Labour has an appalling record on electoral reform. For the past thirteen years it has dithered over whether to make any sort of change to our useless, antiquated, unfair, unfit for purpose electoral system. In their manifesto this May, Labour finally gave a commitment to a referendum on AV. This was roundly, and rightly, derided as a “deathbed conversion” to try and woo voters who had deserted Labour because, well, of everything they’ve done. Or didn’t do.
The constitutional reform bill going through parliament at the moment promises two main things. First is a referendum on AV. Second is an equalising of constituency boundaries, reducing the number of MPs to 600. Labour have pledged to oppose this bill – and remember that this means they are voting against one of their manifesto pledges – because they think the reduction of MPs is tantamount to gerrymandering.
How any party can oppose the equalising of consitutency boundaries because they see it as “gerrymandering” defies belief: all Labour are doing is acting for purely selfish reasons. It’s true that the reduction of MPs will not favour Labour. But that is because, at the moment, they benefit massively from the current boundary positions.
In 2005, it took 26,908 votes to elect a Labour MP; as opposed to 44,368 for a Tory MP and a massive 96,539 for a Lib Dem MP. You had an absurd situation where:
The Conservatives actually won a narrow majority of the vote in England – 35.7 per cent to Labour’s 35.4 per cent – but Labour took 286 English seats and the Tories only 193. At that election the Conservatives needed a lead of 11.8 per cent to reach an overall majority.
(Admittedly, in the most recent election these figures were more equal, at least for the two main parties. It took 33,370 votes to elect a Labour MP, as opposed to 34,980 for a Conservative MP and an absurd 119,944 votes to elect a Lib Dem MP.)
Obviously any subsequent boundary change will hit Labour hardest. This isn’t gerrymandering; merely ironing out problems in the current system. For Labour to complain of gerrymandering as an excuse to vote against a manifesto pledge is pure, naked self-interest. As most of their attempts to institute electoral reform have been.
I wrote a month ago that policy, not politics, should determine how Labour campaigns for AV. It’s sad, but not surprising, that they will probably vote against it for political reasons, but are disguising it as a policy decision.