Leading article: The neglect of the bigger picture

Share
Related Topics

MPs return to Westminster today and head straight into what could prove to be one of the defining battles of this Parliament. The first Commons debate will be on the Coalition Government's bill to stage a referendum on the Alternative Vote next May.

Despite backing AV in its manifesto at the last election, Labour plans to vote against the bill, arguing that the Government is trying to sneak through plans to gerrymander constituencies in favour of the Conservative Party at the same time. In an interview with this newspaper today, the favourite for the Labour leadership, David Miliband, accuses the Coalition of engaging in "student politics" by packaging the bill for a referendum on AV with a move to reduce the number of MPs (from 650 to 600) and to equalise the size of constituencies.

The bill, as it stands, is certainly not perfect. But Mr Miliband is wrong to identify the inclusion of constituency reform as a great point of principle. It is indeed likely that the Conservatives would benefit from the equalisation of the size of constituencies. But the argument that this is gerrymandering is hyperbolic; especially since the present system benefits the Labour Party (whose MPs disproportionately come from smaller seats).

And the shortcomings of the bill – such as the use of lists of registered voters rather than the adult population to draw up new seats and the senseless requirement that no constituency can be more than 5 per cent greater or smaller than the national average – can all be fixed through constructive amendments. There is no good reason to reject the entire bill.

Labour no doubt calculates that it will be putting maximum pressure on the Government by adopting a stance of maximum opposition. If the Liberal Democrats do not get their referendum on voting reform (their key demand in post-election negotiations) the Coalition will come under huge strain as the third party's MPs and activists ask what the point is of their partnership with the Conservatives.

But Labour is neglecting the bigger picture. The Party will look monumentally cynical if it votes to head off a referendum that it was campaigning for as recently as May. It will be joining forces with the reactionary right of the Tory Party, which also wants to defeat the bill, although for different reasons. And if Labour helps to scupper this bill, it will jeopardise its chance of forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats at the next election. Worst of all, Labour will be, implicitly, allying itself with a discredited electoral system.

The Labour Party has commissioned its own research on the effect of the bill which suggests the Liberal Democrats would suffer more than any other party in the redrawing of constituency boundaries. This has prompted Jack Straw, who is leading the Labour charge against the bill, to argue that the Liberal Democrats are like "turkeys voting for Christmas". But what the Liberal Democrats understand – and Mr Straw plainly does not – is that this is a once in a generation chance to begin the reform of our flawed voting system.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, argued at the last election that AV was "a miserable little compromise". And so it is, when compared to a truly proportional electoral system. But it is a beginning.

Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are justified in their analysis that this bill is the best means available for advancing electoral reform. They are right not to make the best the enemy of the good. Meanwhile, Labour is confusing tactics with strategy and, if the party continues down this path of short-sighted opposition, it risks finding itself on the wrong side of progressive history.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links