There has been a lot of news about recently – the royal wedding, the beatification, and on a rather different note, the unlooked for end of Osama bin Laden – so you might be forgiven for forgetting that tomorrow is an election day here in the United Kingdom. The devolved assemblies in Cardiff, Stormont and Edinburgh are about to be renewed, and there are local elections in most of England; but the one vote that happens everywhere will be the referendum on AV, the Alternative Vote.
It is the duty of priests to remind their flocks that voting is a duty, and that not to vote (unless one has a serious reason that prevents one going to the polling station) is a sin. Just in case you did not hear that from your own priest, take it from me. Trust me, I am a doctor – of moral theology.
Of course the clergy, while directing people to vote, should never direct them on how to vote – though this has certainly been done in the past, it is certainly neither prudent or indeed morally justified. Every conscience must come to an informed but autonomous decision. So what follows is entirely personal opinion.
The Alternative Vote offers a good chance for Catholics to increase their political influence. Under the present system, elections are decided in a very few marginal constituencies. In most constituencies the result is a foregone conclusion, and campaigning, if it happens at all, is purely for form’s sake. AV will make more constituencies marginal, and thus make our candidates work harder. That must be good; it will improve the quality of political discourse.
The other factor is this: under AV candidates will have to solicit first preference votes as they do at present; but they will also have to make a play for second preferences. Someone standing for the Pro-Life Alliance may get a few hundred first preferences; under AV the way those people make their second preferences could be crucial. It will mean that the two leading candidates may well have to make themselves attractive to those who vote for the Pro-Life Alliance. AV also means that with a second string to their bow, voters for the Pro-Life Alliance cannot be dismissed as people who “waste” their votes. Thus single-issue parties may well do much better under AV.
AV allows a more nuanced vote. Let’s say I wish to vote Lib Dem; but how should I use my second preference? If one of the candidates of the major parties is stronger on pro-life matters, I would vote for her or him, surely. AV will mean that mainstream politicians will no longer be able safely to ignore the Catholic vote. Of course, in this country there is no such thing as “the Catholic vote”, but with AV there might well be. Other minorities may also get a voice.
While we are on the subject of voting, please make an effort to vote in the local elections. Everyone moans (myself included) about, let’s say, the failure of local councils to grit pavements during snowy weather. Well, now is our chance to do something more than moan.