Howarth: Labour should stop “playing politics” with voting reform

Today’s Observer reports that Labour’s election planners are once again seriously considering proposing a referendum on voting reform, reckoning that if it’s combined with a general election they’ll be able to paint Tory leader David Cameron as a ‘roadblock to reform’:

Plans to hold a referendum on changes to the voting system on the day of the next general election are being considered in Downing Street as part of a ploy to expose David Cameron as a roadblock to sweeping constitutional reform. The idea, backed by senior ministers, has come to light amid growing recriminations within the Labour party over poor campaign strategy and a lack of fresh ideas for attacking Cameron, following Labour’s thumping loss in Thursday’s Norwich North byelection.

Lib Dem shadow justice secretary David Howarth is unimpressed:

It is appalling that Labour should be thinking of playing politics with such a fundamental aspect of political reform. Labour promised change in the voting system when they first came to power twelve years ago and still haven’t delivered. If politics is going to be cleaned up, it is essential that first past the post is replaced by a fairer system that gives voters real choice and ends safe seats forever.”

It would be a deep, deep shame if this opportunity to reform our broken political system was squandered by Labour’s too-clever-by-half campaigning tactics. Of course I think they should call a referendum – but because (1) they promised to do so in their manifesto, (2) it’s the right thing to do. If it’s perceived as a piece of short-term tinkering to protect the interests of the governing party then it’s likely to be defeated.

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  • John Lefley 26th Jul '09 - 4:00pm

    I agree. Given Brown’s known opposition to PR any talk by Labour of this would be insane, laughed out of court as flailing deperately for a life-line. This, like all other Constitutional Reform plans, has NIL chance of success before the GE.
    We must condemn this as such, while maintaining our position.
    More urgent is to defend local councils. Their powers have been whttled away over the last 30 years, and Tory plans boosted as improving local democracy are the very reverse!

  • And isn’t AV the only system they are willing to consider? And that isn’t proportional, it just using a PR-style 1st, 2nd, 3rd… preferences.

  • “It would be a deep, deep shame if this opportunity to reform our broken political system was squandered by Labour’s too-clever-by-half campaigning tactics”

    Why would the opportunity be squandered? If Brown gave the green light for a referendum, then wouldn’t you have Lib Dems and Labour campaigning for it, and the Tories against it? How exactly can the opportunity get any better than that unless the Lib Dems were the dominant party in Parliament?

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