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

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Would you fork out to spend time on Sting's Tuscan estate?  

Happy to pay for the privilege of picking olives? Then Sting might have a job for you...

John Walsh
Clockwise from top: Zafran Ramzan, Razwan Razaq (main picture), Adil Hussain, Umar Razaq and Mohsin Khan were sentenced for grooming teenage girls for sex in 2010.  

Nothing can make up for the trauma of Rotherham's abused young girls, but many more heads must roll

Jane Merrick
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?