Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Ben Bradshaw to lead Labour campaign for AV

Former Cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw is to lead a Labour campaign for a Yes vote in the Alternative Vote, it is reported in Wednesday's Guardian.

Fittingly for Labour's contribution to a pluralist campaign, the Labour Yes campaign will engage a very wide range of Labour voices, as can be seen by the pressure groups Compass and Progress from the left and right of the party among those joining forces to launch the new advocacy group shortly. (I also plan to advocate a Yes vote and to support the new Labour Yes group personally. The Fabian Society does not take collective organisational positions under our rules).

There are clearly going to be some Labour voices on both sides of the referendum argument. Ed Miliband, as leader, has committed to supporting a Yes vote, and I expect that most prominent Labour figures will also do so. But others in the party are uncertain or agnostic, while some support the current election system and are actively hostile. (Toby Perkins, MP for Chesterfield, argues against on LabourList today). Where there are disagreements about what is good for our democracy, we will all do well to show that we can handle those with mutual respect.

Andy Burnham has said that Labour will want to prioritise the Scottish, Welsh and local elections. He suggests that this means that the party should not put (scarce) resources into the referendum question, and no doubt the official party machine will be focusing strongly on those elections.

Everybody in the Labour party should be able to agree on the goal of maximising Labour gains next May (whatever views they might hold on electoral reform - for, against and not sure). But it is too early to say that this should always mean keeping the two issues entirely separate.

I suspect we may need more evidence on what is good for Labour's own electoral prospects to resolve this issue. Here are some of the issues:

* Could Labour win more votes in May if Ed Miliband, in his first major electoral test as party leader, was to be prominent in keeping his pledge to support a Yes vote in the referendum? Or could Labour do better if its leader tries to stay out of that argument?

* Are there local elections where local parties think that it will be important for the party to appeal to key groups of voters for local Labour candidates and parties to be seen to be on the side of reform?. An obvious example could be in university towns where many disaffected LibDem voters might be up for grabs. Will it matter to this key target group what Labour says or does on political reform?

Andy Burnham's priorities argument will surely mean that he and the party will want to support local parties who have good reasons to believe that taking a position on electoral reform - for example, in candidate literature - would win votes for Labour in May. While Burnham remains in principle a (lukewarm) supporter of AV, he might reasonably argue that the same permissive approach should apply to candidates who believe that calling for a No vote will win Labour votes on their patch.

* What should happen in London? There are no May 2011 local elections because the big event is a year later. Ken Livingstone - Labour's candidate for Mayor in 2012 - is a long-standing advocate of reform and will support a Yes vote. Could Ken leading Labour-branded campaigning in London for a Yes vote play an important role in mobilising activists and voter identification? Could it have any impact on helping Labour to win over potentially crucial Green and LibDem second preferences, given that London already has preferential voting for Mayor?

To assess this, it might be important to keep a close eye on the London Tories. Will Boris Johnson be using the opportunity to boost his own campaign for Mayor? Whatever the calculations, Labour in London will not want to be placed at a disadvantage for 2012 by the right.

* Could we take this opportunity to build Labour everywhere?

The Yes campaign may particularly appeal to Labour parties where the party is weak - and who have lost votes in the past to a tactical squeeze. AV would allow everybody who supports Labour to vote Labour, without worrying about whether it might let the Tories in. Many people in the party are interested in a Labour version of the US Democrats' "50 state strategy", which realises the dangers of a long-term organisational retreat if there is too exclusive a focus on swing marginal seats. Being the only party of opposition could offer Labour a particular opportunity to rebuild its organisational presence and vote in the South-West, South and South-East of England. Could the local elections and referendum be used as an opportunity to do this?


Of course, there will rightly be many arguments about the Alternative Vote which are not about party interest. There will be a plural, cross-party and no-party Yes campaign - where Caroline Lucas of the Greens and Nigel Farage of UKIP will join Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Liberal Democrats in advocating a Yes vote.

The No campaign will be doing whatever it can to not appear Tory-dominated by involving other voices too.

But the Labour party will want to think hard about both its strategy and tactics. On several of the issues outlined here, there is at least plausible argument for a permissive approach to enabling campaigning for Labour alongside campaigning for AV - where local parties believes it would win Labour support.

Some of the arguments might be stronger or weaker when scrutinised. Before we decide exactly how Labour should approach the AV referendum, we will need to open up the debate about what would be best for Labour in May.


MatGB said...

Oh good, I really rate Bradshaw (I did, after all, vote for him when he was my MP), although he's not without flaws he's deeply committed personally to reform.

There're similar tactical discussions going on within the LDs--how closely linked do we want the yes campaign to be, and should we concentrate on locals, etc.

Ken leading the London campaign will be useful, and given Boris won on transfers as well I suspect he won't be too vocal in the anti campaign.

Interesting times.


I will be voting NO as i don,t want Nick Clegg to be king maker. He lost seats but still he became king maker .He called AV "a dirty little compromise"he will use a yes vote as a sign the country want his new fair politics.If i am right my mp may need the BNP votes to get elected no thanks
Andrew Edinburgh