Would AV now hurt Labour and help the Tories?

Most Lib Dem second preferences would now go to the Tories, not Labour.

In the past, it was often assumed that the Alternative Vote (AV) would benefit Labour, as the party could bank on large numbers of second-preference votes from Lib Dem supporters.

One simulation by the Electoral Reform Society suggests that, had the last election been held under AV, Labour would have gained four seats, the Tories would have lost 25 and the Lib Dems would have gained 22. In 1997, thanks to anti-Tory tactical voting, Labour's majority would have swelled from 179 to 245. In 2005, it would have been 88 rather than 66.

But a new Channel 4/YouGov poll suggests that it's now the Tories, not Labour, who would gain most (or lose least) from AV.

As the table below shows, before the election Lib Dems voters would have split their second preferences in favour of Labour rather than the Tories (42 per cent to 27 per cent). Returning the compliment, 64 per cent of Labour voters would have put the Lib Dems as their second preference.

YouGov's estimate based on those splits is that this would have cost the Conservatives roughly 30 seats, with Labour gaining 11 and the Lib Dems 19.

AV Table

But in this era of "new politics" that's all changed. By a slight majority (see table below), Lib Dem voters now split in favour of the Tories (38 per cent) rather than Labour (33 per cent), while only 33 per cent of Labour supporters would back the Lib Dems.

The upshot of all this is that vote transfers from AV would now benefit the Tories more than Labour. If repeated at a general election, the transfers would have cost Labour 15 seats but the Tories would have lost just two. The Lib Dems would have gained 15 seats.

AV table 2

I'd expect these figures to strengthen the cause of those on the right (such as Philip Blond) who argue that the Tories have nothing to fear from AV. They should also increase the likelihood of a Tory-Lib Dem pact at the next election.

Meanwhile, in Labour, diehard tribalists such as John Prescott and Andy Burnham (electoral reform is of interest to "Guardian readers" only, apparently) will seize on the figures as evidence that the party should avoid the Alternative Vote at all costs.

But the lesson they should draw from this survey is quite a different one. If Labour wants to enter government after the next election, it will need Lib Dem support, be it from tactical voting or second-preference votes.

Figures like Prescott (a man who represents all that is wrong with Labourism) should drop the hectoring, condescending tone they use towards the Lib Dems and make a more constructive and sophisticated appeal to the party's supporters. As the data shows, hurling abuse at the Lib Dems isn't going to win Labour any votes.

Special subscription offer: Get 12 issues for £12 plus a free copy of Andy Beckett's "When the Lights Went Out".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
Show Hide image

Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.