AV or not AV?

The Election Debate, BBC Radio 5 Live

Sunday morning (1 May, 9.30am) and Stephen Nolan, multi-Sony-award-winning presenter, is on BBC Radio 5 Live with an Alternative Vote (AV) special. "On Thursday," he roars, "that's Thursday - in four days - millions of us will go to the polls!" Perhaps Nolan is afraid we would forget where we'd left Thursday, the days of the week so ruinously muddled following the double bank holiday.

Nolan continues, his heavily Belfast-accented, game-show-host, on-off voice somewhere between a striped, red blister and a sweet Cinzano: "Forty-six million of us will be asked if we want to switch to the Alternative Vote. The AV. Alternative Vote. It's over to you. Will you pick AV or the current system? Is the Alternative Vote - the AV - for you? Still undecided? Which side will win your vote? That's a debate, here, live, after a preview of Northampton v Perpignan." Sorry, Stephen, but can you repeat that? Only, this time, make it last longer in the mind. Like a kick in the knee. "On Thursday, 46 million of you will be invited to change our electoral system. You'll be asked to answer Yes or No - just Yes or No - to the following question: should the Alternative Vote system be used instead? That is the question. What do you make of it? We're on air until 11."

Nope, still at sea. This isn't an AV special devoted to concurring energetically that it's an AV special, is it? Encore Stephen, and immediately, before someone talks about eleven-plus in Northern Ireland, the compulsory bilingual policy for businesses in Wales, the Turkish Grand Prix - or what AV actually is. (But sadly not beforesoundbites from the assistant whip Jonathan Reynolds, Hazel Blears and David Rutley: "OK, my view of this is that . . . you get a feeling it's just a bit unresponsive"; "Smoke-filled rooms. It's a complete waste of time".)

“Hello! I'm Stephen Nolan and we're talking about the referendum on the Alternative Vote. When you walk into the polling station on Thursday, you'll be asked to answer the following question: at present, the UK uses the first-past-the-post system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Now, should the Alternative Vote system be used instead? That's the question! A modest but substantial change? Massive implication! We're on air till 11." l

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 09 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Beyond the cult of Bin Laden