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.