Labour to oppose voting reform legislation

The Labour shadow cabinet has decided to vote against the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, insisting that it should not be given a second reading.

From the Press Association,

Labour is to vote against legislation paving the way for a referendum on reforming the voting system.

The shadow cabinet decided to oppose the Government’s Bill because it also includes provisions for equalising the size of constituencies.

The move sets the stage for a major test of the coalition, with Labour MPs lining up alongside rebel Tories in a bid to derail the proposals.

The commitment to a referendum on switching to Alternative Vote was a key concession obtained by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as part of his deal with David Cameron.

But more than 40 Conservative MPs made clear they are against holding the poll on May 5, 2011 as scheduled, because it is the same day as local elections.

Nick Clegg said yesterday at Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions,

About 84% of voters in England will be voting in any event next May. In Scotland and Wales everybody will be entitled to vote.

About 39 million people will be anyway invited to vote next May and it seems to me, instead of asking people to constantly go back to polling booths to cast separate votes, it is perfectly right to say on a very simple issue, yes or no, to invite them to do so at, by the way, lower cost to the Exchequer – it saves around £17m – on the same day as other elections.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said last week:

Our priority is making sure that everyone who goes to the polls on 5 May can cast their vote safely and easily whether it’s in an election, a referendum or both.

It is possible to successfully deliver these different polls on 5 May, but only if the risks associated with doing so are properly managed. We’ve set out what we think these risks are and will make it clear during the passage of the Bill if we do not feel they have been adequately addressed.

Read the Electoral Commission’s paper: Voting at different polls on 5 May 2011 here.

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27 Comments

  • You really never saw this coming ?
    The Tory 1922 comittee have said all along they were going to do this. They already humbled Cameron once so will have no qualms whatsoever about doing it again on something Cameron has said he will not support in a vote.

    Equally Labour were always going to oppose anything with boundary changes in it.
    Unlike the AV referendum iboundary changes are an automatic 30 or so seat boost to the Tories without the fuss of having to win a vote on it.
    Trying to tie it to the AV referendum is a delaying tactic and one designed to keep Lib Dems quiet and in their box for as long as possible while they are the coalitions fall guy.

    Did the coalition agreement stipulate when the AV referendum was held or only if it was held at all ?

    Because unless that date was part of the agreement then Cameron doesn’t have a leg to stand on when his right wing rebel and start to pick the whole thing to pieces starting with the date.

    Holding it on the Scottish and Welsh election dates is pretty obviously an effort to boost it’s legitimacy and help win it.
    But you also need to ask if holding it then Scotland where Lib Dem support is now at it’s lowest is quite the wisest idea Nick ever had.
    Another election farce like the last one in Scotland will not be tolerated either.
    So it’s a real issue holding it on that date whether people like it or not.

  • This is not a surprise. Labour are and have been always opposed to electoral reform – that’s why they didnt budge on it despite having huge majorities for 13 years. The policy was written into their manifesto as a sop to the Guardian-reading classes, but it was never going to be enacted – it was just bait.

    Labour are not a progressive party and will resist any changes that reduce the chances of them getting majority control of the UK again. That the Tories will also do so is a given.

  • John Richardson 28th Jul '10 - 9:27am

    If the Tories want fairer constituency sizes, they’ll fall in line on the referendum. Linking the two locks both sides in.

  • Richard Church 28th Jul '10 - 10:04am

    Holding two or more ballots on the same day has never troubled either of the other parties before. The last 4 general elections have been held on the same day as English local elections. Local elections have even be rescheduled so that they can happen on the same day as Euro elections.

    Usual self serving hypocrisy from Labour and Tory MP’s.

  • @MBoy

    Nonsense. There are many Labour members and activists who identify with the liberal-left, and many of them want PR, I should know, my sister is one of them. However, the Labour Party isn’t as democratic so the voice of the liberal-left in Labour is quite stifled by the way the party is organised. But I think you will see a section of the Labour Party support AV, if not the boundary changes.

  • Peter Venables 28th Jul '10 - 11:42am

    Good. If i am being offered a choice then i want real choice, not some half baked deal cobbled together by the millionaires club.

  • Just to clarify the Labour position, the Guardian today says that:

    [Jack Straw] challenged the government to split the issues of voting reform and constituency boundaries into two separate bills, promising Labour would then back the referendum.

