Making the Case for AV

Ed Mili…Edward Miliband has made some good judgement calls recently, balancing his rather unwise “I have a dream” moment at Hyde Park. (Historians will not, I suggest, draw a linear connection from the Suffragettes to the Right Honourable Member for Doncaster South).

First good call – supporting the “Yes” campaign for the AV referendum, which should ensure a decent turnout amongst Labour supporters, many of whom still smart from Tony Blair’s dismissal of all things related to constitutional reform. (It was Blair who asked Roy Jenkins to come up with a new voting system for Westminster. When he did so – a modified form of AV called “AV+”, Blair decided he didn’t like having his eyes glazed over by policy documents so dumped them without apology).

Miliband’s support for AV is significant in this age of Coalition government. He is confident – and genuinely so, it seems – that there still can be bridges built between Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, and others ‘of the centre and left’, to use his phrase. It ensures that he can have some of his words from last year pinned on him – that Labour under his leadership won’t oppose for the sake of it. He makes the case for AV fairly and reasonably, unlike NO2AV, whose ignorance and groundless claims have been rightly ridiculed from the start.

“Having words from the past pinned on you” draws me to my second tick against Edward’s actions. He has, quite rightly, ensured Nick Clegg is nowhere near the Yes campaign stage. Nick is currently on some kind of Deputy PM fact-finding tour in Mexico, speaking Spanish no less, so is as far away from the Yes crowd as could possibly be. This is very good news. Clegg’s “calamity” moments from the last election do tend to keep stacking up, not least his label “miserable little compromise” attached to the AV voting system he is now supporting.

Making the case for AV is absolutely vital for the wider constitutional health of our country. The chance for change is not mere rhetoric. Saying “No” to AV would mean slamming the door on almost every other reform agenda – the House of Lords especially, possibly even the proposals to allow binding referendums on council tax increases currently in the Localism Bill. Importantly “no” would mean “NO!” for generations. We would be lumbered, stuck, anchored to and disabled by the first-past-the-post system for decades to come, never again able to revisit the question of voting reform, trapped in the frigid Hell of small-c conservative opinions.

AV is not perfect, though it offers much more for our democratic process than FPTP ever would. It would stop this nonsense of candidates becoming very handsomely salaried law makers on 33% (or less) popularity in the constituency they claim to represent. Every candidate from all parties would need to work that little bit harder, sell their candidature that little bit harder, to ensure the magic 50% mark was reached. This silly “one person, one vote” campaign on the NO side, launched today, misses the point entirely. AV gives people ONE vote – just the ONE – which is given to candidates other than the initial leader under specific circumstances. There is no more “loonies deciding elections” than under FPTP (I have been around elections long enough to know how many people go into polling booths to choose one party as an alternative to their first preference, usually BNP or other extreme frapperies)

Making the case for AV means being able to concede that some problems with Coalition government is misplaced. Political rivals can, and should, work together. Political parties are not, here or anywhere, ‘walled gardens’. There can be shades of grey. Standing still, trapped within dogma, leads to stagnation. Making the small step to AV opens up the possibility of better, more proportional systems, and if STV is good enough for Scotland and if d’Hondt is good enough for Great Britain’s allocation to the European Parliament, then something over and beyond AV is surely decent enough for Westminster.

I agree with Edward. AV must pass. It may be the darkest irony that a Liberal Democrat leader cannot be associated with voting reform, but such sacrifices are often needed in the march towards the greater good. Join Ickle Ed and other progressives – and that includes the Liberal Democrats…and Nigel Farage…and vote YES to AV.

AVin’ a larf

Those of you with difficulty sleeping may have already noticed how long the House of Lords has held onto the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill. Having started before Christmas, it’s still there and they’re still at it.

One look at the amount of amendments lodged should give a clue as to what is holding back the Bill .

Essentially this Bill is in two halves, and reflects the compromise which ultimately brought the Coalition together. Reducing the number of MPs from the Cameron camp, removing the skewed and failed First Past the Post coming from Clegg. The one Bill – I’ll call it “PVSaC”, which sounds like a minor player in the first post-Communist elections in Transnistria – has joined a whole swathe of constitutional reform coming from the Conservative-led Government, and heaven knows we’ve been waiting for the Tories to flood the Commons with reform (voting change, fixed-term Parliaments, directly elected police chiefs, referendums on proposed council tax rises, what a time to be alive, etc.)

Labour’s foot-dragging has been an affront to democracy. They daren’t even put the door of reform ajar; they would rather lock it shut. Labour’s dinosaurs (“they’re off the leash, as Clegg put it, somewhat muddled) have not “scrutinised” the Bill, they have torn it to shreds. They patronise the electorate – (“People aren’t used to referendums” they say, “They might not know how to cope with multiple ballot papers on the same day”, treating voters as fools for the basis of a strawman argument made not from common-sense but spit and string.)

Make no mistake – this Bill is in serious danger of being talked out. Today, tomorrow and Wednesday is all it has left to have any chance to survive. Labour’s wrecking amendments have already pushed back polling day from May to October, and have promised to talk out the constituency boundary review section until they drop dead rather than hand the Conservatives with constitutional victory. The AV referendum may be suffocated before it is given to the people to decide. How offensive that Labour will be the Party who deny the people a right to say how parliamentarians are voted.

I have been a passionate (and doubtlessly boring) advocate for constitutional reform all my life. It is one of the rare passions I have left. It frustrates and angers me that Labour, of all parties!, are now those standing against reform whilst the Conservatives, of all parties!, are left making the case for change. The decision to talk out the Bill will ultimately kill any chance of future reform for my life time, if not forever.

Between today and Wednesday the future of democratic reform will be drawn. To borrow a phrase; “the Bill has been torn to shreds, the pieces are in flux, what happens when they rest is up to us. Let’s reshape the country.”