Guardian verdict on voting reform: “Mr Clegg spoke for progress; Mr Straw for reaction.”

The Guardian has not always been kind to the Coalition since its formation; still less to the Lib Dems. But its stinging rebuke to Labour’s “opposition for opposition’s sake” — with its attempt last night cynically to torpedo the Lib/Con government’s electoral reform measures — might perhaps give the new party leader pause for thought.

In the topsy-turvy world of Coalition politics, two parties which do not support the alternative vote last night voted to endorse a referendum on it; while the party which pledged to introduce it in its manifesto decided to jettison that promise.

It was an irony The Guardian notes today:

[Jack Straw] led his party in opposition to Mr Clegg’s bill and found many Tory MPs were prepared to lend him their support. He will have been pleased with his day’s work. But he was on the wrong side. Mr Clegg spoke for progress; Mr Straw for reaction. Labour has got its teeth into the government, but at some cost to the cause of reform. Earlier this year Labour wanted a vote on the alternative vote, for good reasons. Now it is against a bill that will allow one. …

Last year, after the parliamentary expenses debacle, Labour came out in support of AV. … The party was right to back AV then, and it should back it still. Nothing, in principle, has changed – only parliamentary arithmetic and Labour’s desire to punish the Lib Dems for joining the Conservatives in government. … A rare and great opportunity for progress is being missed.

Labour’s former communications chief, Alastair Campbell, is fond of denouncing other parties for failing to distinguish between tactics (the short-term, ‘get a good front page’) and strategy (the long-term, ‘get an election-winning narrative’). Yesterday, his beloved Labour party showed how you can have great fun shouting from the terraces while still scoring a huge own goal.

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  • Colin Green 7th Sep '10 - 10:41am

    Will there be time for Labour to get over themselves before the referendum? There must be some support within the party to have had it in their manifesto for the last 4 general elections. Will they return their focus to the good of the country in time to run a good YES campaign?

  • John Fraser 7th Sep '10 - 11:00am

    The irony runs both ways . here we are trying to enthusiastcally support a non proportional system on the grounds that it is a ‘stepping stone’ as if that is a somehow obvious (which it is not). In reality we know deep down that some of our reasons are selfish ones . AV may stop a Lib dem melt down but will do nothing for the Greens or other smaller paties.
    Labour are objecting to the timing of the referendum and the diminishing number of MPs. I have some sympathy with the first argument as it will scew turnout where there are local elections, while diminishing MPs by only 50 does seem a little strange. Ofcourse Labour also have a hidden aganda many in the Labour party and the Lib Dems as well are genuinely shocked by the Neo Con approach of this government to cuts and public services. If we want to call their bluff on this issue though simply change the date and keep the number of MPs the same. Lets stop being hollier than thou though … after our U turn on cuts one day after the election we can’t get away with that rtactic any more .

  • I think if we keep the number of MPs the same and don’t fiddle with the way of determing seat numbers then Labour will support the referendum. It’s not a case of calling anyone’s bluff.

    The timing issue is important as the disastrous count for the last Scottish elections showed with 100,000 spolit ballot papers when voters had to chose a Scottish Parliament by AMS and councils by STV on the same day.

  • @Liberal Neil
    Wouldn’t you agree that the resizing of constituencies should be of all potential voters and not registered voters? The latter choice seems a bit fishy to me, in all honesty.

  • Malcolm Todd 7th Sep '10 - 4:15pm

    @Liberal Neil
    Wouldn’t you agree that the resizing of constituencies should be of all potential voters and not registered voters? The latter choice seems a bit fishy to me, in all honesty.

    Actually, I don’t buy this argument at all. Certainly, we should try to get everybody who is entitled to vote registered to vote (and it is a scandal that the coalition has cut funding to programmes designed to help with that). But basing size of constituency on anything other than number of registered voters seems to me wrong in principle. Fundamentally, why should the fact that my neighbours are students, or immigrants, or families with large numbers of children, or even “potential voters” with a transient lifestyle or a deep suspicion of all authority mean that I should get a bigger say in forming the government and laws of the country? I don’t represent my neighbours, nor pretend to.

  • Stuart Mitchell 7th Sep '10 - 6:58pm

    Liberal Neil: I think you’ll find that the bill’s exemption for certain (mostly Lib Dem-held) Scottish seats makes Liberals sound somewhat ridiculous when ponitifcating about the rights and wrongs in all this.

