Friday, July 02, 2010

The fault lines in Labour's approach to fair votes

Two different messages from two different Labour leadership contenders today on voting reform. Having previously said something vaguely positive about Andy Burnham a couple of weeks ago, now I need to rebalance my judgement of him. He was very dismissive of electoral reform in The Guardian this morning. It seems that, for him, reforming the decrepit way our country has been run is not a priority. I suspect he is in something of an arms race with other Labour leadership contenders to outbid them on being the nastiest to the Lib Dems.

David Miliband however has just gone up in my estimation. He unhesitatingly backed the call for AV on Radio 4 this morning. This does begin to throw some light on what Labour's actual view on reforming the voting system is. In the last Parliament, Labour announced a manifesto commitment to the AV referendum. This however had to be dragged out of them only after they realised there was a public demand for reform which they felt obliged to address. It is questionable as to how far they were prepared to go in actively pursuing the policy.

It is likely that there are two main groupings within Labour: the diehard reactionaries who want to keep first past the post even if it means long term Tory majority government (which has been the most regular outcome of FPTP) and those who understand and accept the merits of voting reform. Around these two groups is a nebulous bunch with no fixed view. It will be interesting to see however which MPs eventually back which positions once they are smoked out of the nebulous stance.

There are significant fault lines in Labour on reforming the UK. The coming referendum campaign could well see more surprising and not surprising coalitions forming as the diehards in Labour join forces with the Tory right to try to defeat reform.
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