Labour Yes! campaign unites party on vote reform


8:40 am - December 8th 2010

by Sunder Katwala    


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The Guardian reports Labour leader Ed Miliband’s support for the launch of a Labour Yes! group which will campaign for Labour voters to vote Yes in the referendum on the Alternative Vote.

This confirms the party leader’s commitment, in his first conference speech as leader, to supporting a change in the voting system.

The range of voices making up the 50+ signatories to the launch letter to The Guardian suggests that Labour Yes! will stake a strong claim to make Labour a majority “Yes” party, though there will be some Labour voices on both sides of the referendum debate. Indeed, the signatories show that this is a rare cause with the ability to unite Ken Livingstone with Neil Kinnock and Oona King, Tony Benn and Peter Mandelson, Tessa Jowell and Tom Watson, Jon Cruddas and Roy Hattersley, James Purnell and John McDonnell, Phil Collins and Neal Lawson (and even, from journalism, Kevin Maguire and John Rentoul).

The director of Labour yes! is Jessica Asato, who was social media organiser for the David Miliband leadership campaign, and who is collaborating on Labour Yes! with Marcus Roberts, director of the field campaign for Ed Miliband. Eight Shadow Cabinet members have signed the letter, including Douglas Alexander and Sadiq Khan, campaign managers of the rival Miliband leadership campaigns.

That Jack Straw is among the Labour “big beasts” backing a Yes on AV also shows that the campaign is managing to unite those who have taken different views on electoral reform in the past.

The pressure groups Compass and Progress from the left and right flanks of the party are among the founders of the Labour Yes campaign, alongside the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, and individuals involved with a range of Labour and progressive groups, such as myself, Will Straw of the Left Foot Forward blog, ippr director Nick Pearce and Young Labour director Sam Tarry.

The campaign will work with the national “Yes to Fairer Votes” campaign involving supporters of all parties and none, but Labour Yes will be an autonomous group, able to engage in reaching Labour activists and voters, including articulating specifically Labour arguments for a Yes vote to AV.

Ed Miliband has said that he will allow shadow ministers to advocate personally on either side. To date, no shadow cabinet voice has said they will support a no vote, though Andy Burnham has been sceptical about Labour giving any priority to the issue given other elections in May, though there are also good arguments that at least some local parties will want to campaign for AV as a way to help Labour win local votes and seats in their area.

Labour MPs who have declared for the “No” side of the argument include Margaret Beckett, David Blunkett, Emily Thornberry and Toby Perkins.

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Reader comments


You lot had 13 years to make this change. There was no shame or admission of failure in today’s letter and that sticks in the mouth.

The only thing the current Labour leadership and party have going for them (and sadly it is one that they have too often relied on in the past as well) is that they aren’t the Tories (and I guess we can now add they aren’t the Lib Dems). But its depressing how little reason there is to actually support Labour because it’s a good thing in its own right.

So I recommend to anyone with a modicum of hope to vote Yes in the AV referendum and then VOTE GREEN.

“…..but Labour Yes will be an autonomous group, able to engage in reaching Labour activists and voters, including articulating specifically Labour arguments for a Yes vote to AV.”

Good. Hopefully it will serve to highlight those dinosaurs in the anti-camp who ought to know better; with luck when they find themselves on the losing side they’ll crawl back under the New Labour rock they retreated to after losing the last election.

So we are expected to reward Nick Clegg and the LibDems by voting for the major concession they got from the Tories so they could do a 180 handbrake turn on most policies and join a coalition dismantling the welfare state eh?

Think again.

3

And the alternative is…….?

Ah yes, leaving the wonderful FPTP system in place, ‘cos that’s worked SO well for us over the past few decades…….

…… oh wait……

AV would probably screwed over Labour in the 80s, the Tories in the 90s-2000s and may now really screw over Labour again. For all its imperfections I would prefer to stick with FPTP. I’ve heard too many people talk of AV as a mechanism to lock out the party they dislike.

5

If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. If you’re happy with the state we are in now, and the whole thrust of post-WW2 politics in this country, then by all means support the retention of FPTP.

Of course, if Labour had been (or was now) a truly progressive, radical force for change in society it would have dealt with this decades ago, just as it ought to have reformed the House of Lords generations ago. If it had done so we would have been spared a lot of the baleful effects of Thatcherism and Blair’s Thatcherism Lite.

