Christina Dykes is senior adviser to the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP and Senior Adviser (Conservative) to Local Government Leadership.
In the Diary of a Nobody, Mr Pooter and his wife are at dinner. There is a discussion as to when the ladies should leave the table (it is the Victorian era): a compromise is suggested. The ladies would leave when the principal guest, the American Mr Hardfur Huttle, had half smoked his cigar. This, said the gallant Mrs Purdick would be “the happy medium”. This enticed from Mr Hardfur Huttle the response “Happy medium indeed. Do you know ‘happy medium’ are two words which mean ‘miserable mediocrity’’’?
I fear this is what we will end up with if the Yes to AV campaign wins the debate. Politics is a difficult. That is why we need politicians who are credible and competent. Choosing them through a system that gives candidates of the least appeal the same potency as those with the most appeal will encourage the average candidate to succeed: those that Mr Hardfur Huttle might have seen as the insipid.
Leaving aside the real reason that the debate on our voting system is happening at all (to placard the Liberal Democrats into a coalition) surely the only mature reason for changing the system would be to encourage a greater standard of ability amongst the representatives who are chosen to govern. This will patently not be the case if the AV system were introduced.
Ten years ago the Conservative Party introduced an assessment centre that was based on six competencies: intellectual and communications skills, the ability to lead and motivate and to relate to people, to have drive and resilience and conviction. We knew that all these skills were important to the job of being a Member of Parliament but we did not know until we evaluated the system after the 2005 election which of these competencies were the most predictive i.e. which of all the candidates assessed and selected were likely to win elections.
An analysis of the number of votes cast for successful candidates correlated to their result of the assessment centre showed the two competencies were likely to be the ones that the voters most respected – communication and intellectual skills. In other words electors favoured candidates that they felt had the ability to cope with the job and to communicate effectively with them and to others.
None of this will matter is the Yes to AV campaigns gets it way. What they are likely to get is an MP who in a straight race was not regarded as the best. So if we are not to have the best – we will get a House of Parliament filled with “miserable mediocrity”. The public want to see a higher standard of political leadership: they will not get it with AV and that is what really counts.