Thursday 5 May 2011

Many millions fought for our democracy - don't throw it away today

The last surviving combat veteran of the First World War died in his sleep last night.  Claude Choules was born just a few miles from my home town in rural Worcestershire in 1901. His village of Wyre Piddle is still a quiet backwater so the world he left while still just a boy, volunteering when only 14 to serve in the Royal Navy, must have been spectacularly different to the hell of war he would soon witness.

He served in the Royal Navy and was on HMS Revenge to see the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet in 1917. Claude Choules was one of the lucky ones from villages all across the country like Wyre Piddle who made it home to live a full life. On the war memorial in front of the small village hall, in the middle of Wyre Piddle, are three other members of the Choules family who didn't make it home.  

Like many of the 70 million military personnel who served in the 'war to end wars' he shied away from attention for what he had done and grew to become a pacifist who was uncomfortable with anything that glorified war. Those who served in the Great War didn't do it for glory but did so out of a sense of duty, loyalty to King and Country as well as a belief that they were fighting for freedom and democracy.

A generation later many millions of other young men fought and died fighting against tyranny and for democracy.

Today the UK is voting over whether to change our voting system. What is on offer - the Alternative Vote system - is not liked by anyone much really. It certainly isn't a voting system that people would be willing to leave villages across this country to fight and die for. It has been well reported that Nick Clegg called it a 'miserable little compromise' - hardly a ringing endorsement.

Our democracy is built on a sound principle of one person one vote where the candidate with the most votes wins. A change to the AV system will fundamentally damage our democracy forever; allowing some candidates to have their votes counted more than once. Many other reasons have been given for rejecting AV. This morning, as I went to the polling station and put a cross next to 'NO', I had in my mind brave men like Claude Choules, and many millions like him, who fought for our democracy. I urge you to vote 'NO' as well today.

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