Don’t vote against AV because you hate Clegg

Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg will still be in the same jobs next week. A vote for or against AV

If you have ever been at an election count, you will know that there are many imaginative ways to waste your vote: obscenities on the ballot paper, several crosses, or writing "none of the above".

But in this referendum there is a new way to waste your vote: "I am voting No, to destroy Nick Clegg", or "I am voting Yes, to destroy David Cameron". If ever there were completely fatuous reasons to vote either for or against a change in the voting system, these have to win the prize.

First, if the much-predicted drubbing of the Liberal Democrats takes place in the local elections and there is a No vote in the referendum, Nick Clegg will not stand down as leader, of that I am absolutely certain.

In order to remove Clegg as leader, 75 Liberal Democrat constituency associations would each have to hold a fully quorate extra-general meeting to pass a motion saying that he should be removed, or half the parliamentary party would have to ask him to stand down. The reality is that the often-briefed-about future contenders do not have half the parliamentary party behind them.

True grit

It is the shock of defeat that often leads to the unseating of a leader. Well, no one is going to be shocked by a negative result for the Liberal Democrats that was predicted as far back as May last year while the print was still drying on the coalition agreement.

But what about Cameron? It has been a deft move on the part of the right of his party to make him sweat so much about the result that he had to get involved. There is no doubt that a year ago Cameron thought he could take a back seat on this campaign. Rumours abound he said as much to Nick Clegg.

But the right has put the willies up Cameron sufficiently to draw out some of his true campaigning style – the smoothie we've grown accustomed to has had a good dollop of grit thrown in. However, yet again, the likelihood of unseating Cameron as leader right now is extremely remote.

So if anyone is undecided how to vote, how about considering the arguments for or against? How about deciding for yourself, not because you love or hate Margaret Beckett, Colin Firth, Eddie Izzard, Nick Clegg or David Cameron, but because you agree with the policy arguments of one side or the other?

Of one thing I am certain: win or lose, both Cameron and Clegg will still be in the same jobs next week. So may I suggest to you that if you vote to "destroy" either one of them, yours will be a wasted vote.

Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

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