  • Daan:

    Ashley Dé, from the Electoral Reform Society, accused Labour and the Tory MPs signing the Commons motion on the timing of the referendum of being “mischief-makers”. It was “sabotage dressed up with a few principles”, he added.

    Labour arent fooling anyone. They know that if the referendum is killed the Lib Dems will be toast. That’s what it’s about.

  • Stuart Mitchell 28th Jul '10 - 12:28pm

    MBoy: Labour were, and still are (unfortunately), in favour of an AV referendum. But if you think that Labour could ever vote for this bill as a whole then you are seriously naive. The bill is a democratic outrage and anybody who is genuinely concerned about “fair votes” ought to be applauding Labour’s position, not condemning it.

    Once again, the Tories have outsmarted both their putative partners and the opposition with laughable ease. By tethering the referendum to other reforms which are wholly unacceptable to any fair minded person, Cameron can feign both contempt for Labour’s supposed u-turn and concern for the pickle the Lib Dems have found themselves in, while quietly chalking this up as another victory for his strategy of divide and rule.

  • I support PR but I think it is totally wrong to tie it in with a contentious bid to adjust parliamentary boundaries and cut the number of MPs. The result of the latter measure (if approved) will be to make it harder for MPs to represent their constituents and will therefore strengthen the executive at the expense of the legislature. I question whether it will save any money because those MPs who remain are likely to find themselves needing more staff to do a decent job of representing their increased number of constituents.

  • Paul McKeown 28th Jul '10 - 12:57pm

    Red Weegies losing their breakfast cereal when told their bollock hold on the Treasury is to loosened?

    Shocker!

  • Sunder Katwala 28th Jul '10 - 1:11pm

    Here is Labour’s amendment:

    “That this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be a referendum on moving to the Alternative Vote system for elections to the House of Commons, declines to give a Second Reading to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill because it combines that objective with entirely unrelated provisions designed to gerrymander constituencies by imposing a top-down, hasty and undemocratic review of boundaries, the effect of which would be to exclude millions of eligible but unregistered voters from the calculation of the electoral average and to deprive local communities of their long established right to trigger open and transparent public inquiries into the recommendations of a Boundary Commission, thereby destroying a bi-partisan system of drawing boundaries which has been the envy of countries across the world; and is strongly of the opinion that the publication of such a Bill should have been preceded by a full process of pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill.”

    ***

    1. I think it very important Labour stick to its pro-AV referendum position.

    2. It is perfectly appropriate for the party to oppose measures on the process and content of redistricting which it has never supported, and where there is a great deal of haste in changing and removing long-standing systems eg of inquiry as a matter of partisan contention. We can argue about what is good and bad about these measures. It is clear that there is nothing in Labour’s AV commitment which compels it to support reducing the House of Commons to 600, which I think is silly and retrograde.

    3. It seems to me very likely that the Coalition (through its Tory-Lib deal to merge these different issues) must have the votes for the Bill as it stands, whatever the agitation on the right. There is no reason to expect Opposition support for that political deal. I am unaware of any valid principle which argues parties must support measures they oppose if they are married to things they support.

    Certainly, Labour should vote in the Commons and the Lords in favour the AV provisions of the Bill and, if relevant, a simple AV referendum only version of the Bill, which separates the other issues to proper Parliamentary scrutiny.
    I am pretty sure there are the votes for the AV only Bill. (Personally I think it perfectly sensible to hold it on local election day, and a bit daft to do so at another time, but that isn’t the real issue).

    So the politics is surely that it is up to the Coalition to either force its political compromise through with Coalition votes (as I think most likely) or to secure the referendum by having one Bill on that (easy to carry, which Labour must support, and the Tory frontbench could too), and then seek to secure the boundary changes with a separate Bill (where presumably it becomes a matter of honour for LibDems to give the Tories “their” Bill, despite its evident flaws, though it would be sensible to expect reasoned amendments and Lords scrutiny).

    3. Please be aware of the need to win a referendum as well as legislate for one.

    The Coalition approach seems to me an elephant trap for the minority partner, which actually wants the referendum to be won not lost, but perfectly rational for those hoping the Bill will lead to the boundary changes and the defeat of AV. Clearly, Tory ministers who are allowing the referendum to happen but wish it to fail would benefit greatly from a Coalition v Labour scrap about the Bill, which heads towards mutual recriminations and accusations of bad faith by LibDems against Labour and by Labour against both LibDems and the Tories.