It’s hardly surprising of course that many in the Labour movement want to see ANY electoral reform fail. It’s the same mind set which informed the barking Blairite ultras who purposefully scuppered any alternative to the Coalition after the last GE; an atavistic desire to “take their ball home” and punish the ungrateful electorate for having the audacity not to re-elect them.

Electoral reform would be a good idea just to stick it to the likes of the authoritarian, careerist, cabal that controlled the nauseating New Labour project.

I have also heard people talking about AV as a mechanism to do this or that but they dont explain how. All we can safely predict is that AV will help Parties that try to reach out to their opponents, a matter of choice.

Unless there is a sudden surge in support for AV, Mr Milliband’s positioning on this issue is politically dangerous. With the media building a narrative of a poor leader who has failed to make hay whilst the sun shines (perhaps unfairly) it would hardly be the best thing in the world to be tied to a campaign to change the voting system that looks quite likely to fail, and I would suggest has an outside but real chance of being shot down quite ignomoniously (to be fair, it probably has a better chance of suceeding, but that looks small at the moment).

I think he would have been better off saying that he saw this as an issue of importance that transcended party politics (thus putting the Liberal Democrats on the spot), and not actively associating himself with the campaign to minimise danger. Mind you, the media narrative might have used that against him as well.

6,

Many Labour grassroots are sceptical of AV. Some of those genuinely want to retain FPTP (many, sadly, for entirely self-serving reasons such as the inbuilt advantage Labour currently enjoys from the present system). Others aren’t convinced of the benefits of AV itself, beyond the fairly obvious “not-FPTP” one. I don’t think it’s helpful, though, to tar all of them with the same brush.

9

I agree there may be a minority who dislike AV because they would prefer another flavour of electoral reform (altho’ given the upcoming choice, I don’t really understand anyone in that group voting against if I’m honest… it’s just shooting yourself in the foot).

As you note however, for most it is self serving and a desire to retain power and influence at virtually any cost. Hasn’t exactly worked too well recently has it?

11. margin4error

With Ed Miliband facing widespread criticism for not doing anything or standing for anything since becoming leader (the most biting examples being in the Economist articles dedicated to him last week) – this is at least some sort of stand on something.

But even this looks like a bit more triangulation designed to please ex-libdems.

And the bigr concern here is that not only will a lot of labour supporters resent their views being placed second to those of their recent opponents who have helped usher in devestating cuts to our services – but also that the first thing ed miliband – leader of the opposition to a thatcherite government – has hitched his wagon to – is something most people don’t care about and that will probably end in defeat.

If he doesn’t start to emerge as a leader soon his voice on AV will hardly serve as a boost to the campaign.

12. margin4error

Galen

voting against it is largely becuase AV is not what people want – and so it is easy to prioritise the need to hurt the lib dems in protest at their cuts agenda.

If it were PR that balance would be different. You probably wouldn’t make a protest vote more important than change you actually desire. But superficial change you didn’t ask for? Yeah, I can see people attacking the lib dems and their cuts agenda over chosing that.

You lot had 13 years to make this change. There was no shame or admission of failure in today’s letter and that sticks in the mouth.

This is an idiotic charge. Events and opinions change over 13 yrs, and while the party wasn’t signed up to electoral reform earlier (though it should have been) I’m glad it is now.

There was a long argument within Labour about direction on vote reform and the AV camp won (as a stepping stone to broader reform). That is to be welcomed. Not all arguments are won instantly. Now the aim should be to win the vote rather than more infighting.

14. Chris Phillips

I agree with your first comment! DC.

Only one real party now that supports THE PEOPLE, The green Party.

BUT am glad to see so many Labour supporting the Yes vote

BUT why oh WHY did you not do it before?

We must end this dissasterous voting system that gives power to minorities.

Sunny,

while the party wasn’t signed up to electoral reform earlier (though it should have been) I’m glad it is now.

The party leadership maybe, but since this is only one group within the party, it is not the whole party (perhaps just as well, unless they want to be associated with the Liberal Democrats on this?).

16. Chaise Guevara

@ 1

“You lot had 13 years to make this change. There was no shame or admission of failure in today’s letter and that sticks in the mouth.”

