Labour party supporters (not necessarily the Labour party itself) are currently slamming away at the Lib Dems for talking to the Tories about some sort of coalition, totally ignoring the fact that it wasn’t the Lib Dems who took this decision, but the British people themselves when a hell of a lot more of them voted for the Tories than voted for Labour, creating a situation where a Tory-LD coalition would have a healthy majority but a Labour-LD one would fall short.
But what’s really pissing me off is the hypocrisy they’re displaying. Here’s a look at the front page of the apparently unofficial @UKLabourParty twitter feed (the official one is @UKLabour – I’d be very interested to know who’s behind the supposedly unofficial one):
I’m currently seeing a lot of retweets of their various “We need another x people to retweet if you want Proportional Representation” going around.
So exactly how long has the Labour Party believed in proportional representation? Well their 1997 manifesto did say the following:
We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system.
And they did do the first part of that. They created an independent commission under Roy Jenkins that produced a report. You can read the full report here. The crucial bit is contained in the first two recommendations:
1. The Commission’s central recommendation is that the best alternative for Britain to the existing First Past The Post system is a two-vote mixed system which can be described as either limited AMS or AV Top-up. The majority of MPs (80 to 85%) would continue to be elected on an individual constituency basis, with the remainder elected on a corrective Top-up basis which would significantly reduce the disproportionality and the geographical divisiveness which are inherent in FPTP.
2. Within this mixed system the constituency members should be elected by the Alternative Vote. On its own AV would be unacceptable because of the danger that in anything like present circumstances it might increase rather than reduce disproportionality and might do so in a way which is unfair to the Conservative party. With the corrective mechanism in operation, however, its advantages of increasing voter choice and of ensuring that in practice all constituency members (as opposed to little more that half in recent elections) have majority support in their own constituencies become persuasive. Lord Alexander would, however, prefer to retain FPTP for constituency elections for the reasons outlined in the attached note.
Of course, having spent a load of tax payers money finding out what they should do, they then binned it. Hey, FPTP was winning them obscene majorities on a minority of the vote! Excluding factors such as fairness, decency, democracy, keeping their word, and the long-term good of the country, what possible reasons would they have for moving to a proportional system?
Then we arrive in 2010. Labour are now making a big fuss about the fact that their 2010 manifesto contained a commitment to electoral reform. It did, saying the following:
At the heart of our agenda for a new politics are commitments to a referendum early in the next parliament on whether to move to the Alternative Vote system for elections to the House of Commons;
It should be noted that Alternative Vote is not a proportional system. You might have noticed a line in the section I quoted from the Jenkins report:
On its own AV would be unacceptable because of the danger that in anything like present circumstances it might increase rather than reduce disproportionality and might do so in a way which is unfair to the Conservative party.
Basically, it’s not PR. It can actually make it more likely that a party could achieve a majority with only a third of the first-choice votes; its only, minor, saving grace is that at least it would mean people no longer had to vote tactically. There’s a very good article on the BBC News website that allows you to see the effects of various types of voting system. From that, you can see:
In the 2005 election, FPTP gave the Labour Party 355 seats (54.6%) on 35.3% of the vote.
If those elections had been held under AV, they’d have got 366 seats (56.3%).
You can read a bit more about Labour’s retreat away from PR, here, but it’s clear that they have not been in favour of it in any meaningful way.
So when did the Labour Party and Gordon Brown become converted to the cause of proportional representation? Sometime last Friday morning, far as I can tell.
And if they think they can get voting reform past a sceptical British public in a referendum while displaying such a huge degree of opportunism and hypocrisy, I suspect they might find themselves mistaken. And remember this: if we lost such a referendum we’d have lost all chance of PR for a generation.