With the Liberal Democrats exposed for what they really are, Labour are the only remaining progressive party in mainstream politics. We support higher taxes on those who can afford it to help spread opportunities to those who have not had the same start in life. We have argued for a fairer way of funding higher education and for the need to protect front line services.
However, throughout its time in government, New Labour was content to pick some progressive policies only when it suited it, ignoring others. So, we poured billions of pounds (some of it – appropriately- from a winfall tax on privatized utilities) into Scandinavian-style training schemes to help the unemployed yet coupled them to a stingy benefits system and and unregulated labour market which meant the jobs that were out there did not match their new skills. If this week is anything to go by, the Ed Milliband era party appears to be making much the same mistake, at least on the issue of the fast-approaching referendum on the AV voting system.
After years of prevarication and broken promises, Brown finally forced us to come clean on electoral reform last year by clearly and unambiguously including a comitment to holding an AV referendum in the manifesto for this year’s election campaign. For better or worse, every Labour MP fought the last election on that promise, hence why it looks so bad that the party seems hopelessly divided over the issue.
A group of Labour ‘Big Beasts’ came out today as opponents of the change: Margaret Beckett – who won her seat in Derby South campaininging on the manifesto – will chair the ‘No’ campaign, and is joined by John Reid, John Prescott, David Blunkett, former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer and Islington South MP Emily Thorberry. Worse, elections chief Andy Burnham annouced that the Labour campaign machine would play no part in campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote even though the party promised the referendum and a change is supported by the party leader.
No electoral system is perfect and each – whether FPTP, AV or STV – comes with at least one major downside, but AV-problematic though it may be-is a long overdue change and one which Labour has shirked for far too long. The current system is a relic of an age was there were only two parties standing for election in most constituencies and so now an MP can be elected despite not having anywhere near 50 per cent of the vote. AV would ensure that a candidate would have to have broad based support in order to win. A party (even if it is the Lib Dems) should not-as it does now- be rewarded with 9 per cent of the seats for a 22 per cent vote share. It is simply not democratic, and that should override all over considerations.
Labour stands for fairness but must stand for it everywhere and all the time, not just when it is convenient. We stand for a fair tax system, a fair education system and a fair benefits system. We must also stand for a fair electoral system lest we make hypocrites of ourselves.