This is understandable, but he’s not exactly going to win Labour hearts and minds on this issue by sending out a letter titled You Suck And You Know It.

17. margin4error

Sunny

I don’t know that the argument has been won. the AV argument is winning at the top – but mainly through party tactics. The boss has decided that being pro-av might help some recently former lib dems to vote labour in future, and is probably banking on the vote coming out no regardless of labour’s half-hearted murmour of support.

That’s not the same as making the case for why Labour supporters should see AV as better than FPTP.

And certainly, as some one who would like to see the Greens finally rise in England, I consider it a stitch-up option no better than FPTP.

FPTP is held on to to enshrine a status quo of two party politics – AV is promoted to enshrine the newer two-and-a-half party status quo.

FPTP is broken. Patching it up with a second preference only eases the tension that requires change and moves the prospect of PR forward. With that tension eased, the prospect for change is diminished.

17 m4e

The trouble with this line of argument (which is sadly all too common) is that the AV referendum is the only game in town. If anyone who is in favour of electoral reform thinks voting AV down will somehow be a “good thing” they are deluded. It will scupper any chance of meaningful reform for generations, and the Tories and Labour refuseniks are quite happy with that; they WANT to entrench FPTP and a duopoly of power, and will use the baleful performance of the LD’s as ammunition.

Is AV perfect? No…but then the same can be said of lots of the other laternative systems. Given that it’s a straight choice between AV and FPTP however, anyone who wants to see menaingful change and progress would be mad to vote against.

From http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/29/sadiq-khan-labour-muslim-politics

“For example, if you believe in true proportional representation, why have a referendum on AV [the alternative vote] when it’s probably going to be lost? I think it’ll be lost and it’ll be Nick Clegg’s fault.”

But if it’s lost it will be largely because the Labour party refuses to campaign in favour. “I will not share a platform with Nick Clegg in the weeks and months leading up to 5 May,” he says indignantly, “‘cos my energies will be devoted to getting Labour councillors returned on 5 May, and having Scottish members returned. Also, the expenses rules for a referendum are very different from the expenses rules for an election, and we’ve got to be very careful that we don’t inadvertently get the rules mixed up. I believe we should have a referendum, but not on 5 May.”

Yet he says he’d like the result of the referendum to be yes. Does he realise, I say, that he risks sounding a bit slippery? Colleagues who will be campaigning against AV at least have the merit of consistency, whereas voters will suspect he’s putting party politics above electoral principle, finding excuses not to campaign for the very change he says would be good for the country, because he’d rather see Clegg fall on his face.”

20. margin4error

Galen

But as you and I have discussed before – because it is the only game in town many people will simply choose not to play.

Many people will simply use the referendum to express their anger at the lib dems for the cuts – which matter a lot more than electoral reform right now. And I don’t think that’s a terrible thing for them to do. It is up to citizens to decide their own priorities and motivations in politics. That’s the point of democracy. (I tire of the arrogant “they should focus on what I tell them to” attitude)

Of course I’m all in favour of not letting the perfect serve as the enemy of the good.

I voted Labour in the last four general elections. Not because it was perfect. Not because it did nothing I hated. Not because it was as ambitious as I wanted. But because Labour v Tories was the only game in town, and the good Labour did made it my imperfect choice.

And as you know – many people opted out of that only game in town. They voted Lib Dem or not at all or UKIP and so on. (Wasting their vote as some would say, but acting on their own priorities – I would say)

Maybe some of those people felt by opting out of the only game in town they would one day change the game. Those who voted lib dem certainly achieved that, though many now wish they hadn’t.

And maybe those who oppose AV do likewise – because they feel by opposing AV they will eventually help to have changed the game to one where proper reform is an option.

You might think that’s mad. But I suspect, given the parallel with voting Lib Dem when Labour/Tory was the only game in town, that you don’t really believe that.

I suspect you just want to believe there is no genuine case against the way you intend to vote.

Galen/m4e

Could I humbly suggest that the majority of people who oppose AV might do so out of general lack of concern about our voting system?

21

If they are so unconcerned, then “opposition” might be gilding the lilly in terms of assessing their motivation, no?

23. margin4error

21

general lack of concern is indeed exactly my point – most are not motivated by the prospect of AV and so will vote according to other priorities.

