Saturday, 2 February 2013


It was good to hear John Leech on "The Week in Westminster" this morning, giving a straight account of coalition relationships. The contrast with his counterpart Graham Stringer, a fellow Manchester MP, regurgitating the Labour Party line, was striking.

In another segment, Julian Huppert explained LibDem MPs approach to social policy, reiterating that we should not be balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.

However, what struck me as much was David Davis's earlier misrepresentation of Liberal Democrats' position on the Alternative Vote. He is not alone. In an intervention in a Commons debate last week (sadly not recorded by Hansard), Peter Bone explained that in a 1922 Committee meeting before the establishment of the coalition, Conservative back-benchers had been told that, provided we achieved a referendum on AV, we would accept all their party's desired changes to constitutional arrangements. This is clearly the line that is going to be taken by Tories in future parliamentary election campaigns, that the Liberals have gone back on their word. 

In fact, the big betrayal has been by Labour. AV is not a Liberal Democrat policy; the idea came from the Labour side of coalition discussions. (Peter Hain is a long-term advocate - see his section on electoral reform in "Ayes to the Left".) Why Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander picked up the idea and ran with it in the negotiations with the Conservatives is a mystery which may be elucidated only when their memoirs are written. AV is not a fair electoral system. The reasons why I will leave to electoral anoraks to explain, but I would cite the survival until 2007 of John Howard's conservative governments in Australia when Labor had the majority of the popular vote.

Having helped set up the cross-party Yes2AV campaign, Labour then proceeded to use the referendum as a judgement on Nick Clegg personally. 

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