Nick Clegg needs to find a Reverse Gear

Labour Party
Richard Howitt & Ben Bradshaw

Richard Howitt & Ben Bradshaw

One of the things Gordon Brown got right in his excellent speech yesterday was his promise on the alternative vote system for Westminster elections. As many of you will know, I am a supporter of Electoral Reform and spoke this evening at the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform’s fringe meeting at Party Conference, along with fellow MEP Richard Howitt and Ben Bradshaw MP Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. As a long standing campaigner for electoral reform I have always viewed Liberal Democrats as allies in this endeavour, if not anything else. I have, therefore, been frankly surprised by what appears to be the Lib Dems white flag to the Conservatives in direct contrast to Labour’s fight back. They have positioned themselves to try and take Labour seats, but clearly hope at best to just limit losses to the Conservatives. Where, you may ask, are they running hard campaigns to win seats from the Conservatives?

Strategically the holy grail for Liberals and now Liberal Democrats has been a hung Parliament. Now they have a potential double whammy. A Labour government or a hung parliament offer prospects of real electoral reform. A Conservative majority slams fair voting prospects shut for a generation. Nick Clegg has a chance that Thorpe, Ashdown, or Kennedy would have given their right arm for. Will he reach out and seize it? Tactically and strategically the tantalising prospect of real electoral reform only comes about by Labour winning or staying the largest party. The Lib Dems seem to think they can build on successes often based on protest votes in cities to win Labour seats in the coming general election.

Yet their calculations are muddled tactically, and crass strategically. Almost every seat they won last time from Labour had a substantial student population. The cocktail of Iraq and university tuiLCER09 030tion fees is no longer available. So tactically what is it they think they can work on? ID cards? Gordon ruled that out too. Millionaire properties? Those are far more in Conservative and Liberal seats. There aren’t many millionaire properties in Kilmarnock, Keighley and Caerphilly. Let’s just consider the fleeting and highly unlikely possibility of the Conservatives with an overall majority.

Will a Labour Opposition put electoral reform at the top of its list when it gets back into government? Much as I think electoral reform is important, the first task will be to repair the schools, hospitals and other public services that will have been damaged by the Conservatives. So Nick Clegg, who had a dire conference, now has to put his hand up and fess up to another error.

He should, of course, divert resources from Labour target seats and put them into taking Conservative seats. He should instruct no hope candidates to tell their supporters that only a Labour win can help the Liberal Democrats.

I have got a slogan for them……. Liberal Democrats you can’t win here!

The Conservatives need to win 131 seats for an overall majority. They expect to win 30 seats or so from the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg needs to come out and welcome Gordon’s announcement.

He needs to commit to supporting electoral reform.

Most importantly Clegg needs to divert all possible Liberal Democrat resources to achieving a result at the next election that allows electoral reform to be delivered. In short he needs a reverse gear/U-turn/mea culpa.

Make your mind up Nick, I am committed to campaigning for electoral reform, are you?

4 thoughts on “Nick Clegg needs to find a Reverse Gear

  1. Mary – I guess the question is – can such a deal be made two way? Would Labour be prepared to back pedal in a few constituencies in order to ensure a Lib Dem seat is not lost to the Tories, or even that an existing Tory seat is won by the Lib Dems? Otherwise I don’t think this plan will get very far.

  2. Jon
    Unsure which constituencies you’re suggesting. Off the top of my head I struggle to think of any Lib Dem/Tory seats where the Labour vote has not already been squeezed hard, this certainly applies in South west, and SW London, Lewes, Hereford, Cheltenham, Solihull, N Norfolk. I think it is hard to see this applying in Scotland and Wales but it is hard to see Tories winning Lib Dem seats here. The question is does Nick Clegg want an arrangement which whilst maybe not his ideal vision will provide 80-100 seats in most Parliaments with more chances for hung Parliaments to press his case, or will he ignore the best prospect ever available?

    Labour does not need to reciprocate, but even if it wanted to the deal cannot be an equal one. Does Nick Clegg want the best chance ever of getting electoral reform and 80-100 MEPs at every election? It’s up to him to make the right call.

  3. I was at that fringe and all four speakers gave a good account of themselves. Your comments re the Liberal Democrats are apposite.

    I hope our promises on reform are just the start. Labour in large part was born out of the movement for democratic reform, a movement that stalled for most of the last century. At last it looks like we may be back on track.

  4. Exactly the sort of tactical voting which would be made unnecessary if lib-dem supporters could vote LD 1st choice and Labour 2nd choice.

    AV is all that is going to be on offer. It’s probably nobody’s first choice but it is way, way better than FPTP.

    Time is running out – if we lose the election, we’re stuck with FPTP for a long while as Mary explains. So therefore we must put pressure on the party to go for a referendum on or before the election date, not after. We cannot afford to lose this chance.

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