Michael Bywater: My brain can't handle voting reform

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The Independent Online

Like everyone else, I was planning on sculling down to the polling station on 5 May and voting one way or the other in the AV referendum. Which way? "Yes", probably, with "No" as my second choice. It sends a message to the politicians: you're up there because we're down here. And we can change things. It may not be the ideal change but it opens the door.

And first past the post is just silly. You can get in with the majority of voters wishing you hadn't. That fails the Bentham Utilitarian Test, which says that the moral worth of any action depends on its tendency to increase the happiness, or decrease the unhappiness, of the greatest number.

Also (1) it's silly. There is no post. The post is hammered in once the race has been run. Would Ladbrokes put up with that? "I'll have 20 quid on Consortium of Orthodontists From The Wirral, please." "Twenty on Consortium, right. To...?" "Eh?" "To win? Each way? Place?" "Oh. Right. Can we wait until they've run, then I'll decide?" It wouldn't wash.

And (2) it obviously doesn't work. Look at the Government. Look at any government. They're rubbish. They do things I hate. And they've all been elected by first past the "post". I rest my case.

Then the phone rang. Would I debate AV with Lord Leach? Publicly? At the Quenington Society? In Gloucestershire? Well of course I would. We public intellectuals are like barristers. We'll sleep with anyone.

So I googled the Quenington Society. According to wn.com, whatever that is, they "indulge in witchcraft and the black arts". Fair dos. So far so good. Then I googled Lord Leach of Fairford. Chairman of the No to AV campaign. Jardine Matheson chap. All Souls'. Several brains.

If you had agreed to debate something which you didn't know much about, with a triple-brained man who knows everything about it, in front of an audience of well-heeled, well-educated rural Satanists, you'd have done what I did: assumed there was a good chance of Britt Ekland being there to reprise her role in The Wicker Man, but without the actual Wicker Man due to Health and Safety. And then you'd have headed back to the internet.


Try to understand the pros and cons of AV from stuff on the internet, and rather than downloading information, you will find yourself uploading your prejudices but getting nothing back in return. Everything is either incomprehensible or so wildly biased it's meaningless, and so the brain vacates itself.

Why, if we are having a referendum about our electoral system, do campaigners on both sides find it useful to spam the electorate with unverifiable prejudice and utter bollocks is beyond me. But all I know – really; it is all I know, now; you should have asked me last week – is that I know nothing. I am in a sort of post-Rumsfeld state of unknowing unknowingness.

Halfway through the debate, chaired by Bamber Gascoigne, who did his best to help me along, I found myself utterly convinced by what Lord Leach had to say. What was it? I only recall, perhaps incorrectly, that he blamed Berlusconi's string of dancing girls on the French electoral system. Of my arguments, I only recall that the many countries that adhere to first past the post, as touted by the Prime Minister, include Botswana, Bangladesh, Congo, Gambia, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Mongolia, Rwanda, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria. Oh, and us.

It's not enough. Before that, I knew not much, but a bit. Lord Leach's razor intellect and the internet between them have driven me into psephological oblivion, aided, perhaps by the Quenington Society, who were all very respectable and intelligent and well-informed and nice, but of course that's what you'd expect from devil-worshippers.

So come 5 May, all I'll be able to vote, really, is (1) Don't Know and (2) Not Sure. Except I can't, because we don't have AV.