The biggest problem for the pro-AV campaign

Even its own supporters aren’t keen on it.

I've noted before that the biggest problem for the pro-AV campaign is that even its own supporters aren't keen on the system. Ben Bradshaw, for instance, who is now leading a Labour campaign for AV, told the New Statesman last year:

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.

Now, Alan Johnson, usually one of Labour's strongest supporters of electoral reform, has admitted that he's struggling to get excited about next May's referendum. In an interview with Fabian Review, he said:

I'll support AV, but my heart won't be in it in the same way as if it was the proper thing.

It's difficult to find anyone who's passionate about the system that Nick Clegg memorably described as a "miserable little compromise". At best, the Alternative Vote attracts lukewarm support from those who long for a genuinely proportional voting method. The Electoral Reform Society, for instance, 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."

The referendum won't be won or lost at Westminster, but it must be dispiriting for the Yes camp that so few politicians are prepared to lend it their wholehearted support.

A letter signed by 20 new Labour and Conservative MPs including Nick Boles, Tristram Hunt and Zac Goldsmith today rejects AV on the grounds that it is not a "priority" for the public. It's a hackneyed argument, but it's true that public support for reform has plummeted in recent months.

If the Yes camp is to stand a chance of winning the referendum, it will need to overcome public apathy. With this in mind, it might want to begin with its own supporters.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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