Labour divided over tactical voting

Blair and Brown say “Vote Labour” and former PM rejects idea that electoral reform is key to progres

The fallout from Mehdi Hasan's interview with Ed Balls, in which the tribalist-turned-realist joined Peter Hain in urging Labour supporters to vote tactically, continues today with something of a backlash among senior Labour figures.

Gordon Brown has called on the electorate simply to "vote Labour" and Tony Blair has said: "It is simple . . . Vote for what you believe in. If you think their polices are good, vote for them, but if you don't, don't.

"The Lib Dems are not going out to people and saying, 'Vote Labour'; they are trying to take seats off us."

The internal backlash over tactical voting is probably, as I said yesterday, because vote share is suddenly a factor in this election after years of accepting the madnesses of our discredited first-past-the-post electoral system.

Talking of which, the Independent today refreshes its long-standing campaign for electoral reform, calling for tactical voting to ensure that the one party which still backs FPTP -- the Tories -- is kept out of office. The paper identifies the issue as crucial for progress.

In contrast, Blair hits out at that view, saying: "There is no perfect electoral system. By all means choose the system you prefer, but the notion that it is the defining progressive cause is completely ridiculous."

Many in Labour -- including, paradoxically, Blair's old nemesis Balls -- may agree. But others could be forgiven for feeling that, had Blair and Brown done more to take forward electoral reform -- including AV+, proposed by the late Roy Jenkins in a report commissioned by the former prime minister -- Labour would be in a much stronger position to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats this week.



James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary and former deputy leader, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.