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.

A Message from David Miliband

Labour Party

I am putting this letter from David Miliband on my blog as it’s important that as many Labour Party members as possible see it.  Please do read David’s message and circulate it as widely as you possibly can. 

David is saying:

“It’s a privilege and an honour to be nominated as a candidate for the leadership of the Party I love.

Yes I’d like your vote. But I’m not writing about that today – this is about something bigger.

 I’m writing to ask you to join me on a journey to examine, redefine and rebuild our Party. Because to be frank – I need you.

 Robin Cook was exactly right when he said that “Political parties do not achieve renewal by shuffling staff in their Leader’s office, but by changing the culture, priorities and direction of the organisation.”

 And I believe that the change we need can only happen if each of us come together to rebuild our Party from the grassroots up.

 So I come to you with a single and simple request. To ask you to join me in our campaign to rebuild our Party:

 For too long Labour has failed its members. We’ve hidden you away in the shadows – when you should’ve been the heart and soul of our movement.

 This cannot and should not go on. By coming together I believe we can unite every part of our Party.

 Together we’ll guarantee that members have a central role in Labour – and the first step towards that is an elected Party Chair.

 We’ll fight the Tories tooth and nail as they try to gerrymander the political system including our link to the Unions.  We’ll rebuild, with 1000 future leaders across the length and breadth of Britain trained in community organising, and we’ll double our membership.

 We’ll reinforce the vital role that local elected representatives play by welcoming the Leader of Labour’s Councillors to the Shadow Cabinet.  And we’ll make sure that Scotland and Wales have an active role in the NEC.

 But I don’t want our Party to just be a reflection of my ideas – I want it to be a reflection of yours.

 The first step in that conversation is joining me in our campaign to rebuild our Party:

 I know that the road ahead is difficult. But we need to change politics not just policy. Dialogue not deals is the key to our future.

 Throughout my adult life, Labour has given me so much. It is truly humbling to be considered as Leader. But this campaign means more to me than that.

 Win or lose I want this campaign to leave a lasting legacy that defines where our Party goes in the next few years – and that means putting you at the heart of our movement.

 We cannot wait for someone else, somewhere else to fix our Party – it’s up to me and you. And we don’t have a moment to waste.

 Please join our campaign to rebuild our Party now:

 I believe I have the values and vision to inspire our movement to dream of a better future.  I believe that I have the character and judgement to turn those dreams into reality. I want Labour to win again. I believe we can.

 And I want to do it, with you, together.

Thank you for your time.

David Miliband”