  • @Malcolm Todd
    Every citizen of this country-student, large family, transient etc, is entitled to a vote-as are you. Indeed, for you to suggest that- what you consider to be your superior lifestyle- makes you somehow more entitled, is arrogant in the extreme.
    Your attitude is what is driving away decent libdems in their thousands and one of the reasons libdem councillors are either begging to join the labour party or keeping away in shame at their leadership’s behaviour from the doorsteps.

  • I cannot stand the sight of that terrible man, Straw (he who brought in child curfews and proposed a national code of children’s bedtimes), but I cannot help but observe that he succeeded in pummelling Clegg into the ground.

    The weakening of Parliament through the reduction in the number of MPs is a retrograde move that no Liberal Democrat should support. The boundary review is a devious device to banish the Lib Dems to the “Celtic fringe” by continually fiddling with constituency boundaries. As for AV, that will have the effect of breathing life back into the Labour Party in areas where we have eliminated them, thereby fragmenting the opposition. For us as a party, it is lose, lose, lose.

    Clegg no longer speaks as a Liberal Democrat, though he is notionally at least our leader. He is a PR man for a right-wing Tory government, and the sooner we face up to that horrible reality, the better.

  • Malcolm Todd 8th Sep '10 - 11:41am

    Please read other people’s posts carefully before making abuve personal responses. If you don’t understand what’s been said, ask for clarification, rather than making nasty assumptions. Just for you, let me spell out what I was saying (and apologies to all for the resulting unnecessary length):

    The argument is being made by many people that it is unfair to use size of electorate as the supreme criterion for determining constituency size, because some constituencies (particularly in inner cities) have lots of unregistered voters and/or high populations of non-voters. Labour MPs in particular argue that the presence of these unregistered voters or non-voters means that they are “representing” more people than the size of the electorate in their constituencies suggests. These unregistered voters and non-voters tend, of course, to fall into categories like those that I listed before: “students, or immigrants, or families with large numbers of children, or even potential voters with a transient lifestyle or a deep suspicion of all authority”.

    Now, the Labour Party’s argument is, in effect, that constituencies which have high such populations should be overrepresented in relation to the number of registered electors they have. That, however, does not in fact mean that the non-voters and unregistered voters in those constituencies magically have representation, because – guess what? – they don’t, can’t vote.

    So who benefits, by getting a vote that counts more than most people’s? The other people – those with “superior lifestyles”, to use your term – who happen to live in those constituencies do. I’m saying that that should not be the case. At the moment, the system defended by the Labour party does distort the system in exactly this way.

    It is simply not possible to cast this as me “suggesting that I am somehow more entitled” unless you are using words to mean whatever you want them to mean, which only Humpty Dumpty is allowed to do. If you were careless and misread my original post, an apology would be nice. If you’re just using this forum to spew bile at anyone with any connection with the liberal democrats to make you feel better, then do feel free to think of some more plausible way in which I’ve just demonstrated my moral turpitude.

  • Liberal Neil there is no general over-representation of Scotland, only in the large rural seats that we hold. When the Scottish Parliament was formed the number of Scottish MPs was reduced from 72 to 59.

    I am not sure why this myth persists other than a deliberate distortion by racist right-wing newspapers which other people inadvertantly pick up.

  • @malcolm

    Apologies , Malcolm.
    Totally misread your post. (Had a bad day)
    I used to vote libdem but am devastated at the way the leadersip and some voters / party members have supported the tories.
    Decent libdems are leaving in droves and libdem councillors are joining the labour party.

    If you want to equate anger at the unfairness of the cuts being made by the coalition -propped up by libdems who I thought were better than that -with “bile”, then that’s a sad day for the libdem party.

    Apologies again for” humpty dumptying” your post

  • Malcolm Todd 8th Sep '10 - 1:44pm


    Fair enough. I shall step down from my rather too-high horse.

    For what it’s worth, plenty of “decent” libdems are also staying in – in fact, it’s possible to regard draconian action on the deficit as necessary and even to regard reducing the size of the state as intrinsically desirable without being motivated by hatred of the poor, the vulnerable, or anyone who has the temerity to work in the public sector. Rather more common, I think (or perhaps only hope), are those of us who are either grimly clinging on, or sidling towards the exit with many a backward look, in the hope that things will get better. If you’ve been a Labour Party member at any point in the last 15 years (as I was), you must be familiar with that feeling!

  • Helen,

    Typical of hard Labour people who post on this site, you lace your remarks with wild claims which you do not deign to support with actual evidence.

