David Miliband has challenged Liberal Democrat MPs to back a Labour proposal in the Commons today which he says will achieve the reform of the voting system that they want.
The three political parties have become embroiled in tangled political manoeuvres which could produce a seemingly absurd outcome on the issue. The Coalition Government is proposing to allow for a change to the Alternative Vote (AV) system, under which voters number candidates in order of preference.
This was the system proposed by Labour during the general election. The Conservatives were against it because they did not want to change the system. The Liberal Democrats did not think that it went far enough. Yet now the Coalition is proposing to introduce AV. Labour MPs, however, plan to vote against it, because the Conservatives have also insisted on redrawing constituency boundaries in such a way that the number of Labour MPs will be reduced.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg ridiculed Labour's position in an article in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph. "Tony Blair claimed his party's three priorities were education, education, education," they wrote. "Now Labour seems to be about opposition, opposition, opposition." But in an interview with The Independent, Mr Miliband said: "If the Liberal Democrats want AV, they are going about it very oddly. They need Labour to be in favour of it, yet they support a package that includes other constitutional changes being rushed through to help the Conservatives. It's student politics and not clever politics."
Today's vote on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill is the main item of business as MPs return to Parliament from the summer vacation. They will sit for just two weeks, then adjourn while the political parties hold their annual conferences. They will be back again on 11 October.
There are no fewer than 91 Bills in the queue awaiting the attention of MP and peers. The Bills vary in importance, and include a number of private member's Bills which have no chance of becoming law, such as a proposal to abolish the BBC's licence fee. The most important legislation in the queue is the Finance Bill, which will put George Osborne's first "hair-shirt" Budget into law. A poll yesterday suggested that the elderly think they will be worst hit by the cuts that Mr Osborne is demanding.
Other Bills before Parliament are more limited in their impact on the nation, such as the Allhallows Staining Church Bill, being promoted by the Clothworkers' Company.
The Company is a medieval London guild which has owned a plot of land in the City for more than 500 years by All Hallows, London's oldest church, near the Tower of London. The Company wants some of the restrictions on the use of the land to be lifted.