LibLink … Stephen Tall: Help save Labour with PR? No thanks

Compass, the left-leaning pressure group, has launched a campaign for a referendum on proportional representation. Music to the Lib Dems’ ears?

Lib Dem Voice’s own Stephen Tall explains today at Comment is Free why it’s not something we’ll be supporting as a party, this side of the General Election:

Labour has had 12 years in which to renew the democratic fabric of this country. They failed to do anything about it because, quite simply, they didn’t care enough about it. If they care now, it is only because it’s expedient to; and expediency is the worst possible motive for reform.

Stephen argues that the Liberal Democrats would not support a campaign as “nakedly self-serving” as this, pitched as it is at saving Labour seats. He also says that there is more to reducing the democratic deficit than electoral reform.

Finally, Stephen says it would be “electoral suicide” to support Labour in such a referendum,

Especially as the only voting system most Labour MPs would be prepared to consider is the alternative vote, which can produce election results even more distorted than the failed first-past-the-post system contrives.

Read the full piece here, at the Guardian’s Comment is Free.

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Paul Griffiths 1st Dec '09 - 7:42pm

    The comments to the CiF article make interesting reading. Unless it’s been mobbed by trolls (always a possibility) many seem to dismiss Mr Tall’s suggestion that a referendum based on naked self-interest is unlikely to succeed, and instead castigate him for a missed opportunity. If sincere, it appears that these commentators are so desperate for change that they are prepared to overlook Labour’s transparent motives – perhaps because they are so transparent. It makes me wonder if we have actually underestimated the effectiveness of our pro-PR arguments over the years?

  • What is it about PR that makes us lose our marbles? I have alot of respect for ST normally but reading him & many of the comments reminds me of a bunch of Trots calling each other “Reformists”. The point, surely, is that we are reformists, we take what we can get if its moving in the right direction. The proposed referendum is unlikely to happen but if it does we have no choice but to campaign for whatever reform is on offer, even if its only AV. Anything else would make us look like hypocrits & idiots.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Dec '09 - 12:10am

    Campaigning against AV+ on the grounds that it’s PR but not PR as we want it would be difficult and open us up to “loonies throwing away their chance on a technicality” attacks.

    However, the MAIN reason PR is attracting support now is that people feel it will be a reform which will let them throw out MPs they don’t like because of bad expenses records etc. and AV+ DOESN’T LET YOU DO THAT. It gives you two votes, neither of which allows a choice between candidates of the same party. Any campaign against it, therefore must hammer home this point very, very hard. We in our party are not opportunists who will campaign for a system which benefits us on an argument for it which is a lie, and saying that AV+ is a system which answers popular concerns after the MPs expenses issue IS a lie.

    It really would have helped, however, if we had a leader who understood this, rather than one who needlessly and stupidly fronted a campaign calling for AV+ in the wake of the MPs expenses issue when that issue was the golden opportunity to call for party policy – STV.

    The danger of opting for “PR but not as we want it” is shown up by the impression our party leadership gave when PR by fixed party list was introduced for Euro-elections that this was the Holy Grail we had been campaigning for all these years. People saw the system, didn’t like it, thought “oh, that’s what they want, well it’s just self-serving for them, it’s a horrible impersonal system which doesn’t let me vote for a person” and I feel the case for PR was damaged by it.

  • Malcolm Todd 2nd Dec '09 - 8:39am

    Actually – while I’m no fan of AV+ – it’s not true that it can’t be used to single out candidates for individual punishment. If your local MP, from a party you support, has offended you, you could vote for someone else locally (or at least, you could push him/her as far down the preferences as you like), but vote for your party in the top-up list. It’s important that the top-ups are on an open list (as Jenkins proposed); and for the whole thing to work properly, the top-ups should be a much higher proportion of the total – at least 25%. While far from ideal, it would (unlike AV alone) be a genuine, small shift in power from parties to voters.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Dec '09 - 9:00am

    When we took control of a Borough Council in 1979, our first act was to introduce STV for all (multi-seat) internal elections to committees and multi-places on outside bodies. We invited the ERS to train the council’s secretariat to be returning officers.

    The first thing we all noticed (after the accuracy of its proportionality) was that the opposition groups clearly hated a number of their own senior members, because these were the councillors who consistently failed to get elected under the system.

    Their whips could never figure out why it was happening!

    I always thought it would be a hard communications exercise to persuade the public to back STV, but now is a wonderful opportunity provided we concentrate our message on the point that it is the only method that gives YOU the public the power to ‘sack’ a poor MP who seeks re-election.

    Let’s call it the Sling The Vile candidate out system and grab some headlines (because the label matters).

    Surely, we should welcome a Bill to hold a referendum after the election because it gives us the chance to campaign publically for this most powerful reason for STV.

    Subject to the result of the election, there will be a chance to campaign on the wording or against the withdrawal of whatever legislation has been passed using those ‘troughing’ MPs who have just been re-elected as the cause.

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