I want to see the electoral system changed - and look forward to campaigning for the Alternative Vote at a referendum soon, even if the date seems very much subject to confirmation.
But, beyond AV, I think the government's bill is badly flawed. Labour reformers must advocate that Labour oppose the Bill in a constructive way. I would be interested what other pro-reform voices think the best approach to the conundrum of this hybrid legislative proposal should be, as I am personally still thinking through what it would mean.
I have no problem with broadly equalised constituency sizes, though size does not explain much of the current electoral bias. But the reduction of the size of the Commons is a poor move for which no decent reason is given. I strongly believe that Lynne Featherstone should be pushing to have the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on its impact on gender and race equality: reducing the House of Commons will almost certainly slow down even recent gradual progress on gender equality, making a mockery of the commitment of every party leader to speed it up. This was not a minor commitment of Cameron or Clegg, and it is not good enough to claim it is an unintended consequence when it is so evidently foreseeable. This impact has had much less attention that it merits.
I am not convinced by the changes to processes of inquiry, even if the status quo is far from perfect, particularly when they are being pursued as a matter of partisan controversy, at odds with British political tradition. And the Coalition should take seriously the issue of voter under-registration before it redraws the political map to write out 3 million potential voters.
In particular, I certainly think Labour should be willing to support and vote for an Alternative Vote referendum on its merits and as a stand-alone measure while opposing or amending the redistricting approach. And I particularly think that we need to do this if Labour is to oppose the Bill on second and final reading.
It would in my view be appropriate for Labour to back AV, while both opposing and offering reasoned amendments on the redistricting proposals, and to oppose the Bill on final reading if these do not succeed. The government ought to be able to carry its hybrid package with LibDem and Tory votes: it has a majority of 78, and I expect it would be carried since it is essentially a matter of Coalition confidence. (I think that will also require a willingness to listen to reasoned and reasonable amendments - particularly in the House of Lords - and that Labour ought to contribute to this)
If it can not carry the Bill, I personally think it would prove possible to secure an alternative Commons majority for the AV referendum to which Labour was committed in its manifesto, and that Labour should propose this..
So Labour should support and oppose aspects of the Coalition's reform on their merits. The Prescottian argument that everything should be opposed strikes me as short-sighted, though it will find some audience. But there is a perfectly valid principled argument for, on the final vote, opposing the package if there are not very significant changes. It is difficult to see why Labour MPs should vote for measures they oppose.
I also think that it would be a strategic and tactical mistake for those of us who think it is important for the party to continue its support for AV, and want to mount a case for campaigning as a party in the referendum, not sitting on a fence, to make support of this Bill the occasion on which Labour has the argument about that.
I am a bit bemused by how strongly Nick Clegg has been playing to the Tory gallery in his attacks on Labour - including specifically over constitutional and electoral reform. The Tory backbenches will be trying to make sure that reform does not pass, while the ability of a Yes campaign to win may well find that the ability to mobilise Labour voters in favour proves decisive. Clegg's current approach is making the job of those in the Labour Party who want the referendum to succeed much more difficult.
I would have thought Clegg must know that, though he gave every impression to the contrary when taking Commons questions on the issue. But I hope that other LibDem frontbenchers, backbenchers and activists can will be thinking about opening an important dialogue how we can try to make sure that members of rival parties can successfully cooperate on this issue.
Civic, non-party campaigners will have a particular role in helping to ensure that engagement does occur in a constructive way.