Electoral Reform (Stage 1), How to win a referendum Part 5.

A strategy to move the project of voting reform toward an eventual and successful conclusion will follow the following path.

We will create a collaborative and co-operative working group, from across the political spectrum, to undergo a process of voting system evaluation to determine the best system to present to the people. The evaluation methodology will include polling to determine those aspects of a voting reform package that people would be likely to support in the event of a referendum. Clearly, it makes sense to know what people would vote for and what they wouldn’t before presenting them with a choice.

Which system to use is a current and major obstacle in moving forward, because different organisations are very set on their own preferences, and are not minded to change their views unless persuaded by information other than, but in conjunction with, logical argument, which rarely works on its own when minds have already been made up. Knowing that people wouldn’t vote for an aspect of a system one has loved for some time can be very persuasive.

The group will also hone better arguments and develop a campaign strategy to get these messages across to the people.

Senior people from other parties and organisations that support voting reform will be invited (in Jan 2018) to be a part of this group, and it is hoped that they will see the benefit of a unified approach.

Settling upon the eventual system to be presented to the people is a critical and pressing task. All organisations who want to bring this about should be aware that speaking with one voice and spreading the same message in a consistent form amplifies the effect of any campaign.

However, this is about how to win a referendum, specifically a referendum to change the voting system from FPTP to something else which is more proportional.

Imagine a football, cricket or boxing match. The best sides, the best batsmen or the best fighters have a competent and robust defence as well as flair and excitement in attack. The finest stroke player in the world will not prosper if he can’t keep out a straight ball and boxers tend not to progress very far if they keep being hit.  Teams and individuals alike rely upon a solid defensive capability, switching to attack when the time is right and the opportunity clear.

A referendum takes on a very similar pattern. There are two sides, one of whom wants change and the other does not. All the tactics that apply in a sporting contest will also be in play in a referendum. In sporting parlance, we may see some gamesmanship, a bending of the rules, which certainly happens in political competition as well as sporting ones. Weaknesses on both sides will be exploited to the full, some misrepresentation will occur and even some untruths. We could rely upon the reporters of the event to point these out and hope that people will be observant, or we could ensure that the chosen system has no catastrophic weaknesses and that any weakness it does have can be robustly defended.

Knowing this, any system put forward to the people must have, not only the advantages of wider representation, but also a solid defence against the inevitable attacks. It will be of no consolation to cry foul after we’ve lost, because we didn’t like the way the opposition went for our poorly defended flank.

When it comes to choosing a voting system the weaknesses are even more important than the perceived strengths and the evaluation methodology embodies in the process described above will be designed to make sure we know what they are for each system so that we can avoid a seemingly perfect solution, but with a soft underbelly, and present the best winning prospect to the people.

The most important characteristic of a voting system, therefore, is not how proportional it is, or how many other places use it, or how many PR geeks like it. It is, its ability to win a referendum. Only a systematic evaluation with polling input will be able to determine the best outcome.

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