and Nathan Hallow for the LDs The ringmaster was BBC’s local radio presenter Laurence Reed.
Members of the audience asked questions to the panel members, who took it in turn to answer them. At first the questionable were answered in an orderly fashion, but this soon stopped and the panel members started to interrupt other members. By the end of the debate the panel were talking over the other members in louder and louder voices hoping by talking louder it would some how make their points better.
The main point of the debate was to explain to those present and the listeners of the radio show the pros and cons to the two options. The panel members missed this, and spent a lot of the time trying to score small and sometimes petty points on the other panel members. All the panel members made draw dropping comments that should never have been said.
I came away from the debate with no clearer picture of the best system. I am not sure what the general public will think of it, but you can listen on Thursday 28th via Radio Cornwall’s Laurence Reed Show from 12 noon and come to your own conclusion.
For me, it was like a pantomime show, in parts entertaining, but once over forgettable.
In little over two weeks the Country will have the chance to take part in a Referendum on how we elected MP’s to Parliament. The Government is giving us a choice between the current system of First Past the Post (FPTP) and Alternative Vote (AV). The last time anyone outside of Wales and Scotland had the chance to take part in a Referendum was in 1975.
So what are the differences between the two options? The simplest way to understand is to watch the short and simple film provided by The Electoral Commission. This also saves me from boring you to death with lots of words!
My personal feeling with this referendum is AV is fudge on what could have been achieved. If we really had the choice I would have preferred Single Transferable Vote (or at least a choice of different systems than the current two on offer). This in my opinion (for what it is worth) is far better then listing a whole host of candidates and then picking them in order of preference. For me, I would probably just vote for one candidate or at a push, pick one other if I thought they had like minded views.
Why would I only pick one, or at a push two? This is because outside of Wales and Scotland it is a three party state. Contrary to what is going on at national level they all during an election campaign and preach they are different. Of course, there are parties who are not in the gang of three, but if these other parties are to be elected to Parliament in any significant numbers it would take a complete change of mindset from the citizens of the UK for that to happen, not just a change to the voting system.
The real interesting point to this Referendum is even if the AV vote is won, it does not necessary mean AV will be used. The reasons are because it depends on the rest of the Bill on boundary changes getting though Parliament, and that my friends, is a whole different kettle of fish. The plan under the Bill is to get rid of at least 50 MPs and their seats. You can imagine these 50 MP’s and the party which is likely to lose the most (Labour, but around 13 from the Cons) seats are not over the moon for having to vote in favour to receive their P45′s. Of course there is always the House of Lords to help ease their way into retirement as an incentive to say yes to the Bill. That is if there is any room left after the latest round of ‘re-balancing’ the Lords.
For the Duchy/County/Independent Country (depending on your viewpoint) of Cornwall the change to the boundary will have a further ‘bonus’ of probably having to ‘share’ an MP with our neighbours in Devon. That means those MPs from Cornwall who support AV will have to vote in favour of a shared MP if they wish for AV to become a reality. If they do, then no doubt at the next election this point will be on ALL the rivals’ election material.
As there are no Parish, Town or Unitary elections in Cornwall (until 2013) turnout is likely to be low. My guess is if turn-out in Cornwall gets past 20% this will be a good result. Nationally I fear the turnout will be in the low 30%. Which is kind of ironic as a point that the pro AV claim is most MPs are not elected by the majority; this could lead to a counter claim of a change to the voting system that is made by a minority?
Lastly, and I believe real issue which should be addressed is why so many people at national and local level choose not to vote. The average turn-out (Cornwall Unitary Election 2009) at local level was 40.1% and national (General Election 2010) was 65.1%. I doubt the main reason as to why so many don’t turn out is not because of the current voting system. Most I believe will say I am not interested, it does not affect me, or they are all the same and nothing changes.
How do we change people’s lack of interest in voting? Well, we could go down the Australian route and make voting compulsory? Or is making people turn up an affront to democracy, the right to freedom of choice, and the right to vote or not?
Cllr Andrew Wallis
Independent Cornwall Councillor for Porthleven and Helston West.