That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Stirring the hot pot

Labour has several reasons to be furious these days. But, it has to be said, they’re being clever with that fury, and they’re doing it through dividing the Coalition Government anytime they can – now, by appearing to ally with Thatcherite Tory backbenchers.

Part of Labour’s fury comes from the proposition, to be put to the Commons in the Autumn, to combine the Commons vote on adopting a referendum on AV with the proposition to realign the electoral district boundaries. Such realignment will largely dissolve what is (let’s face it) a northern urban Labour bias, and create districts with greater population equity – but at the expense of lots of Labour safe seats. So, it’s understandable from Labour’s perspective that boundary realignment is a bad thing. But, in arguing that they want to disentangle the Commons vote on boundary reform from a Commons vote on the date of the electoral reform referendum, what exactly do they want to accomplish?

Separating the motion into two, and introducing a separate motion on electoral boundary reform, wouldn’t itself make a positive difference to Labour. An electoral boundary reform bill, alone, would (we think) pass in the Commons, no? The Lib Dems and Tories both express commitment to it. So is Labour’s motive to create obstacles for the 5 May referendum on voting reform?

I think yes – but their motives seem indirect here. There are Tories who don’t want the public to vote on AV at all, let alone on the 5th of May when turnout is likely to be high, due to the coincidence of local elections that day. Labour’s motives here are more murky. They are half-ambivalent and half-supportive of voting reform, and Labour no longer maintains any predetermined opposition to AV. David Miliband would apparently welcome it, if he were leader, which he is supposed to be soon.

So if it isn’t AV itself that Labour wants to scupper (though they might not mind if it is scuppered), what they really want to scupper is the Coalition itself. It’s just a brutal, wedge-driving, pot-stirring strategy: to generate early rifts in the Coalition, and to disenfranchise and disenlighten the Lib Dems over their solitary Big Win in this Coalition deal, which is the referendum itself.

If the referendum date were to be changed away from the local elections date, and referendum turnout was thus rather low, provoking people like Bernard Jenkin to then advocate that the result isn’t conclusive enough, then Clegg might be provoked to abandon the Coalition.

That would delight Labour, really. They must feel confident that they could precipitate an early election in 2011ish, if they pot-stir successfully enough between now and then. By next Spring, Labour will have a new leader, they’ll have the polling bounce that inevitably comes with that, and if the Lib Dems look disorientated and failed in not getting the AV vote on a day of their choosing, their wider support will be highly vulnerable. Labour is already hoovering up LD support, and it’s only July 2010.

So while Labour have direct political reasons to oppose boundary reform, perhaps they have only indirect political reasons to oppose the timing of an AV referendum. Their tactics of late appear to be designed only to frustrate the Lib Dems, to kick them while their base is trembling and weak, to drive wedges in the Happy Marriage, and to set up a future election scenario that’s a highly comfortable and traditional bipartisan race.

I’m hoping Clegg can pull this out of the fire… he’s already argued that a referendum on 5 May, coupled with local elections, would save the country £17 million. Which is more than will be saved by abolishing the UK Film Council, so it’s (in this new Age of Austerity) no mean sum. He may want to impress that upon Cameron, and get him (with some urgency) to ensure his backbenchers don’t indulge in Labour’s proposition to wreck the Coalition through wrecking the referendum.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , , , ,

One Response

  1. enfranchiseme2 says:

    “Of course in the UK right now, the Coalition is pursuing boundary reform, and equally, remote areas of Scotland will likely retain their district sizes, despite it meaning they’ll be even more greatly over-represented.”

    If being “equally represented” is simply a matter of constituents per MP, yes. But doesn’t that measure “representatives” rather than “being represented”?

    On the arguments of “equality by number of constituents”, you would pool Scotland’s Northern Isle (Orkney and Shetland) in with the Western Isles (Harris, Uist etc.), but we need to ask if an MP who is elected by two different (albeit small) areas can adequately “represent them”?

    Distance will be a problem (unlike mainland urban and non-remote rural areas); the MP will have to decide which week-end he goes to which of his or her “areas” – and to argue that “internet conferencing can solve the problems of distance” will be thought facile by the majority of constituents who have an issue that they want to discuss with their MP face-to-face. The quality of “representation” will suffer.

    Likewise if an MP tries to “represent” two areas that differ substantially (say, for this example, that the Oil Industry is more important to one, whilst agriculture is more important than the other), he or she may find that there are times (e.g. budget debates) where he or she has to favour one “area” over the other. The quality of “representation” will again suffer.

    Trying to equalise constituencies is fraught with problems (http://enfranchiseme.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/messing-with-the-boundaries/). By following natural communities you will get a few oddities, but for every “odd” rural constituency “over-MP’ed” by one party it is likely that there will be an “odd” inner-urban constituency (following borough boundaries) “over-MP’ed” by another party. As long as the overall national result is not grossly distorted by local oddities, isn’t it better to follow natural communities (and put up with some size variations) so that everyone is as effectively represented?*

    * Electoral reform being another question!

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July 2010

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