Brown has missed the chance for real electoral reform

The Alternative Vote can prove even less proportional than FPTP.

So, 13 years after Labour first promised a referendum on electoral reform, Gordon Brown has finally guaranteed to hold one. Reform is now on offer, but of the most limited kind possible.

Brown's first mistake was to reject the bold option, favoured by Alan Johnson and others, of holding a referendum before or on the day of the general election -- with the result that a referendum is now unlikely to take place.

His second mistake was to adopt the Alternative Vote (AV) as his system of choice. AV has the benefit of eliminating the need for tactical voting by allowing electors to rank candidates by preference but it is not a proportional system.

Indeed, it can produce even more distorted outcomes than first-past-the-post (FPTP). The Jenkins Commission found that, had the 1997 election been held under AV, Labour's majority would have ballooned from 179 to 245.

It said:

A "best guess" projection of the shape of the current [1997-2001] parliament under AV suggests on one highly reputable estimate the following outcome with the actual FPTP figures given in brackets after the projected figures: Labour 452 (419), Conservative 96 (165), Liberal Democrats 82 (46), others 29 (29).

Had Brown come out in favour of proportional representation (PR), he could have begun a realignment of the left and ended the stranglehold of a handful of marginal voters on British politics. Instead, he has left Labour open to charges of cowardice from reformers and of opportunism from opponents.

Brown's Damascene conversion to electoral reform is transparently motivated by a desire to win over the Lib Dems in a hung parliament, but it is unlikely to achieve even this. Many Lib Dem MPs fear that a referendum on AV could settle the issue for a generation, ruling out any lingering possibility of PR.

Brown's political fudge has ended up pleasing almost no one.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump's healthcare failure could be to his advantage

The appearance of weakness is less electorally damaging than actually removing healthcare from millions of people.

Good morning. Is it all over for Donald Trump? His approval ratings have cratered to below 40%. Now his attempt to dismantle Barack Obama's healthcare reforms have hit serious resistance from within the Republican Party, adding to the failures and retreats of his early days in office.

The problem for the GOP is that their opposition to Obamacare had more to do with the word "Obama" than the word "care". The previous President opted for a right-wing solution to the problem of the uninsured in a doomed attempt to secure bipartisan support for his healthcare reform. The politician with the biggest impact on the structures of the Affordable Care Act is Mitt Romney.

But now that the Republicans control all three branches of government they are left in a situation where they have no alternative to Obamacare that wouldn't either a) shred conservative orthodoxies on healthcare or b) create numerous and angry losers in their constituencies. The difficulties for Trump's proposal is that it does a bit of both.

Now the man who ran on his ability to cut a deal has been forced to make a take it or leave plea to Republicans in the House of Representatives: vote for this plan or say goodbye to any chance of repealing Obamacare.

But that's probably good news for Trump. The appearance of weakness and failure is less electorally damaging than actually succeeding in removing healthcare from millions of people, including people who voted for Trump.

Trump won his first term because his own negatives as a candidate weren't quite enough to drag him down on a night when he underperformed Republican candidates across the country. The historical trends all make it hard for a first-term incumbent to lose. So far, Trump's administration is largely being frustrated by the Republican establishment though he is succeeding in leveraging the Presidency for the benefit of his business empire.

But it may be that in the failure to get anything done he succeeds in once again riding Republican coattails to victory in 2020.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.