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: Tax Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Progressive practice, punching ...

Recruitment Genius: Ruby On Rails Developer

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This an exciting opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Lift Engineer

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Lift Engineer is required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Old London Bridge; how to fight UKIP; and wolves

John Rentoul
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible