Three cheers for Ed Miliband (shame about his party)

by Stephen Tall on March 16, 2011

This evening Labour leader Ed Miliband will urge his party and the public to say yes to fairer votes in this coming May’s referendum.

All of us in favour of electoral reform, and a voting system that puts more power back in the hands of the people, should welcome his personal backing for the alternative vote. Ed, at least, is staying true to what Labour’s 2010 general election manifesto pledged, specifically:

To ensure that every MP is supported by the majority of their constituents voting at each election, we will hold a referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons.

Alas, when Ed speaks tonight he will do so in the knowledge that a large part of the Labour movement disagrees with him.

With mischievous timing, more than 150 Labour parliamentarians, including more than one hundred Labour MPs, publicly declared their opposition to electoral reform in a deliberate attempt to overshadow Ed’s big speech. Indeed, they took out a full-page advert in today’s Guardian to make the point. Those Tories, such as Lord Leach, who are helping bank-roll the No campaign must be delighted that such prominent Labour names are happy to assist in undermining their leader.

Indeed, there’s a curiously coincidental overlap between those opposed to electoral reform, and those who opposed Ed Miliband’s election as Labour leader. Who, for instance, is leading the Labour No campaign? Why Mr Dan Hodges, a devoted David Miliband fan who is very happy to stick it to Ed over at Labour Uncut (here, here, here and here, for example). Take a look at the list of Labour MPs in the ‘No’ camp… how many Ed supporters are there?

As I say, perhaps it’s just coincidence… I’m sure no Labour MP would use such an important issue as a proxy to undermine Ed Miliband himself. Perish the thought.

Will this split in Labour’s ranks — between the forces of progress who back electoral reform, and the forces of conservatism who oppose it — affect their performance in May’s elections? We’ll see. It’s said the public does not like disunited parties; certainly those progressive, reform-minded voters who’ve tended to think of Labour as on their side despite the constant back-tracking on constituional reform will be disappointed.

There’s one issue Labour’s inability to unite in support of fair votes does clear up, though: there was absolutely no way any form of Lib Dem / Labour coalition last May would have stuck. If Labour isn’t prepared even to deliver on their own manifesto promises when they enjoy the luxury of opposition, it’s clear they could never have delivered on the compromises necessitated by coalition government.