Labour’s hypocrisy on political reform: kill it off then claim you’ll resuscitate it later, maybe

General election campaigns are, perhaps, the worst possible time to judge politicians: they’re frantic, break-neck affairs when serious thought takes a back-seat.

But, still, you really do have to wonder at the sheer breath-taking effrontery of Gordon Brown’s decision to trumpet his political reformist credentials on the very same day as his government kills off measures to improve our democracy.

Compare and contrast. Here’s today Guardian:

Gordon Brown tonight sanctioned the abandonment of measures on constitutional reform including the alternative vote, reforms to phase out hereditary peers, and plans to give the backbenches powers over the parliamentary agenda.

And here’s today’s Independent:

A far-reaching package of constitutional reforms which could form the basis of a deal between Labour and the Liberal Democrats if the general election results in a hung parliament will be announced by Gordon Brown today.

The Prime Minister has had almost three years in power to introduce these reforms. The New Labour Government has had a further ten years.

If after 13 years Labour and Mr Brown have shrunk from the task, you’ve got to wonder who they think they’re kidding that they’ll get serious about reform now.

Especially as Labour has consistently joined with the Tories over the last five years in voting down any and all Liberal Democrat measures to reform our politics.

Here’s what Nick Clegg will be telling a press conference today, ahead of the final Prime Minister’s Questions of this Parliament, about how a vote for the Lib Dems will be the only way of voting for political reform:

Today is the last big set piece day in Westminster before the General Election.
After a year of scandal and sleaze:
We are finally seeing the back of the most corrupt Parliament in living memory.
People watching this Parliament come to an end will rightly say: never again.
In the campaign over the next four weeks you will hear a lot about political reform.
David Cameron will talk about cutting the cost of politics.
Gordon Brown will talk about reforming the Lords.
Their words are a smokescreen for the truth:
Both of them would do anything to protect the corrupt two-party stitch up and secrecy of Westminster.
That’s the reason they’ve blocked serious reform every step of the way – to keep things exactly the way they are.
If Labour and Conservatives get their way, the Parliament returned on 6 May will be no different from the one being dissolved this weekend.
If Labour and Conservatives get their way, only the faces will change.
All the corruption and all the sleaze….
All the big money and all the backroom dealings… will remain.
Only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted on political reform.
Labour and the Conservatives talk about it.
We will make sure it happens.
Anyone who needs proof of what I’m saying today should turn to the recently published minutes of the Hayden Phillips negotiations on party funding.
They make depressing reading.
A clear demonstration of the venal self-interested way the two old parties behave when the doors are closed.
The further the negotiations went
The more hostile and difficult the Labour and Conservative representatives became.
The closer they got to change
The more they did to stop it from happening.
The evidence is here in black and white.
Labour chose to protect their union paymasters.
And the Conservatives chose to protect their chums in the City and their sugar daddy in Belize.
The two old parties will never remove the stench of corruption from the Houses of Parliament.
When push comes to shove, they look after themselves, instead of looking out for the country.
It’s the same pattern we have seen, time and again, in recent years.
Months ago, I demanded Sir Thomas Legg extend his inquiry into expenses abuses to cover all those MPs who flipped their homes or avoided Capital Gains Tax.
What did we get from Labour and the Conservatives?
Stony silence.
They let the flippers and the CGT avoiders off scot free.
And when Liberal Democrats put forward plans to give people the right to sack corrupt MPs.
Labour and the Conservatives blocked them.
When Liberal Democrats put forward plans to crack down on lobbying.
Labour and the Conservatives blocked them.
When Liberal Democrats put forward plans to put a cap on donations to political parties.
Labour and the Conservatives blocked them.
And yesterday both Labour and the Conservatives blocked even the most modest reforms to our electoral system in the House of Lords.
It wasn’t a wash up it was a stitch up.
This is proof positive that you’ll never get real change with either of them.
The way the old parties behave is to talk about change in order to prevent it from happening.
For Gordon Brown, change is what you talk about when you want everything to stay the same.
For David Cameron, change stops on May 7th.
A vote for Labour or the Conservative parties is a vote for corrupt politics.
Liberal Democrats are the only party that will radically shake up politics to make it fair, and put power in the hands of citizens, rather than politicians.
We will give people a real say in who governs the country by introducing fair votes – including for the House of Lords.
We will stop big donations.
We will give people the power to sack corrupt MPs.
We will make sure that instead of looking down on politics in disgust, once again people can look to Westminster with pride in our democracy.
The choice in this election is simple.
Old, corrupt politics with Labour and the Conservatives.
Or open transparent fair politics with the Liberal Democrats.

