Dominic Browne gives a round-up of all the main papers' opinions on the AV referendum, from the optimistic to the cynical, the meditative to the hysterical.
The AV referendum takes place today, representing an historic opportunity to change our electoral system.
After all, any issue that divides the coalition government, splits Labour in two, yet brings the BNP and the Communist party together in agreement is clearly one of peculiar interest.
The newspapers reaction ranges from the optimistic to the cynical, the meditative to the hysterical.
The Mirror gives a long sigh over the issue before finally coming to the conclusion:
“AV is not perfect but it is fairer than the broken electoral method we’ve inherited. MPs would have to reach out to at least half the people in a constituency instead of sneaking home on a minority rump.
“Mr Cameron wants ‘No’ because he knows a ‘Yes’ would brand him a double-loser after failing to win the General Election outright. Tory knives would surely be out for him then. And the Conservatives might never rule alone again under AV.”
The Daily Telegraph bemoan the injustice of having to vote on the issue at all, and most of all the unfairness of the possibility that the other side might win:
“While we may consider this referendum to be a wretched imposition foisted on the country by a clique of political insiders, the danger is that they could yet win by default. David Cameron’s refusal to support a House of Lords amendment requiring a 40 per cent turnout to validate a Yes vote has left the outcome uncertain.”
The Independent attempts to brush off the cobwebs of the debate with a rousing call to:
“Banish apathy, forget the tedious squabbling of politicians, and instead focus on the simple question of whether we want to change our politics for the better. We hope that people will turn out to vote. And we urge them to vote Yes.”
The Guardian, meanwhile, makes a similarly heartfelt plea to progressives to see AV as a vote for the progressive soul of the country:
“Keeping first past the post would mean keeping the system in which general elections mean national media campaigns funded by very rich backers which concentrate all their efforts on a few thousand swing voters in marginal seats. AV would take democracy back to the grassroots and would make more voters matter.
“Britain in 2011 is becoming a more unfair country both economically and politically. Voting Yes to AV tomorrow will help to stop that process and eventually reverse it. It will help to put the majority in charge, not the minority as at present.”
The Financial Times in a more meditative mood than any other paper, possibly sensing the opportunity lost before it even arrives, writes:
“After a dispiriting campaign, the electorate may shrug its shoulders and stick with what it knows. While that would not be the end of the world, it would leave Britain with an electoral system imperfectly designed for its politics. A chance for a modest and reasonable fix would have been lost.”
In almost the exact opposite of tone and opinion the Daily Mail groans and screams:
“The greatest objection to AV is that this costly, complex and unfair system threatens us with a future of political paralysis under coalitions of the bland.
“Isn’t there a huge risk that, through sheer public apathy, we may be sleepwalking into a disaster?”
The Times (£), in a more sensible vein, puts forward an argument that might strike a chord with both sides of the issue but concludes that AV is not the alternative we need:
“The electoral system is not perfect. No system can be. But it is not broken, either. Other aspects of the British Constitution are broken and nobody has a proposal to fix them. AV is not only the wrong answer, it’s the wrong question. But, given that it is the question that we have been asked, the answer has to be No.”
Possibly inspired by The Times, but taking it to the next level, the Daily Star’s leader on AV refused to be drawn on the issue of AV and instead talked about Europe:
“This isn’t something millions of Brits care about. If we must hold a referendum, make it on something vital, a subject we all want a say on – Europe.”
The Sun dispensed with analysing the pros and cons of AV and simply advised everyone to vote against it on the basis that:
“Hardly anyone understands AV. And hardly anyone wants it apart from flaky Lib Dems.”
With the risk of sounding just like The Sun, The Express launched into the issue with the following broadside:
“THE ragtag alliance of liberals, lefties and luvvies backing the Yes to AV campaign is facing a pasting this week – and they know it.”
Opportunities to prove the Express wrong are not uncommon, but it is certainly a shame to miss them whenever they arise.