Britain's Prime Minister Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Clegg hold their first joint news conference in London
Prime Minister David Cameron (R) and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg hold their first joint news conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street in London May 12, 2010. REUTERS

This week the No to AV campaign started to lay out its case to the British people ahead of a May referendum on changing the voting system. It was a poor start to what should be an easy task.

In their opening barrage, which was less threatening than a Bugsy Malone splurge gun, the No camp said that we should be against AV as the referendum and subsequent implementation costs of a new voting system will be £250 million.

This is not a serious argument. One of the No adverts shows a British squaddie (no doubt called Tommy Atkins) with the caption "He needs bullet proof vests, not an alternative voting system". Such a statement is obviously true but the idea that the £250 million, which is peanuts to the government, is being diverted from our soldiers to this silly cause is ridiculous. I for one have full confidence in our government that it would find another silly cause to waste it on. Wind farms for example.

Taken to its logical extreme one might as well argue that general elections are a frivolous waste of money at a time of financial crisis. Perhaps then we should not hold any more elections until Britain's debt is cleared? Not even Hosni Mubarak tried that one.

One can only assume that the No campaign went for this line of attack because they thought it might enrage people who are increasingly having to make economies in the face of pay cuts or unemployment combined with high inflation.

But there are much better arguments against AV than this. Before last year's election AV was described as a "miserable little compromise" by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who claimed that adopting AV was no substitute for full proportional representation.

However after the election Mr Clegg was forced to make his own "miserable little compromise" when he joined up with the Tories and signed off the founding text known as the Coalition Agreement. The price that the Tories had to pay in this Faustian deal was a referendum on AV.

The value which the Lib Dems, or at least Mr Clegg, place on this referendum can be seen from this. What have the Lib Dems sacrificed in return for the referendum? Well they are now so low in the polls that even full PR might leave them with a "fit in a taxi" Parliamentary party and Mr Clegg has endured months of abuse, some of it vile, because of his support for raising tuition fees, despite his opposition pledge not to do so. Imagine they could have safely opposed tuition fees from the comfort of opposition - but then there would be no AV referendum.

Some might uncharitably conclude from this that policies which benefit politicians, especially Lib Dem ones, as AV probably would are non-negotiable when making coalition deals, while those which benefit students, like abolishing tuition fees, are not.

This is what is wrong with the issue of electoral reform, and especially with the AV referendum. All the political parties look at the issue and think how it will benefit or harm them, rather than how it will benefit the British people.

So we see the Tories are generally against it as it will undermine the two party system they benefit from. Labour are cautiously in favour as they hope it could allow them to form a kind of permanent coalition of the left with the Lib Dems. While the Lib Dems and all the smaller parties want a more proportional system even if they are not interested in the "miserable little compromise" of AV.

Not one of them asks if changing the voting system will be good for, or is even wanted by, the people they are supposed to represent and this is perhaps why turnout at the referendum is expected to be quite low.

We are of course getting to the heart of the problem, which is that the problem with the "old politics" so hated by Mr Clegg, was not the political institutions and systems, but the politicians who occupied and ran them.

The reason that people are so disillusioned with politics is that politicians have behaved badly with their expenses, but more seriously and over a longer period, they have, with a few exceptions, stopped talking for the British people and instead represent a dreary social democratic consensus.

To take some examples, one has quite a good chance of getting a good cheer from a BBC Question Time audience if one proposes one of the following: leaving the EU, restoring grammar schools, withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, restricting banker's bonuses and (on occasion) bringing back capital punishment.

Not only will no mainstream politician propose any of these things, despite the votes to be found in them, they will not even have a serious discussion on these issues. It is taken for granted that our soldiers will continue to die in Afghanistan, although no one explains why, likewise that we must stay in the ever more dictatorial EU and don't even think about bringing back selection in schools.

Why? One can but wonder but the most likely reason is fear of what the Guardian, or more importantly the people who read the Guardian at the BBC, will say about it.

Introducing AV will not put an end to this consensus between the three biggest parties and could even entrench it further. The British people do not need Mr Clegg to introduce a "new politics", which will keep the same failed politicians in power by different means. Rather they can bring about a real age of "new politics" themselves by refusing to vote for the parties that have taken it in turns to fail them over the years.

Increasingly people have realised they have this option. Indeed if those who did not vote at the last election had their votes cast for a fictitious "None Of The Above" option (NOTA), then NOTA would have won a landslide majority with 431 out of 650 seats. The Tories would be in opposition again with a mere 173 MPs, while Labour and the Lib Dems would not even scrape 50 seats between the two of them.

If one party had the courage to break from consensus politics by championing issues dear to their constituents, rather than "miserable little compromises" live AV, they could hoover up the NOTA votes and form a government regardless of the electoral system.

The electoral system is the same for every party, changing it is unlikely to seriously help or harm the interests of the British people. What really needs to change are the parties and the dreary identikit politicians that run them.