Labour's dinosaurs shift the odds against electoral reform

Prescott, Blunkett, Beckett and Reid join the No to AV campaign.

The Jurassic wing of the Labour Party has joined the fight against electoral reform. The No to AV campaign has announced that Margaret Beckett will serve as its President with David Blunkett, Charles Falconer, John Prescott, John Reid and Emily Thornberry joining as patrons. The Conservative patrons are Ken Clarke, William Hague, Steve Norris and Tory chairman Baroness Warsi.

The involvement of big hitters such as Clarke and Prescott (a formidable campaigner) gives the No campaign the cross-party respectability it needs and further shifts the odds against electoral reform. Unless the Yes campaign starts to recruit some of its own big beats, it will be in danger of looking like a a Lib Dem front. The real fight for votes doesn't begin until next year, of course, but support for the Alternative Vote has already fallen from 44 per cent in June to just 32 per cent in the most recent poll. Meanwhile, support for first-past-the-post has risen from 34 per cent to 43 per cent.

The biggest problem for the Yes camp is that while one meets passionate supporters of first-past-the-post and passionate supporters of proportional representation, one meets very few passionate supporters of AV. Most of the key supporters of the Yes campaign view the system, as Nick Clegg once put it, as a "miserable little compromise".

Ben Bradshaw, for instance, who is now leading a Labour campaign for AV, did little to disguise his opposition to the system when he spoke to the New Statesman last year. He said:

The reason I've never supported AV is that it would have given us an even bigger majority in 1997, and it would have given the Tories an even bigger majority in 1983, and probably 1987 as well.

As Reid notes in today's Telegraph, even the Electoral Reform Society, which is bankrolling the Yes campaign, issued a press release just hours before the coalition was formed, pointing out that "AV would prove a very modest reform... Significant regional imbalances would remain between main parties".

If even the Yes campaign isn't keen on AV, is it any surprise that the voters aren't?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.