Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Labour: stop blindly following your tribe and vote Yes in the AV referendum

For a moment, I felt utterly repulsed seeing the former Home Secretary John Reid on a platform with David Cameron yesterday, explaining why he was in favour of retaining the status quo for our voting system. But I quickly got over it – remembering how right-wing he was in Government. Reid is no progressive, but the worst kind of Labour dinosaur – a tribalist who is apologetic for a discredited and discounted form of politics. He must have felt at home with Cameron. Genuinely progressive politicians should have no business on platforms with Tory politicians – not on issues as fundamental to our democracy as this, anyway. But Reid, like Cameron, can't see beyond vested interest.

As anyone who reads my blog regularly will know, I’m voting Yes in the referendum on the Alternative Vote on 5 May. And while I relish the opportunity to convince others of why a Yes vote is a good idea, I'm increasingly sick and tired of the increasingly ignorant arguments put forward by opponents of AV. And I know it's not perfect. No voting system is perfect – our current system (First Past the Post) has proved that. But I can't get my head around why other so-called progressives – and by that I mean Labour or non-aligned left-leaning people – are campaigning for a No vote in the referendum.

Some just can't stand Nick Clegg and wish to spite him. Fair enough, but he won't be around forever the way the Coalition is going. The future of our democracy is, I hope is obvious, more important than any single politician, hated or not.

There also seem to be plenty of proportional representation (PR) purists that have sprung out of nowhere, who take a rather unrealistic view of how the British 'do' politics. These people seem to think that some sort of electoral reform revolution will happen, some time in the near future, when we’ll suddenly get full PR in whatever form that might take. A lot of liberal or left-leaning people seem to think this way. But the way things stand, the prospect of 'full PR' hasn’t got a cat’s chance in hell. The Alternative Vote – the arguments for which are simple and straightforward – is the only way of achieving the aim of electoral reform at this moment in time.

The only alternative I can imagine, should the Yes campaign fail, is a manifesto pledge by Ed Miliband to introduce the Alternative Vote or another system in the next Labour manifesto. That would probably preclude any possibility of further referendums and would certainly face opposition from the likes of John Reid in his own party.

The No campaign seems to have this one in the bag if we are to believe the polls. But, as I've said before, the future of British politics will actually mean a lot more coalitions. As a socialist I hope that means more governments which stand up for public services, a fairer economic system and greener policies. And we desperately need a voting system that reflects the will of the people – not a Tory-led government elected on less than 40% of the vote, and a Parliament composed of MPs with jobs for life because the electoral system makes it comfortable for them.

If Labour really is as progressive as it would like to think, party members should vote Yes. It’s not about the outcome of the next election, or the last election, or whether you think Nick Clegg is a sell-out. It’s about a long overdue reform to our Victorian voting system which belongs with gas-lamp lighters, workhouses and rickets – in the past.


Dicky Moore said...

I agree with most of this article, and share your disgust with these old Labour curmudgeons who are protecting their own narrow interests.

However, I think it will be highly unlikely that AV will be included in the Labour manifesto. Firstly, a referendum on AV was in their last manifesto, and secondly if there is a resounding "no" vote in the referendum, it would be ridiculous for the Labour party to then force AV on voters with only a general election mandate.

The only way I can see Labour including something in their manifesto is if they include a referendum on AV+. STV or another form of PR is too unpopular in the Labour party, but a referendum on AV+, the system invented by the Jenkins commission, could possibly be included in a manifesto, and has a higher chance of winning, because it maintains the constituency link but also makes up for the lack of proportionality.

It would be a real shame though as I think AV is better than AV+ as with AV+ there will be politicians on the party lists who we can’t get rid of it we want to. However, an AV+ referendum would be more likely to succeed as surely those who are against AV because they want PR would be able to support this system.

The fact we’re having this argument shows how cack-handed our political parties have handled the issue. There is an appetite for change, but we might not get change because by only allowing us a vote on AV has divided electoral reformists. It would have been much better if they followed New Zealand’s lead, and first asked us if we want change.

Once we have established that we want to replace our out-dated FPTP system, we can have a grown up debate about the kind of electoral system we really want.

Paul Prentice said...

Yes - I think you're right about AV not being in the next Labour manifesto if it doesn't get a Yes vote in the referendum. Off the top of my head, I was exploring possible ways forward should it fail. Ed would need a lot of convincing to put anything like PR in the next manifesto.

Thanks for the feedback anyway.

richard.moore said...

It's a very good post. If there is a NO vote, I hope that "the electoral reform cat" is now out of the bag and pressuer will be put on all parties to give us a proper chance to make the voting system fairer.

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