Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party

News of the local elections and AV referendum dominated last week.  As Eddie Izzard, a long standing Labour supporter and enthusiastic AV supporter, pointed out this was the first and likely to be the only opportunity when we are asked about the way in which we do politics in this country. (See my blog from earlier in the week here).

Eddie Izzard On the Yes to AV campaign trail

Now that a referendum has decided that we should continue with the system of First Past the Post we are unlikely to be asked again, and certainly not for many many years. So, the opportunity to have any further meaningful debate over a proper system of proportional representation seems to be out of the window.

Something else struck me about the AV result which is that Cameron has massively out manoeuvred the Lib Dems. The Yes campaign started out with a decent amount of support and yet the moment Cameron saw quite how much support there was, he poured a lot of resources into the against AV campaign. He has reduced the number of constituencies and has kept FPTP and has therefore totally outmanoeuvred the Lib Dems.

Acknowledging the anger of the Lib Dems, Ed Miliband urged disaffected Lib Dem ministers in Nick Clegg’s party to quit the cabinet and join Labour in a fight against rightwing Tory policies. The story was broken in today’s Observer and you can read it in full here.

The list of problems with the referendum meanwhile could fill my entire blog and requires much lengthier analysis but to my mind it should never have been held at the same time as the local elections. It is entirely separate issue to these and should have been fought as such.

Tom Clark provides analysis on the AV referendum in the Politics Weekly Show a weekly political podcast produced for the Guardian.  You can hear it in full here.

The local elections and referendum didn’t leave much room for other news, but I was delighted to read about the Women of Outstanding Achievement Awards 2011.

Seven women at the forefront of science, engineering and technology were honoured last week at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London.

The awards recognise the achievements of women who are ‘an inspiration to others.’ Their portraits will be displayed in the halls of leading scientific professional bodies and academic institutions. You can see them here with a short biography of each woman.

The AV Referendum is about more than Nick Clegg

Labour Party

I am feeling increasingly angry that the AV referendum campaign seems to be coming down to a question of personalities. Yes, it’s good it’s hotting up and there is now some real passion in what, until the last few days, looked like a mere distraction. But changing our antiquated voting system which is out of step with most of the rest of the world should not come down to Nick Clegg, or, for that matter, David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Vince Cable.

I, of course, hold no brief for Nick Clegg who, I agree, has proved a pretty useless Deputy Prime Minister. There is no doubt Clegg is now a toxic commodity, a far cry from the heady days of the pre-general election TV debates.

However, we mustn’t let our views on Clegg cloud the issue. The AV referendum is far more important than one individual.

Not only is it right that Britain changes its voting system to something fairer and more democratic, but we also need to be aware of what the Tories have done to our parliamentary constituencies. As Jackie Ashley pointed out in the “Guardian” yesterday, the Act allowing the referendum on AV also cut the number of constituencies to 600 and made them all more or less the same size. The combination of keeping first past the post and the new gerrymandered constituencies will give the Tories a massive boost.

David Cameron could be on the verge of pulling off a master-stroke if the Yes Campaign loses its momentum and allows the Nos to get a foothold, even, dare I say it, winning. If Britain votes to keep first past the post there is a very real danger that the Tories may be in power for a very long time. It could mean a return to the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher style government.

Just in case you need reminding, Margaret Thatcher presided over unemployment topping one million for more than 10 years, decimated the trade union movement, laid waste large tracts of our industrial heartlands, waged war on Labour in local government, introduced of the poll tax, amongst other horrendous policies which struck at the core of the well-being of our country.

And in each of the general elections which returned Margaret Thatcher, the Conservatives only gained a minority of the votes cast – 43.9 percent in 1979, 42.4 percent in 1983 and 42.4 percent in 1987, due to the undemocratic nature of first past the post and the geographical distribution of the Tory and Labour voters. As I once heard the excellent former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who was a great supporter of proportional representation, say: “Under PR we would not have had Margaret Thatcher.”

I do not believe that the majority of the British people want a return to Thatcher, clothed this time as Cameron, or similar if Dave doesn’t go the distance.

When our electorate did not give any political party a clear majority in the 2010 election, they were telling the political class that they did not want either of the two main parties to govern. This can and does happen. We have, in fact, had a number of hung parliaments since the Second World War, including 1964, twice in 1974 as well as 2010. It seems that British politicians just cannot accept that sometimes it will be like this and that not every general election will produce a clear mandate for one particular party. Our continental counterparts take a much more mature view and are not afraid to form coalition governments when their electorate wishes this to happen. 

Strong government does not always equate to good government the “of the people, by the people, for the people” variety. Voting yes to AV will make the way we choose our representatives fairer and provide a bulwark against governments who seek to impose their own misguided ideology no matter what the consequences may be for the majority of those who live in our country.

Ed Miliband says Yes to AV

Labour Party

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear I am absolutely delighted that Ed Miliband has given his unequivocal support for the Alternative Vote.

Ed is due to address a Labour “Yes” rally today, giving his first major speech on AV.  He will stress that “the time is ripe for change”.

This is indeed true.  First past the post effectively disenfranchises huge numbers of people. In a general election if you do not live in a seat which may change party, you’re vote is essentially worthless. It’s because of this that people try and vote tactically. The best that can be said for this is that it’s a hit and miss method of choosing your MP and doesn’t really work as a large number of people are required to vote tactically for it to have any discernible effect.

AV, however, would allow voters to rank candidates with preferences being transferred until one candidate receives over half the votes cast. Since this was the system used to elect Ed Miliband as Labour’s leader, I would have thought Labour Party members would be used to it and agree that it is, in fact, much fairer than the current majoritarian method used for the House of Commons.

Ed will today also urge Labour supporters to ignore the temptation to vote “no” in order to damage Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, saying, “We can’t reduce the second referendum in British political history to the betrayal of one man. I supported the inclusion of an AV referendum in our manifesto. If it was right then, it is right now.”

Labour Party members should back our Leader on AV and campaign for a yes vote. We are the only country in the EU which elects its national parliament by first past the post. It’s high time Britain moved into the modern world.