Guardian verdict on voting reform: “Mr Clegg spoke for progress; Mr Straw for reaction.”

by Stephen Tall on September 7, 2010

The Guardian has not always been kind to the Coalition since its formation; still less to the Lib Dems. But its stinging rebuke to Labour’s “opposition for opposition’s sake” — with its attempt last night cynically to torpedo the Lib/Con government’s electoral reform measures — might perhaps give the new party leader pause for thought.

In the topsy-turvy world of Coalition politics, two parties which do not support the alternative vote last night voted to endorse a referendum on it; while the party which pledged to introduce it in its manifesto decided to jettison that promise.

It was an irony The Guardian notes today:

[Jack Straw] led his party in opposition to Mr Clegg’s bill and found many Tory MPs were prepared to lend him their support. He will have been pleased with his day’s work. But he was on the wrong side. Mr Clegg spoke for progress; Mr Straw for reaction. Labour has got its teeth into the government, but at some cost to the cause of reform. Earlier this year Labour wanted a vote on the alternative vote, for good reasons. Now it is against a bill that will allow one. …

Last year, after the parliamentary expenses debacle, Labour came out in support of AV. … The party was right to back AV then, and it should back it still. Nothing, in principle, has changed – only parliamentary arithmetic and Labour’s desire to punish the Lib Dems for joining the Conservatives in government. … A rare and great opportunity for progress is being missed.

Labour’s former communications chief, Alastair Campbell, is fond of denouncing other parties for failing to distinguish between tactics (the short-term, ‘get a good front page’) and strategy (the long-term, ‘get an election-winning narrative’). Yesterday, his beloved Labour party showed how you can have great fun shouting from the terraces while still scoring a huge own goal.