Electoral reform is not just an “elite” cause

The overwhelming majority of voters now support reform.

The news that Nick Clegg will announce the details of a referendum on the Alternative Vote next week has already prompted a series of clichéd and discredited arguments from anti-reformists in both the Conservatives and Labour.

Here is Andy Burnham, a contender for the Labour leadership, on the subject:

Let's not get obsessed by this issue, because it really is irrelevant. It's a kind of fringe pursuit for Guardian-reading classes.

And here is the Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski:

This is just something that the liberal elite of this country, a very small group, are trying to implement.

This barely qualifies as an argument. That a cause may be supported by the "liberal elite" has no bearing on its rightness or wrongness. Was the campaign against capital punishment irrelevant because it was led by the educated elite?

But in fact, the claim that electoral reform is a "fringe pursuit", were it ever true, has been comprehensively disproved. A recent ComRes poll found that 78 per cent of voters now support replacing first-past-the-post with a system that "reflects more accurately the proportion of votes cast for each party".

There are principled arguments against proportional representation (of which AV is not an example) -- that it would lead to permanent coalition government, for instance -- but the anti-reformist movement does itself no favours by continuing to employ the lazy and tired charge that electoral reform is an "elite" cause.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.