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26 November 2010

Labour’s dinosaurs shift the odds against electoral reform

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

By George Eaton

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:

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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?