    Those who want to see the Bill pass have to be thinking about a campaign which can mobilise the voters we need. Key decisive segments will be Labour voters and union voters. It would be so much more likely that we will have Labour campaigning actively if the two sets of issues were separated (and the Coalition was then able to support both Bills rather than one Bill). if the LibDems believe it is better to carry the fused Bill, it is worth being aware that the most pro-reform Labour voices feel we will pay a heavy price when it comes towards a cross-party campaign later.

  • Sunder Katwala wrote:

    “reducing the House of Commons to 600, which I think is silly and retrograde.”

    Agreed. I cannot understand why the party is in favour of reducing the size of the House of Commons. It is hard enough for 650 MPs to work effectively for their constituents, especially if they provide the standard of service of a Mike Hancock or a Bob Russell. I guess it is based on the supposition that devolution of power to regional assemblies would farm out the work, and it would if it was done properly. An advantage of STV in multi-member constituencies that is not available under AV is that those MPs who cannot work effectively for their constituents, because they are ministers, are covered by colleagues who are backbenchers.

  • Peter Venables 28th Jul '10 - 2:20pm

    If we are going to have constituencies based on population then we are going to have to make voting compulsary.
    The way the coalition are deciding how our democracy works based on a few days of haggling in an office in London is beyond disgusting.

  • @Geoffroy Payne

    There’s no way the Tories will let AV go without the redistricting. They are using AV to get us to vote for their boundary changes.
    @Peter Venables

    Totally agree. Compulsory voting will have to be considered, (and I don’t think it is illiberal. It is a statement that all our political rights naturally flow from one political meta-right and responsibility, voting for your leaders).

  • The Tories have designed the bill specifically so that it is impossible for Labour to support it and to lock the Lib Dems into providing cover for measures than any self-respecting liberal should oppose. In a few short weeks we’ve gone from Love Actually to the scene in The Godfather II where Michael delivers the kiss of death to his brother Fredo.

  • Stuart Mitchell: You do talk bollox. Calling a rule that constituencies have the same number of voters a “democratic outrage” is absolutely laughable and totally discredits anything you say. In 2005 Blair won a big majority on a lower share of the vote than Cameron won in May. That you can say you are in favour of “fair votes” at the same time as opposing a mechanism to correct that unfairness shows your utter hypocrisy.

  • paul barker 28th Jul '10 - 3:54pm

    Obviously its silly to expect principles from Labour, thats not how they think. The obvious tactic to deal with them & the Tory Right is to split the Bill in two & concede a seperate date for the Referendum. Both Bills would be passed, with different groupings behind them. The timing of the vote isnt a question of principle, we can give way on that.

  • Getting a decent turnout for the referendum is a matter of principle. If the turnout is low then opponents (in Labour and the Tories) will attempt to block it even if the referendum passes. Remember, the Tories will try to insert a minimum turnout threshold into the referendum Bill anyway.

  • Stuart Mitchell 28th Jul '10 - 4:39pm

    MBoy – It’s nice to see youths getting involved in political debate, so I’ll give you credit for that.

    Cameron’s plan is indeed a democratic outrage, for the reasons elucidated so effectively by Jon Cowley (and I made the same point here a month or two back). If you think Jon and I are wrong, perhaps you’d care to explain why?

    You don’t fix one unfair voting system by replacing it with an unfair and discrimintary voting system. You don’t fix it by bringing in AV either but that’s another story.

  • vince thurnell 28th Jul '10 - 5:11pm

    mboy, you mention about the Tories implementing a minimum turnout. Is that any different to what your party and the Tories are trying to do when it comes to ballots for industrial action ?. In fact you’re going one step further and are considering implementing a 70% majority in favour of industrial action and that includes the whole workforce whether they be in the trade Union or not.

  • @ Paul McKeown
    Having read your other posts I had formed the view you were an intelligent and thoughtful person until I saw your bizarre, bigoted and offensive rant about ‘Red Weegies’. What do you call Irish people? Italians?

    Are you sure you are in the right party?

  • what happens to charles kennedy seat ???

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