In his column today, Daniel Finkelstein (£) shrewdly recognises that the referendum on the Alternative Vote could be one of the most important political decisions of the year. At the same time, the IPPR has produced an excellent report making the case for this voting reform. As a long-time supporter of the Additional Member System (or AV + a proportional top up) I can see why some supporters of voting reform may be sceptical about this more limited change. But it is surely better to achieve one of the principles of reform than wait in vain for something more substantial: after all, the Liberal Democrats didn't exactly go out on a limb for such reform when they had their chance.
I am pleased that Ed Miliband is backing AV: doing so wholeheartedly will help to give him the definition that he has been slow to acquire. But it is vital that the case for AV is made vociferously and the decision to coincide the referendum with the local authority vote is regarded as an opportunity to maximise people's understanding of the change and to achieve a respectable turnout. Put simply, AV allows people to vote for the candidate they most want without losing the chance to vote tactically for their second best. It is a far more honest system than First Past the Post and should be sold as such. Of course, it is not a proportional system, and could even end up less so. But it does reflect voters' preferences at a constituency level more accurately.
It is interesting that when people are told precisely what is involved in AV, they support it, whereas when AV is shrouded in mystique, it has rather less support. So, the pro-AV campaign should not only promote 'honest voting', it should find ways clearly and simply to explain what's involved and its simplicity. With both those characteristics, there is every chance that 2011 could become the year when honest voting wins the day. Despite Nick Clegg.
Happy New Year