Cross in the Box

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Labour MPs bopped up and down like hyperactive children during the announcement on constitutional reform. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had walked into the Chamber with the kind of reform for which the Labour Party was once known. Following 13 years of virtual inactivity from Labour on voting reform and constitutional renewal, the Party now seem to be going around cutting off their noses to spite their supporters.

Remember the Labour Party promise to change the voting system? It was first written in 1996, fought on in the 1997 election, and then dumped in the long grass for fear of handing the Conservatives a majority. Now they act like spoiled children, afraid of the improvements which are proposed as they sit still stunned by their election defeat. It’s like having an argument with a teenager; confident by their stance for a few stubborn months before changing their mind without notice a week or so later on.

Labour are afraid of change. Suddendly the Coalition government are talking their language; reform, renewal, progression, the Conservative Party speaking with a liberal accent. For 13 years, Labour barely touched constituentional reform, stuffing the House of Lords with more unelected members than ever before, and making changes to the postal vote rules which one election court judge described as “being akin to a banana republic”.

Labour are frightened of the Equal Constituency size plans because they sit pretty in undersized urban seats. They fear AV – after losing an election promising AV in their manifesto – because it may mean working in coalition with other parties after 2015. And they cannot stand the idea of fixed term Parliaments – another promise – because it takes control out of their hands.

Nick Clegg is holding another winning hand. Labour are sitting in the mud of their own contradictions and stubborn opposition for the sake of it. Renewal should be at the centre of our broken, tired, outdated constitution. Labour was once the Party which stood against the establishment, wanting equality for all, demanding the changes to renew the nation. Now Labour stick to the old routine, dumping their newest and freshest members into opposing these worthwhile changes like so many young men dumped into Occupied France.

Labour was the future, once. When it learns how to be an effective Opposition, maybe there will be some hope. For now, every Labour MP who stands against AV, fixed term Parliaments, and constituency shape reform, simply looks petulant and provocotive.