Electoral reform

In my interview with David Miliband – running in Wednesday’s FT – we talked about the alternative vote in some length. The question everyone wants answered is whether Labour will end up on the No side or the Yes side of the referendum: or neither.

Miliband told me he would himself vote yes for AV. But would he actively campaign for it? Maybe, maybe not.

His final decision – if he becomes Labour leader – is crucial given that many Lib Dems are counting on the party joining the Yes campaign for it to have any chance of success.

Labour is in the curious position of being in favour of electoral reform but against the bill which will enable the referendum next summer. (Their criticism is that it has been tied up with cutting the number of MPs, a move which Labour decries as ‘jerrymandering’.) Read more

The fledgling “yes” campaign for AV says it is too early to make premature judgments. The Electoral Reform Society, for example, says that polls will inevitably jump around given that the formal campaigns have not yet started. The referendum is not until May – and could even be in September if rebel Tory MPs and Labour MPs unite to amend the relevant bill.

But our analysis for today’s FT shows that the yes campaign was ahead by 28 points in May (according to ComRes) and as little as 1 point ahead in recent weeks (says YouGov). It may not be a co-incidence that support has dwindled just as backing for the Lib Dems (the main proponents of electoral reform) has also fallen sharply. Read more

The Guardian’s story that Labour is planning to vote against the AV bill as it currently stands is an important development in the passage of electoral reform. But Labour won’t be able to block the bill. What is really worrying pro-reform campaigners is the growing movement to change the date of the referendum. The FT revealed this morning that Labour is close to agreeing with Tory rebels to vote for an amendment for such a change.

Electoral reform campaigners

Electoral reform campaigners

The “yes” movement calculates the bill will get through the Commons – rebel Tories will be whipped into submission on that point by party bosses who know that without it the coalition is likely to crumble.

But if those rebels team up with Labour to force a change of date (something on which Tory whips might give them more leeway), Lib Dems and other AV campaigners know the chances of a “yes” vote are significantly reduced. At the moment, the referendum is scheduled for May 5, when there are regional elections in Wales and Scotland. That should boost the turnout in those places, where support for AV is strongest.

So what chance the government suffering its first Commons defeat on the issue of the date? Read more

MPs are as confused as psephologists about the likely impact of the double dose of electoral reform which could hit voters in 2015. Not only are they trying to get their head round the possible effects of the alternative vote system, but they also have to factor in the ramifications of a fall in the number of seats from 650 to 600.

A study by the Electoral Reform Society soon after the election suggested AV could cost the Tories 25 seats, of which 22 would go to the Lib Dems.

But any Lib Dem rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the number of their parliamentary colleagues rising by nearly half should read this post on PoliticalBetting. Mike Smithson suggests the system could end up wiping out the Lib Dems, as it means the end of tactical voting, which has benefitted the party both in the north, where voters want to keep out the Tories, and the South West, where they don’t want Labour.

Perhaps this is why Nick Clegg before the election called a switch to AV a “miserable little compromise”Read more

It would have been more of a surprise if the coalition had decided to hold its referendum on voting reform on a different day; for example in October.

The working assumption for the last month has been that the ballot would co-incide with the May 5 local elections, as the BBC is reporting this morning. The only arguments against that had been that a] it could confuse people if they had to vote on two separate things and b] the Electoral Commission may not be in favour. Neither seem to be major obstacles.

The Lib Dems are itching to get on and hold the referendum as soon as possible; for many it is the one major reason for being in government – as strange as that may seem to sceptics.

Their first challenge will be explaining the AV system to people and then convincing them to care one way or another. The second will be rebutting a strong anti campaign by their supposed friends in the Tory party.

Meanwhile Labour will not hesitate to exploit the situation to its own advantage. Forget the fact that some Labour figures have gone public on their enthusiasm for electoral reform in recent years. (Some have seemed more sincere than others). Key frontbenchers see the referendum as a golden opportunity to force the downfall of the coalition, as splits appear between the yellow and blue partners. Read more

Nick Clegg made the first concession on the proposal for a super-majority to dissolve parliament for an early election.

This will be one of what I expect will be a series of tweaks to push the measure through. Read more

There are some good reasons why no politician would be able to deliver electoral reform in this parliament, even if they wanted to. These five points should be a reality check for all those dreaming of an electoral reform pact:

1) Winning the referendum is by no means certain According to the latest polls, reform is supported by around 46 per cent. But I’d expect that the 37 per cent who oppose it may find it easier to convince a majority to stick with Britain’s “ancient” first past the post system. Pity the politician who is asked to sell the D’Hondt formula for calculating seats under PR. Read more