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AV could bring long-term Tory-led coalition

The suggestion by Andrew Grice in the Independent this morning that David Cameron might be planning to assist the Lib-Dems over electoral reform — just as he did in the Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election — changes the whole nature of the AV referendum debate. Many of those Labour MPs who have backed AV see it as an easy, costless and pretty empty gesture which can be spun as evidence that Labour is modern and its commitment to democracy paramount. They over-estimate the benefits, and overlook the massive risk of long-term Tory-led coalition. They don’t see it as real electoral reform; they don’t notice that it could actually severely undermine real democracy.

The Tories have embarked, in their first year of government, on a rolling-back of the state that easily surpasses what Thatcher managed in her whole period of office. They are undermining, in particular, the fabric of the NHS in a way in which Thatcher never dared. They have cover for this from Orange-book Liberals with whom they are ideologically at one. Cameron and Clegg may each have the irritation of constant criticism from their respective rebels but it will be ever thus. The point is that Coalition enables them not only to survive but to dominate their parties, strengthened by the dependence on continued coalition of the many MPs whose majorities would be threatened if it falls apart. AV would provide an easy route to an informal alliance which could survive election after election.

As Andrew Grice writes:

There are growing fears among Tory backbenchers that some Cameron allies would be privately relaxed about a Yes vote in the referendum, since it would give Mr Clegg a big prize and almost certainly ensure that the Coalition lasted until the next election in 2015. In contrast, a No vote could provoke demands from some Liberal Democrat activists for the party to pull out of the Coalition.

Tory traditionalists also fear a switch to AV would increase the chances of a permanent alliance between the two Coalition parties, as favoured by some Tory modernisers. Under this system, people mark the candidates in order of preference – the last-placed person drops out and second preferences are redistributed until one candidate secures more than 50 per cent of the votes.

Traditionalists believe the introduction of AV would lead to an informal anti-Labour pact, under which Mr Cameron encouraged Tory supporters to make the Liberal Democrats their second choice, with Mr Clegg urging his party’s backers to put the Tories in second place.”

If that happens, the electoral arithmetic changes drastically from most projections to date. Electoral Calculus, for example, bases projections on YouGov poll evidence on second preferences prior to the general election. Since that point, many of those whose second preference was Labour have switched their first preference from the Lib Dems anyway, and many now form part of Labour’s current poll lead — this YouGov poll showed that last year’s Lib Dem voters split 42% Labour, 30% Lib Dem, 17% Tory!

The Sunday Times YouGov poll last weekend show that Lib Dem voters now think Cameron is performing well by 3 to 1, only slightly more than the Tories who think Clegg is doing well. As to how whether the Coalition is working well, the Tories think so by nine to one, compared with three to one for the Lib Dems.

On this basis, any kind of informal pact at the next election would create a solid anti-Labour alliance. Some Lib Dems may not like it but their moist rebellious MPs will also know that it will be the best way of saving their seats. Labour voters are more hostile to them than ever, and are more likely to give their second preferences to nationalists, the Greens or other minor parties. It may split the Lib Dems in the long-run but they’ve been down that road more than once before.

Labour MPs should beware. Now is not the time for token gestures! Real electoral reform, proportional representation, would be very different and encourage a real multi-party democracy (though the Lib Dems would be the greatest beneficiary). AV could just create a two-choice system, with Labour the certain loser.


  1. DevonChap says:

    “their moist rebellious MPs “. Are these wets?

  2. Anand says:

    You really are a westminster village bubble victim.

    Why are you not arguing the case of AV on the merits of whether it is a more democratic voting system rather than looking at it from a party political standpoint?

    This is why the public hate politicians, you all think about yourself first and whats right second.

    AV is a step towards voting reform long overdue in this country. It means everyone’s vote counts in determining the outcome of each constituency seat.

    As a floating voter who has now voted for all 3 main parites in my adult life, I will be voting YES to AV ONLY for this reason, and what it means for the elecotal hopes of individual parties plays NO PART in my decision.

    Most of the public will do the same, your partisan rantings are irrelevant.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      This isn’t an academic exercise. What matters is what happens in practice. If the result of AV is a long-term anti-Labour alliance, voters will, in practice, have just two choices of government, one of which – Labour – will always lose. That’s not more democratic. And that’s a good reason why we shouldn’t support AV.

  3. Anand says:

    So your argument for changing the votign system is “only if it helps labour”

    In that regard I am surprised you dont table a motion to bring down democratic elections and instead allow labout to rule as a socialist dictatro forever and a day!

    Its a bloody good job its going to a referendum and the PEOPLE get to decide.

    Anotehr thing, may I ask why it was in the Labour Party manifesto if you are so vehemently against it? And if its so bad for Labour why did Ed Miliband actually PUT it in the manifesto for 2010 in the first place? political games? or perhaps he sees its actually the RIGTH THING TO DO.

    You know that moral fibre thats supposed to be instilled in our public servants to do whats rigth by the people, not whats rigth for the PLP!

  4. Adam says:

    A few points:

    So does this assume that, despite winning back many LD and swing voters, Labour won’t be able to win a majority?

    Had the centre-left vote not been split between Lab/Lib/Green, a majority should have been possible in 2010 (certainly Labour would have held my constituency).

    The LDs for now are still very much centre-left, social democrats. Perhaps not in terms of their leadership but in terms of members and their manifesto. There is no chance of encouraging LD voters to give preferences to the Tories.

    Apparently there will be few giving their 1st preferences to the LibDems in 2015 anyway so even if they – remarkably – prefer the Tory manifesto to Labour’s, that doesn’t mean Tories will win.

    AV would ensure that if a majority of constituents oppose a candidate – e.g. any Tory due to cuts – they can’t win. If a majority support them then, well, that’s democracy.

    Let’s not forget that while there are rumours that Cameron may not mind an AV victory, most Tories are opposed, and Ed Miliband and much of the shadow cabinet are in favour of AV.

  5. Paul Cooney says:

    Your comment re NHS omits the fact that it was Blair who first privatised NHS clinical care, something you rightly point out that Thatcher never dared. The end of the NHS is near and we in the Labour Movement must fight to defeat the bill but don’t deny that New Labour drove through the first steps in its privatisation. My local Community NHS services is about to become a “Social Enterprise” with 1300 clinical and support staff. This was first introduced by New Labour, and by the way, supported by the labour leader of Kirklees Council.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Paul, we don’t deny that New Labour privatised parts of the NHS. However, as we state in About Us,

      Most Labour members never signed up to the market fundamentalism of Tory and Labour Governments from Thatcher to Blair and Brown, nor to the Iraq war and the attack on civil liberties at home and abroad which followed.”

      However, we do believe that the Left’s future remains inextricably linked with that of the Labour Party, and therefore we seek to re-align Labour on a Left path.

  6. Paul Cooney says:

    Thanks for the quick reply Jon. The biggest obstacle in your path though is the New Labour destruction of the mechanisms of internal democracy in the party. I accept that there are good socialist activists in the LP, but how will you re-instate the mechanics of democracy (and I don’t mean policy in partnership forums)?
    Good luck anyway.

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