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8 June 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:18am

Labour must not play politics with the electoral reform referendum

To say “No” like the Tories would be unforgivable cynicism.

By James Macintyre

What with Jack Straw already beginning to make negative noises about Nick Clegg’s political reform package, an ugly rumour is making the rounds in Westminster. The idea is being floated by some conservative Labourites that the opposition could join with the Tories in opposing the introduction of the Alternative Vote system (not proportional, but better than no change) in a referendum later in this parliament.

The move would be justified by some other element of the package, and result in the Lib Dems’ dream of change dying a death. The coalition, so the theory goes, would then be in real trouble.

All very nice and well, but — and you do not have to be a supporter of the coalition to believe this, far from it — this is precisely the sort of opportunism that Labour has rightly accused the Tories of showing in opposition over the years. Just as David Cameron would be deeply wrong to allow the national Union to be undermined for party advantage, so Labour would be wrong to try to create cracks in the coalition by pursuing conservative policies.

After all, there are loads of real cracks to be found in what remains a fairly principle-free alliance.

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This matters when it comes to the Labour leadership contest, too. The winning candidate must put pluralism and progressive politics above narrow, tribal party interest. Indeed, the only way for Labour to take on this coalition properly is for it to outflank the Con-Libs by becoming the true party of electoral, constitutional and political reform. Which means that a far smarter move than saying “No” would be to skip to backing true proportional representation.

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