23

..or more likely not vote at all in your scenario I suspect? I think in the end it’s still a case of looking on people who don’t vote in the referendum in the same way as those who complain about GE results having not voted.

I will never vote for Av .
I have to vote for a party i don’t really believe in any more tactically trying to keep out the other Ones i don’t like.

To be forced to have to vote for sum-one you don’t like the policy’s of is comical,

I have talked about this with lots of people and they agree,

Saying that i am more concerned about the boundary changes.

Galen at 22,

Lack of concern about a system is more likely to be expressed in voting to retain it than not voting – that would be apathy about the system.

27. Chaise Guevara

@ 25 Gnome

“I will never vote for Av .
I have to vote for a party i don’t really believe in any more tactically trying to keep out the other Ones i don’t like.”

I don’t understand this. If the seat you’re in means that you’d have to vote tactically under AV, you must have to vote tactically under FPTP anyway. And under AV you’d be able to list your favoured party as your preferred vote without the fear that it would mean your vote being wasted.

If you support anyone other than Labour and the Tories, AV improves your political outlook.

1. I believe it is a right of any man or woman
That i get by being apart of society for not breaking the law for being a good honest citizen

2. I do not believe that their is any party out their that totality i agree with.
But if i vote For a lesser evil
i have used my vote the right way ?

I believe that Any voted in councillor, MP work for the society that voted for them in or did Not vote for them.
They are not voted in for their own personnel agenda

Or voted in because they lie to the masses.

Then say ” oh my im never going to get in next time lets change the system so we could win because ”

In the real world their is no more centre party a party for the people run by the people.

How i see it at the moment is that with AV i am supposed to put more than one vote on my form? ( or have i got it wrong ?)

why >?
so sum-one who lied can get another chance ?

What ever happened to for the people by the people

29. Chaise Guevara

@ 28 Gnome

“How i see it at the moment is that with AV i am supposed to put more than one vote on my form? ( or have i got it wrong ?)”

You’re not supposed to, as it’s optional. You have the option of listing a second-preference vote. The sensible thing to do here would be to list the lesser evil of the two strongest local candidates. If your first-preference candidate wins outright, this second-preference vote won’t have any effect anyway.

Alternatively, if you despise all other parties equally, you can just vote for your favourite party and not cast a second vote.

“What ever happened to for the people by the people”

We never had it. But this system could help to break the Labour/Tory stranglehold on politics, which would at least make politicians more accountable.

26

Hmmnn.. perhaps it’s the phrase “lack of concern” that’s the problem?

I’d imagine that “most” of those who will vote in the referendum will do so becuase they have a view, although I admit some might vote just to register a protest vote against the Coalition (which is a potential worry for the pro camp given that some will want to give the LD’s a kicking).

Similarly some people who are in favour of electoral reform will vote against AV because they feel it is a cop out (tho I feel they are misguided and agree with Chaise’s comments above about the reasons anyone who doesn’t support Labour or the Tories needs to vote “for”).

I’d take it as more likely that people who aren’t concerned, will be less likely to vote at all.

29, Thank you so much for clearing that up for me. ( It is appreciated)

Though i think their are much better ways to get to a point when people are treated like people by politicians.

And i will never vote for a lie again .

I look at so called broken Britain its broken because the masses are treated in such a way they don’t care any more.

It doesent take a social scientist to see that.

32. Chaise Guevara

@ 31

I feel much the same way as you, and I think there are far better solutions that AV. It’s the only thing that’s on the table at the moment, though, and it’s taken long enough to get there, which is why it gets my vote.

As soon as the AV vote’s over, which ever way it goes, we should start working to get something even better, like PR.

I would vote for PR.

33 Gnome

The chances are, if you don’t get AV then you kiss any prospect of PR of any description goodbye for at least a generation. If the AV referendum is lost, we wont get another chance for decades.

@17 – “FPTP is broken. Patching it up with a second preference only eases the tension that requires change and moves the prospect of PR forward. With that tension eased, the prospect for change is diminished.”

I’m not sure I agree. I think it more likely that the establishment – that is, both major political parties and associated hangers-on – would use a ‘no’ vote in any AV referendum to kill off political reform for a generation.

I think there’s a slightly higher probability (admittedly not huge) that a ‘yes’ to AV would legitimise the process of change that actually means something… although I absolutely acknowledge that AV is far from perfect.

