04 May, 2011

Politics and Sports do mix - OR Should I AV or not?

British politics seems to intrude on our ‘end of semester’ activities every spring term. It might be London local elections, Parliamentary elections [as it was in spring 2010] or the debate about the fairness of our electoral system, or the AV vote, this May.

Outside Gloucester Road station this morning, advocates of both the current ‘first past the post’ voting system and the challenger ‘alternative voting’ system were distributing literature and answering questions.  While the May 5th decision hogs the front pages, the football issue dominates the back pages.  In May 2011, front and back pages are unusually linked. Here’s how.

As a non-citizen voter in this country [explain that paradox of democracy], an historian,  a subject [of sorts] of Her Majesty, and, above all else, a keen follower of just about every imaginable sport except ‘netball’ -  which I will ban if anyone ever gives me a position of authority in the world of sport - I will carry my brain to the local polling station tomorrow morning, show my ID to the attendants,  and scribble an ‘x’ in one of the boxes of the voting slip. But the question remains ‘to AV or to not AV’! 

The AV question is the culmination of a long debate about the nature of British democracy. Power first rested with the monarch; then the aristocracy or lords dominated; latterly, the COMMONS has been to the fore, but how representative is the COMMONS?

I’m all in favour of democracy, although I do admire the ancient Athenian principle that anyone who put himself [no ‘herselves’ were possible in ancient Athens] up for election was automatically barred from consideration. THE British have long kept faith with their medieval institutions.  At Runnymede [near Windsor] in 1215, the mighty barons and the moneyed elite of the City of London forced King John to fix his seal to the ‘Great Charter’.  British ‘liberties’ led a charmed life for the next 500 years. During the middle ages, some of these ‘liberties’ were eroded, the Tudor & Stuart monarchs tried to turn back the clock and restore absolutism, but the stubborn English dug in their heels, committed regicide, experimented briefly with republicanism, until in 1688-89 a ‘protestant wind’ combined with John Locke’s  treatises on government consolidated our constitutional monarchy. Even the newly imported German kings, all handily named George, couldn’t stop the relentless tide of democracy.  Parliament eliminated rotten boroughs, extended the franchise, Lloyd George and the Irish issue undermined the authority of the Lords, the First World War granted the suffragettes their wish, ‘first past the post’ defeated the Nazis and then created the welfare state, the European Union eroded sovereignty, and now we are voting for AV, an issue forced on the Cameron government by their junior partner, the Liberal Democrats.

The bonus of AV is that the Commons becomes much more truly representative of popular will.  A disadvantage is that smaller parties, often with unsavoury policies, might get a degree of power and influence they would not ordinarily have.  Of course, a similar situation could occur under the current system; the Ulster Unionists, for example, had undeserved influence under John Major’s premiership in the mid 90s.

As for ‘first past the post’ or the ‘winner takes all’ position, there is a sense of natural justice about it. In a 1500 metre race run by 25 competitors, there is only one winner.  In the Grand National or Epsom Derby, the judges don’t bother with the 4th, 5th, 6th finishers. However, in some sports, like tennis, ranking points are given to all players depending on where they finish in a tournament. Ranking points impact on seeding, and seeding confers an advantage. In baseball, the team with the best record after 162 games might win a divisional pennant, but not the big prize. The same applies in most professional sorts, except…

PROPER FOOTBALL. The team with the most points at the end of the season is the winner. Period. Finito. NO OTHER CONSIDERATION COUNTS.  I believe that we need to amend this flaw at the heart of sporting culture because I won’t be able to accept Manchester United winning their 19th title. Nor will I be ‘over the moon’ if Roman Abramovich’s billions buy Chelsea the title.

So I need to know the answer to two questions.  Which form of sporting AV will guarantee that 3rd place Arsenal win the Premiership and which form of AV will ensure that QPR, already winners of the Championship under the first past the post system, remain winners even if the FA illegally dock them points for a supposedly dodgy player transaction two years ago.

For readers looking for bias in this blog, there is none. The RBBDA [the Royal British Bias Detection Authority, honorary president, HRH the Duchess of Cambridge] has given this blog its ‘A’ rating. Front and back pages of our newspapers well and truly united


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