Don’t vote against AV because you hate Clegg

Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg will still be in the same jobs next week. A vote for or against AV

If you have ever been at an election count, you will know that there are many imaginative ways to waste your vote: obscenities on the ballot paper, several crosses, or writing "none of the above".

But in this referendum there is a new way to waste your vote: "I am voting No, to destroy Nick Clegg", or "I am voting Yes, to destroy David Cameron". If ever there were completely fatuous reasons to vote either for or against a change in the voting system, these have to win the prize.

First, if the much-predicted drubbing of the Liberal Democrats takes place in the local elections and there is a No vote in the referendum, Nick Clegg will not stand down as leader, of that I am absolutely certain.

In order to remove Clegg as leader, 75 Liberal Democrat constituency associations would each have to hold a fully quorate extra-general meeting to pass a motion saying that he should be removed, or half the parliamentary party would have to ask him to stand down. The reality is that the often-briefed-about future contenders do not have half the parliamentary party behind them.

True grit

It is the shock of defeat that often leads to the unseating of a leader. Well, no one is going to be shocked by a negative result for the Liberal Democrats that was predicted as far back as May last year while the print was still drying on the coalition agreement.

But what about Cameron? It has been a deft move on the part of the right of his party to make him sweat so much about the result that he had to get involved. There is no doubt that a year ago Cameron thought he could take a back seat on this campaign. Rumours abound he said as much to Nick Clegg.

But the right has put the willies up Cameron sufficiently to draw out some of his true campaigning style – the smoothie we've grown accustomed to has had a good dollop of grit thrown in. However, yet again, the likelihood of unseating Cameron as leader right now is extremely remote.

So if anyone is undecided how to vote, how about considering the arguments for or against? How about deciding for yourself, not because you love or hate Margaret Beckett, Colin Firth, Eddie Izzard, Nick Clegg or David Cameron, but because you agree with the policy arguments of one side or the other?

Of one thing I am certain: win or lose, both Cameron and Clegg will still be in the same jobs next week. So may I suggest to you that if you vote to "destroy" either one of them, yours will be a wasted vote.

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.