    What evidence do you have that Liberal Democrats are leaving their party in droves?

    What evidence do you have that elected Liberal Democrat councillors are joining the Labour Party (over and above the normal trickle of defections in all directions)?

    If you want your opposition to the Liberal Democrats to be taken seriously, an enhanced attention to accuracy on your part would not come amiss.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '10 - 10:48am

    Helen, I go along with Sesenco. I have posted this a dunnamany times, but not ONCE have I got a serious reponse from all those people who post the sort of stuff here which you have posted.

    So, ONCE AGAIN …

    The 2010 general election left us with a Parliament where a Conservative-LibDem coalition would have a clear majority, but a Labour-LibDem coalition would not. It was at a time of economic crisis, when clear signals were being received that if there was no stable government for our country we would get seriously hit by the market uncertainty and lack of confidence in appropriate government action being taken that would generate.

    If the Liberal Democrats did not do what they did in May 2010, what else would you have had them do? Please answer the question in the context of the general election results we actually had rather than the general election results you and I would wish we had.

    There were two things that gave us the government we have:
    1) The people, who voted for the Conservative Party more than for any other party.
    2) The electoral system, which is supported by the Labour Party as much as it is supported by the Conservative Party on the grounds that it distorts representation in favour of the largest party which they say is a good thing because it makes coalitions less likely.

    Had politics in this country been what both Labour and the Conservatives would prefer – a two party system in which they are the two parties – we would have a clear Conservative majority now anyway. So isn’t it REALLY REALLY STUPID to say that because of the situation now we should join the Labour Party? Voting Labour means voting for a party which supports an electoral system which is twisted to give the largest party more seats than it wins in proportion of the votes, which means voting for a Conservative majority government in 2010.

    I think it rather obvious that a coalition government in which the Conservatives are the larger party and the Liberal Democrats the smaller one, is going to be more Conservative than Liberal Democrat. That is made more so by the distorted electoral system which Labour supports BECAUSE IT THINKS THIS DISTORTION IS A VERY GOOD THING which means the Liberal Democrats have far fewer seats than their proportion of votes and the Conservatives far more and which therefore severely limits the impact the Liberal Democrats can have in the coalition.

    The Liberal Democrats as a party have ended up being forced to “support the Conservatives” because that is democracy. In the same way the Labour Party supports the Conservatives because it accepts the Conservatives won the election. What else could either party do short of mounting a military coup and overturning the democratically elected government on the grounds it does not like what the people voted in?

    I am VERY disappointed at the way the leadership of the Liberal Democrats have handled it, too much smug “we’re in the government now”, not enough public recognition that we are in a situation which is not what we would regard as ideal and in which our abilities to set any aspect of the agenda are very limited. Nevertheless, the party is not theirs, they cannot order me about as a member of the party, but the party can tell them it has no confidence in them if it wishes. Why on earth should I leave the party when it has not even had time to gather and think about this? Those of us who are unhappy about the leadership still, particularly if we have had experience of being junior partners in local government coalitions as many of us have, recognise they are in a difficult position and can see why they obviously can’t impelemt our entire 2010 manifesto right now, and to some extent can’t even say all they may (we hope) be thinking. So, we want to give them chance to prove themselves, and I think a few months is not at all long enough for that.

    The time may come when I think the leadership of the Liberal Democrats has had time to prove it is doing what it can and should but has not done so. I might then look to see the extent to which the wider party agrees with me in feeling it has had its time and needs to be told “enough is enough, get out”. If I feel the wider party has not the guts to do this, I might then consider whether there is any worth in remaining in that party. I think the party went badly wrong when it elected Clegg as leader anyway, so my membership extends to paying only the minimal subscription nationally while giving more money and some time to campaigners locally who I think are doing a good job.

    I can’t see anywhere else to go even if I did decide enough is enough with the Liberal Democrats. I have explained elsewhere on this site why I despise the Labour Party. I despise in particular the mild fascism/Stalinism which is at the heart of its ideology, and which remained when it threw away under Tony Blair almost everything else it had that had any attraction to me.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '10 - 11:03am

    One day later, I repeat the question to Helen:

    If the Liberal Democrats did not do what they did in May 2010, what else would you have had them do?

    It seems to me that anyone who accuses the Liberal Democrats of being bad, of lacking principles or whatever, merely for joining the coalition, is obliged to answer this question. I hope that Helen is reading this, because I think she has two choices:

    1) Answer the question
    2) Apologise for her baseless insults.

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