by Michael Dugher
In September 2009 I was asked to conduct the traditional pre-briefing for broadcasters of the leader’s speech to the party conference. I remember reporting back to Gordon Brown’s other advisers that I had just “had my balls fried” by journalists about a line in the speech committing Labour to hold a referendum on the alternative vote. There was much confusion. The journalists wanted to know why having a referendum on AV had anything to do with the need for political reform after the MPs expenses scandal. They also wanted to know whether Labour would be campaigning for a “yes” vote, or whether we were simply committing to giving people the choice to move to AV or not. “Oh we’re definitely in favour of AV”, said one policy wonk. “No we’re bloody not,” said a political adviser, “large parts of the PLP are against and it hasn’t gone through the NEC yet”.
18 months later, the tedious irrelevancy that is the debate about whether or not to change to the alternative vote system continues. It is striking that the only party to have had a commitment to having a referendum on AV was Labour, the party that definitely lost the election. The Tories were opposed, as were the Lib Dems, who, as longstanding supporters of proportional representation, dismissed AV as “a miserable little compromise”. And yet we are having a referendum nonetheless, whether the public wants one or not. (more…)