David Miliband backs Alternative Vote reform, lays down gauntlet to Cameron

by Stephen Tall on July 2, 2010

With Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg set to announce 5th May, 2011, as the date of the referendum on electoral reform, David Miliband – currently the leading contender to become the next Labour leader – was this morning asked the direct question whether he would back the move to the Alternative Vote. His answer was unequivocal: yes, and he would be infavour of Labour members campaigning for it during the referendum campaign:

I think that it’s important that we move to a system where every Member of Parliament has at least 50 per cent of the vote of their constituents.”

It’s a welcome move. Although the Labour manifesto promised a referendum on the alternative vote, it was conceivable they would jettison the pledge; after all, Labour has already reneged on its manifesto commitment to fixed-term parliaments. So Mr (D) Miliband’s endorsement is a welcome move.

It also increases the pressure on David Cameron to confirm what role, if any, he will play in the referendum campaign. The Tory right-wing – mainly opposed to voting reform – will want their party leader to side with them. But Mr Cameron may well not wish to be out-flanked as a reformer by both Nick Clegg and (if elected) by Mr Miliband.

Moreover, what argument will Mr Cameorn level against the alternative vote? As I noted last month:

The principal argument Cameron has used against AV in the past is that it leads to weak, unstable government – which is a tricky case to argue while simultaneously leading a coalition government which you’re presenting as the face of ‘new politics’.

And of course Daniel Finkelstein floated the idea this week in The Times that the alternative vote would enable the coalition government to square the circle of how they fight the next election against each other while simultaneously defending their joint legacy: by urging their party supporters to cast their second preference for their coalition partner.

I think it’s highly unlikely Nick Clegg would attempt to tell potential Lib Dem voters to place the Tories second – what, after all, would be in it for the Lib Dems? We’ve already hitched our star to the Tories for the next five years, so why would we want to promise to renew the deal before the electorate has even spoken?

But I can see the attraction to David Cameron: it would be the ultimate liberal love-bomb.

If next May’s referendum is won, a smart Labour leader will spend the next four years ensuring that Lib Dem voters are prepared to place Labour second, and not the Tories. Tribal Labour supporters may be enjoying shouting ‘betrayal’ at the Lib Dems at every opportunity, but it’s a sure-fire way of driving away those moderate centrist voters which every party needs to woo.