It is a mistake to try and derail the referendum on AV

Labour Party

There are those in the Labour Party who seem to be siding with the Tory 1922 Committee in opposing holding the referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) on May 5 next year, the same day as local elections and the polls for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.  Quoted in the Guardian, Jack Straw said he would support a referendum on AV because it was in the Labour General Election manifesto, but he told Radio 4’s World at One: “There is an issue about the date. We have got to think about this.”

As far as I’m concerned, the Labour Party promised a referendum on AV in its manifesto and having promised this we must want to make sure that the referendum is won.  I would have thought this is the correct and logical point of view, even though the referendum vote will be put forward by the Tory-Lib-Dem Government.

I have never understood why the Liberal-Democrats in the coalition talks with the Tories agreed that the Conservatives could campaign against the AV referendum.  Until the 2010 General Election electoral reform was the defining policy of the Lib-Dems, a hallowed principle they have now all but thrown away in their rush to government.  The Lib-Dems shamefully gave in and accepted that in the campaign for the vote on the AV referendum they will have to fight the Conservative Party machine which will more than likely be aided and abetted by Ashcroft money.

It is sad to see there are those within Labour who want to take our Party in the same direction. While proportional representation for the House of Commons has never been one of Labour’s core beliefs, in the way it used to be for the Liberal-Democrats, we did put AV in the 2010 manifesto. We should therefore honour this commitment.

Honouring our promise to hold a referendum on AV means doing all we can to win the referendum.  Anything else, such opposing moves to hold the referendum vote at an electorally advantageous time, i.e. at the same time as other polls, is mere talk.  In fact it’s worse than that, it’s saying one thing and doing another – hypocrisy in other words.

Reforming the UK’s archaic voting system for the House of Commons was always going to be just about the most difficult of the Coalition’s pledges to implement.

There are those MPs (generally Conservative but, I am sorry to say, Labour as well) who get very worked up about anything they perceive as upsetting their chances of re-election, and see first past the post (FPTP) as their best bet.  This is hardly surprising since every single Westminster MP was elected under FPTP, though the lack of imagination and willingness to embrace change is disheartening.

Meanwhile the House of Commons is the only lower house of any national parliament in Europe to elect its members by first past the post.  Every other European country uses a system of proportional representation or alternative vote.  They all recognise that a system where every vote cast actually counts is fairer and delivers a result which better reflects the views of the majority of the electorate.

I want Britain to catch up.  There is movement now to start serious modernisation of our political system.  It would be quite unforgivable if Labour MPs prevented us moving forward.

One final word of warning.  Supporting a referendum on AV does not under any circumstances signal agreement to the Tories’ iniquitous proposal to reduce the number of Westminster constituencies.  This is cynical manipulation to get more Conservative MPs.  Introducing AV, on the other hand, is a principled policy to change our voting system to something fairer and would be a long overdue reform. I’m sure we will be able to make this distinction clear in any future discussions and campaigns.  I for one intend to support AV and work for a yes vote in any future referendum while strongly opposing a reduction in the number of constituencies.

6 thoughts on “It is a mistake to try and derail the referendum on AV

  1. Well, but hold on though. I don’t think Jack Straw was saying that he’d oppose AV, just that there was an issue with the date. And speaking as someone living in Scotland, I agree with him.

    Holding it on that date might be electorally advantageous for those in favour of a Yes vote (and I include myself in that category), but it’s extraordinarily disrespectful of the Scottish Parliament elections, which is a bit much from a party that claims to have a Respect agenda towards the devolved administrations.

    In 2007, the Scottish Parliament elections descended into chaos with an unprecedented number of spoiled votes. The inquiry that followed found that the problems were caused at least in part by holding council and parliament elections on the same day, and recommended that this should not happen in future.

    That’s why people are so annoyed about this decision – it flies in the face of our recent experiences.

  2. Yes, having been a presiding officer on a number of elections I have grave doubts as to the great British public’s ability to handle so much in one go, public school educated included.

    Much as we would like a more representative method of election we should bear in mind that Lab & Con supporters are not going to vote each other 1 & 2. there is going to be a piggy in the middle doing very well, also some quire nasty alternatives.

    The really big no, no is including boundary changes on the same ballot paper and calling the package electoral reform.
    We should not be voting on this, it is a job for local electors and the Boundary Commission, each one is not a national issue.

    1. Yes, it would be totally wrong for reducing the number of cobstituencies to go in the same referendum vote as AV

  3. Having been a presiding officer at a good many elections I have grave doubts as to the ability of the great British electorate to handle so much at one go, including the public school educated ones.

    What is definitely not acceptable is being confronted with a package labeled electoral reform that includes the abolition of or changes to other peoples constituency.

    As planned this will be an unwarranted distraction from local issues. The Tories and media have become adept at such tactics.

    There is also the problem that in the search for ultimate democracy we forget that Lab and Con supporters are unlikely to nominate each other no 2 and a piggy in the middle is going to do very well, and probably some nasty people on the fringes.

    1. I completely agree with you that it would be completely wrong to include reducing the number of constituencies in the vote on a referendum on AC

  4. “I have never understood why the Liberal-Democrats in the coalition talks with the Tories agreed that the Conservatives could campaign against the AV referendum.”

    The answer is that there would never have been a coalition agreement if this had been insisted upon, because it would have led to a tory backbench inspired collapse of the government within months of being formed.

    Under that circumstance Cameron would have been better going on as a minority government with supply-and-confidence.

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