Saturday, April 23, 2011

Calder on Air: Yes2AV, No2AV and Trevor Eve

My column from yesterday's Liberal Democrat News.

Strictly Debatable

Vote Yes to AV and you are against politics. Vote No to AV and you are against Western civilisation. That was the message given to people who watched the two referendum broadcasts last week.

We bloggers often get a bad press, but there is no doubt that a post by one of my fellow Liberal Democrat bloggers was part of the inspiration for the Yes broadcast. Back in May of 2009 Mark Thompson suggested there was a correlation between how safe an MP’s seat is and how likely he or she was to have been involved in the expenses scandal of the past few years. The safer the seat, he argued, the more likely the MP was to have been caught up in the scandal. Mark’s analysis received a lot of publicity at the time and his argument regularly turned up (usually without acknowledgment) in speeches by senior politicians.

It was also at the heart of the Yes to AV broadcast. We should support AV, we were told, because it will mean fewer safe seats and that, in turn, will make MPs work harder and stop them spending our money on duck houses. That is fine as far as it goes, because the safe seat is the curse of our politics. Though I wonder if moats and duck houses are the real problem these days. Wasn’t this a case of la mallard imaginaire?

Besides, the best argument for AV is more subtle. By making candidates win the support of half the voters in a constituency before they can be elected, the system will force them to reach out beyond the confines of their own party. In a Labour-Tory marginal the way to win will be to convince Liberal Democrat voters that you care about civil liberties and Green voters that you care about the environment. Just getting your vote out would no longer cut it.

So the Yes broadcast tried to tap into the anti-politics zeitgeist, but if you watched the No broadcast it looked like an episode of The Ascent of Man. Because the No broadcast was peopled by slack-jawed creatures with baseball caps and silly hair who expressed their incredulity at the idea that the candidate who finished first might not be the eventual winner. Never mind that we all understand Olympic heats, Strictly Come Dancing and The X-Factor: this is how the No campaign sees the voters. In their eyes we are all stupid, and it is by appealing to that stupidity that they hope to win the referendum.

Whatever the faults with AV, there is no doubt that the Yes side has won the campaign. To the Noes the whole thing has been nothing more than a meeting of Stupid Pride.


I have been mourning the end of Waking the Dead (BBC1) by collecting DVDs of the early series from the BBC Radio Leicester shop and hunting for episodes of Shoestring on Youtube. Shoestring is the series that made Trevor Eve’s name as a television star back in 1979 and 1980.

Some people laugh at Eve’s portrayal of Peter Boyd in Waking the Dead because of the way he tended to alternate between morose silence and GETTING VERY ANGRY AND SHOUTING. But for me he is an authentic star and one who has made his reputation almost entirely through British televison.

And because I wrote about Shoestring on my blog Liberal England, I learnt something about my friend from Harborough Liberal Democrats Ian Ridley. He left a comment saying that he had once taught Eve how to write equations describing black holes for a pilot episode of Doomwatch.

This was an unsuccessful attempt by Channel 5 to revive a pioneering BBC environmental drama series of the early 1970s. It never took off, but it is amazing what you learn through blogging.

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