If you want PR, vote Yes tomorrow

If the system can be changed once, it can be changed twice.

One of the biggest problems for the Yes to AV campaign has been that many of its own supporters aren't keen on the system. Ben Bradshaw, for instance, who is now leading the Labour Yes campaign, did little to disguise his opposition to AV when he spoke to the New Statesman in November 2009.

As 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.

Before the referendum, Alan Johnson, one of Labour's most passionate electoral reformers, admitted: "I'll support AV, but my heart won't be in it in the same way as if it was the proper thing."

Some supporters of proportional representation (PR), most notably the former SDP leader David Owen, are so opposed to AV that they are calling for a No vote tomorrow. Others may choose to stay at home on the day. Why get out of bed for a "miserable little compromise"?

But if AV is rejected tomorrow (and the final ICM poll puts the No campaign 36 points ahead), there is almost no chance of a future referendum on PR. If the British people won't vote for moderate change, the anti-reformists will argue, how can they be expected to vote for radical change? First-past-the-post would be not just preserved but strengthened by a No vote.

By contrast, a Yes vote tomorrow would increase the possibility of a subsequent transition to proportional representation. If the system can be changed once, it can be changed twice. As Nigel Farage puts it in his interview with the Spectator's David Blackburn, AV is "a crack in the damn". A Yes vote would banish the myth that there is no popular demand for reform, that any system other than FPTP is not "British". Only the most masochistic electoral reformer would vote No tomorrow.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.