At the last general election I voted in a “safe” Labour constituency – so safe, in fact, that none of the smaller parties bothered fielding candidates. (Note: apart from UKIP, but let’s be realistic.) I’d like to think, although I could be wrong, that in the event that AV passes, I would at least have the option to choose, say, the Greens…

That’s better than the absurd illusion of choice that persists in most constituencies in this country.

36. margin4error

Galen

Many of those who don’t play the only game in town will stay at home. But many, like those who vote lib dem at general elections, may take a more active approach to disliking the only game in town.

37. margin4error

J

The British electorate is notoriously disinterested in ideals and such like. So the case for reform is largely a pragmatic one. ie there is a clear disparity between what one party gets in votes and what they get in seats.

AV muddles that utterly – since what they get in seats becomes incomparible with what they get in votes. (first votes or second votes?)

Likewise it is only the very clear under-representation of a particular party (the lib dems) that has ever got this on the agenda here. voting for AV is likely to undo that under representation – and so leave no obvious injustice in the system.

All of which means AV will superficially appear to work just fine while still holding back choice and proportionality.

And so the wider public will see no cause for change.

Chaise Guevara @ 27. ” If you support anyone other than Labour and the Tories – AV improves your political outlook.”

Thanks for the warning – you have convinced me – I’m definitely voting against AV, the thought of the BNP gaining an improved political outlook due to an “improvement in the democratic process” brings me out in goose steps.

39. Chiase Guevara

@ 38

…And there’s one of the other problems. Paranoia about the BNP.

Look, pretty much all BNP supporters vote for them anyway, because it’s essentially a protest vote. A huge number of people want to vote Green but worry about wasting their vote.

If what it takes to get a representative parliament is a couple of ostracised BNP MPs sitting in a corner of the House of Parliament, so be it.

Chaise Guevara @39 I have the greatest admiration for your opinions as a rule but this last assertion is dangerous complacency – There is a worrying overlap of support from both disaffected Labourites and from hard and not so hard right Tories – sections of the Monday Club have actively campaigned for the National Front within living memory. That isn’t paranoia – it’s keeping the fascists from gaining any sort of foothold in parliament – we’ve seen where that sort of thing can lead to. Av is not worth that price.

It has only taken 13 years for Labour to deliver a long outstanding manifesto promise, which now they are in opposition, they can postulate about as much as they like.

Will Milliband have the party whips in line to ensure that all Labour MP’s vote Yes?

That would be something to make up for the lost promises from Tony and Gordon..

@37 – “Likewise it is only the very clear under-representation of a particular party (the lib dems) that has ever got this on the agenda here. voting for AV is likely to undo that under representation – and so leave no obvious injustice in the system.

All of which means AV will superficially appear to work just fine while still holding back choice and proportionality.

And so the wider public will see no cause for change.”

So AV may remove an “obvious injustice” and solve the “very clear under-representation” of a particular party, but is not worth supporting?

Like I said, I think AV is far from perfect – but it’s better than what we have at the moment and represents real change to the electoral system. I think that makes future change more likely, not less (at the very least, it de-legitimises FPTP), regardless of the British public’s lamentable lack of ideals!

What the country needs is not union owned unprogressive Labour or the capitalist yank worshiping of the ComDems, we need proper Social Democracy. That is the only way the majority will benefit. Vote reform will be the perfect time for this lets set up the new SDP.

AV is fair and progressive. Part of the long road in making the system mire fairer and not having people in safe seats forever.

I support because its not about me but abut having a fair system and that is the main thing.

I also want more peoople to engage in politics and go out to vote. If they vote Tory, good for them. BNP good for them.

I’m sorry but we shy from taking responsibility of our actions in this country because ‘well no point voting because it wont change’ and this ‘blaming Tories, not my fault their in power’

Waaah, waaaaaaaaah, wah.

No, it’s about time people started feeling that their vote counts. When you see third world countries with queues of people just lining to vote in a corrupt system, it breaks my heart that a supposed civilised country like ours behaves like this.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  2. tom_watson

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  14. Jane Ayres

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  19. Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] while the left would rather pretend the right just didn’t exist. Occasionally, like the Labour Yes campaign, they come together. It doesn’t feel like there’s more cross […]





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