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9 Comments

  • Anthony Aloysius St 7th Apr '10 - 10:51am

    “… on the very same day as his government kills off measures to improve our democracy.”

    They have only been “killed off” because the Tories wouldn’t accept them as part of the “wash up” process!

    I know truth is the first casualty in an election campaign, as in war, but to accuse Labour of “killing off” these measures is pretty desperate stuff.

  • David Allen 7th Apr '10 - 12:28pm

    Yes, but if Labour had been serious about their reforms, they wouldn’t have left them to this late stage, would they?

    It’s a clever trick, wait until you get close to the wire, and then blame your opponents for killing the plans that you never really wanted to implement!

  • David Allen – I’m pleased to say I’m in total agreement with you there!

  • Anthony Aloysius St 7th Apr '10 - 3:38pm

    “It’s a clever trick, wait until you get close to the wire, and then blame your opponents for killing the plans that you never really wanted to implement!”

    Except that the AV plan would certainly be to Labour’s electoral advantage in the current circumstances – in fact it would further skew the already biased first-past-the-post system in Labour’s favour.

    In reality, it wouldn’t “improve our democracy”, but make parliamentary representation even less proportional. The Lib Dems shouldn’t have gone along with it in the first place – in doing so, they put their own party advantage ahead of their principles.

  • Paul Griffiths 7th Apr '10 - 7:08pm

    AV is s step towards STV. Supporting it, while making clear that that is why we are supporting it, is entirely in line with Lib Dem principles.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 7th Apr '10 - 8:04pm

    Paul

    Just think about it.

    Under the current system, on uniform swing assumptions the Tories have to be about SIX points ahead of Labour just to get the same number of MPs. And this change would skew the system even _further_ towards Labour (which, naturally, is why the government has put it forward).

    That’s not “improving our democracy” and it’s certainly not a change in the direction of proportionality – it’s simply an attempt to rig a system which is already blatantly biased. From any principled viewpoint, the party shouldn’t have touched it with a bargepole, but of course the prospect of a guaranteed increase in the number of Lib Dem MPs was just too tempting to turn down.

  • Paul Griffiths 7th Apr '10 - 8:41pm

    Anthony

    Just think about it.

    If the debate about reforming or not reforming the electoral system never gets past who stands to benefit we’ll never make any progress. The blade you are wielding has two edges. But I suppose the prospect of maligning your political opponents was just too tempting to turn down.

    I was both surprised and encouraged by public reactions to Brown’s original AV proposal. Yes, most people recognised that it was cynical and self-serving. But equally, many were so desperate for change they were prepared to look past that.

    (P.S. I’m sure you understood my “step towards STV” remark, but for the benefit of those who didn’t – if you merge neighbouring AV constituencies together you get one STV constituency.)

  • Anthony Aloysius St 7th Apr '10 - 9:00pm

    “I’m sure you understood my “step towards STV” remark, but for the benefit of those who didn’t – if you merge neighbouring AV constituencies together you get one STV constituency.)”

    But the reason the Lib Dems support STV is (supposedly) that it’s a fairer system – it produces representation that’s more proportional to the votes cast. If AV produces a result that’s less proportional than FPTP, then by definition it’s a step _away_ from proportional representation, notwithstanding any superficial similarities between the electoral mechanisms.

    And if the Lib Dems are supporting it despite that fact, simply because it will guarantee an increase in Lib Dem representation, how are they being any less “cynical and self-serving” than Labour?

    By the way, I am not a “political opponent” of the Lib Dems. At present I am more likely than not to support them. If you read the previous discussion about this, you’ll remember that there were plenty of people within the party who were critical of the support for the AV referendum. Far from being one step towards proportional representation, getting involved in this kind of unprincipled jiggery-pokery is liable to turn everyone off the whole idea.

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