LEADING ARTICLE: Take the long view, Tony

Share
Related Topics
Tony Blair is deeply committed to "modernisation". But is he serious about reforming the way we are governed? Already the proposed regional assemblies have been dropped. Rumour has it that the status of the Freedom of Information Act is now unclear, likewise commitment to change to the House of Lords. Is reform of the electoral system still on the agenda?

In October, the Labour conference will probably debate the pledge to call a referendum on proportional representation (PR). Supporters of the current system intend to see this commitment ditched. And in the past few days it has become clear that Mr Blair will not oppose them. Instead, he will maintain a rather unleaderly neutrality. Now, two big unions previously in favour of a referendum - Unison and the GMB - are likely to vote against it. So, in the absence of personal support from the Labour leader, the electoral reform commitment is likely to be thrown out.

Everyone in Westminster knows that Mr Blair will be happy to see this happen. He does not want to be identified with the process of abandonment, in order not to give ammunition to those who say he is backtracking on his fine words about pluralism and democracy. But he is against a referendum for political reasons. If, as Prime Minister, he supports a "no" vote on electoral reform and the referendum says "yes", it will represent a defeat. If the referendum favours the status quo, it will look as though he has wasted precious government time just to buy Liberal support. And, of course, a referendum would lead to a very public split in the party and also perhaps the Cabinet. Robin Cook strongly favours PR. John Prescott, Margaret Beckett and Jack Straw are dead against.

Support for PR within the Labour Party has waned. Labour enthusiasm for electoral reform arose out of a minority belief in active democracy, but gained support because of simple despair. In the Eighties, desperate to get the Tories out and afraid that this would be impossible under the first-past-the-post system, many in the Labour Party looked to PR. Not any more. The Labour tribe is now confident of ousting its Tory enemies with a traditional weapon: the first-past-the-post system.

So the political calculation is that PR is not in the interests of a future Labour government. But this is political short-termism. The awful truth is that in the 50 years since the war, there have been only 10 years in which Labour enjoyed power with an adequate majority. The Tories have ruled the roost for 33 years, usually with much less than 50 per cent of the vote. This is the long-term pattern. The voting system has helped to entrench the elective dictatorship of a whipped majority party - and has rendered the voting preferences of millions meaningless in the process.

The problem is that constitutional reform entails giving up power. Oppositions tend to like it more than governments - once they are in power they are not so keen. But true modernisers should take the long-term view. The least New Labour can do is to stand by the commitment to call a referendum, to give people the choice on PR and put meat on the bones of the new Clause IV commitment to "open democracy". Mr Blair should show that his commitment to the modernisation of our political process goes beyond internal Labour Party reform.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
 

Beware of the jovial buffoon who picks fights overseas

Boyd Tonkin
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect