“So let me get this straight,” I interrupted. “AV makes for better MPs, because they can make fewer people pissed off?”
“Sort of,” explained the weary local activist. “There are so many safe seats under the current system that MPs can stroll through a career without really having to care about constituents’ concerns. If you need to get 50% of the vote, you have to listen more.” His patience was clearly wearing thin. When you have to spell out the cause to fellow canvassers as well as constituents, you know you’ve got a hard sell on your hands.
Dragged along by a friend of superior civic virtue, I joined up with the ‘Yes! To Fairer Votes’ campaign at Essex Road station on a glorious early-summer evening. We were greeted by a small company of enthusiastic political junkies loaded up with purple bumf, who immediately tested our best lines on AV reform. My friend responded to this grilling with all the enthusiasm of a recent convert, but my own lack of qualifications for the job at hand were soon exposed. “I haven’t really made up my mind on it yet,” I sheepishly confessed. We all agreed it was best if I took a step back for the first few houses.
A seasoned canvasser took me under his wing as we veered onto the side streets of Islington. The trick, he told me, was to steer clear of the wonkish stuff. “The thing with this referendum is that it gets a bit technical; you have to simplify things.” I soon found out what he meant. “DO YOU WANT POLITICIANS TO WORK HARDER?!” he bellowed down the first responsive intercom. Maybe this is the kind of politics that everyone can understand and care about after all.
Or maybe not. Since AV is not the first thing on everyone’s minds this spring, knocking on strangers’ doors armed with purple stickers and a confusing concept feels at once terrifying and intrusive. As my fellow freshman campaigners discovered, both emotions were fully justified. One was invited into a toothless gentleman’s front room, pungent with the fumes of crack cocaine, only to be lectured on the potential merits of a totalitarian Christian government. Another was forced to wrap up his discussion with a semi-robed ‘No’ voter, just out of the shower, with the classic last-ditch phrase:…