Labour’s failure on electoral reform

Peter Mandelson is in denial.

At this morning's Labour Party press conference, I asked Lord Mandelson, the party's election campaign chief, how Labour can claim to advocate root-and-branch political and constitutional reform when it is offering a referendum on changing the electoral system from first-past-the-post (FPTP) to the Alternative Vote (AV).

As an analysis in today's Independent makes clear, AV can, on occasion, be more disproportional than FPTP. The article's author, Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, says:

Under the Alternative Vote the Liberal Democrats would fare much better. Under this system voters place candidates in rank order - 1, 2, 3 and so on. If no candidate wins 50 per cent of the first-preference vote, then the votes of candidates at the bottom of the poll are redistributed in accordance with those voters' second preferences, and so on, until someone passes the 50 per cent mark.

Nick Clegg's party tends to be everyone's second choice. As many as 68 per cent of Labour supporters say they would give a second-preference vote to the Liberal Democrats, as do 41 per cent of Conservatives.

So if the Liberal Democrats are running second in a constituency, they can hope to leapfrog into first place on the back of second preferences cast by third-placed Conservative or Labour supporters.

The party might win up to twice as many seats -- 217 -- as they would under the current system.

Yet it would be Labour, with 238 seats, that would still be the largest party. The Conservatives, meanwhile, would be a poor third with just 163 seats.

. . . So, under Labour's proposed alternative, not only would the party that was third in votes still come first in seats, but in addition the party that came first in votes would be a poor third in seats. One wonders whether voters will regard this as an improvement.

Indeed. And Curtice is not alone in his analysis of AV and its flaws -- Roy Jenkins's report on electoral reform, commissioned by Tony Blair and published in 1998, concluded that the Alternative Vote would have delivered an even bigger majority to Labour in 1997.

This morning, however, Mandelson chose to fob me off with a line about Labour being the only party offering a referendum on electoral reform. True. But what kind of reform? Is AV fair enough? Does it go far enough? And, perhaps above all else, will it be enough to buy Lib Dem support in a hung parliament? I very much doubt it.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Theresa May wants a Global Britain? Then stay in the single market

The entrepreneur Lord Bilimoria argues the Prime Minister risks both the prosperity and reputation of the UK. 

Since coming to the UK as a student in the early 1980s, I have witnessed the shattering of its glass ceiling and the birth of one of the world’s most enterprising nations. Much of this progress is now under threat due to the great uncertainty Brexit is causing.

It has been six months since the referendum, and we are still presented with no clear strategy except a blind leap of faith out of the single market. By continuing to pursue a closed and inward-looking Brexit, Theresa May risks both the prosperity and reputation of this country. 

Last week I joined with thirty other entrepreneurs and business leaders in urging the Prime Minister to keep Britain within the EU single market. In the coming months Mrs May will face having to make a trade-off between immigration control and loss of single market access. The decision she makes will determine whether we retain much of our economic strength. 

That is why I was disappointed to see May’s most recent comments simply reinforcing the message that the government is pursuing a "hard" Brexit. Over the weekend her big interview sent the pound plunging – yet again. 

It is clear the government is solely focused on delivering stricter immigration regulation, regardless of whether it leaves Britain stranded outside the single market. To fall into the trap of calling the PM "Theresa Maybe" masks the decisive nature of her emerging strategy – which is to head for the hardest of exits.

We know that neither Council President Donald Tusk nor chief negotiator Michel Barnier will accept access to the single market without freedom of movement being part of the deal. This is incompatible with the vision set out by the government.

Yet, movement and access to the single market are vital to the future interests of British business. The PM must do more to reassure those set to be affected. We are currently part of a 500m-strong single market; this is good for British business. Although I believe the whole of Europe needs to reform the current free movement of people, not least for security reasons, we nevertheless must continue to have the ability to move freely within the EU for tourism, business and work.

It is becoming unequivocally clear that the PM is willing to pay any economic price to achieve stricter immigration controls for political gain. Driven by the fear that the far-right will use immigration in future election battlegrounds, the issue of immigration is undermining our ability to negotiate an exit from the EU that is in the best interest of businesses and the nation as a whole. 

The government’s infuriating failure to prioritise continued movement of people means we are set to lose a hugely competitive edge, reducing access to talented employees, and undermining the UK’s rich history of an open, diverse, and welcoming nation.  

To achieve the government’s absurd immigration control, we will have to leave the European single market. In doing so 44 per cent of our exports, the current percentage that go to Europe, will be jeopardised, as they will no longer have free access to their original markets. 

In tandem with an exit from the world’s largest single market, British business will also lose access to one of the strongest international talent pools. This has the potential to be even more devastating than the forfeiture of markets and trade.

Access to skilled workers is critical to future success. As a nation we have the lowest level of unemployment in living memory with less than 5 per cent currently out of work, and that’s in spite of 3.6m people from the EU working in Britain.

Britain will continue to need the expertise that free movement currently provides, regardless of whether Brexit happens or not. You cannot simply replace the skilled doctors, nurses or teachers living and working here overnight. 

The focus on immigration has also strayed into more dangerous territory with the government persisting in including international students as immigrants when calculating net migration figures, whilst having a target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. The PM’s insistence on this policy not only stifles encouragement of talent flows, but also sends an incredibly negative message to the international community. It is a policy that I have continually called on the PM to change and I will continue to do so.

Our competitor countries, the United States, Canada, and Australia, do not categorise international students as immigrants and, in fact, they also provide generous incentives to stay in their countries to work after graduating. In comparison, we removed our popular two year post-study work visa in 2012.

Brexit poses an increasingly dangerous reality that we are destined to be viewed as an inward-looking, insular and intolerant nation. That is not the Britain I know and love. That is not the Britain that has attracted enterprising individuals. The UK needs to establish itself once more as an outward-facing nation that welcomes international talent and entrepreneurship. This starts with retaining membership of the single market.  

Lord Karan Bilimoria is a leading British businessman and the founder of Cobra Beer.