The Guardian reports Labour leader Ed Miliband's support for the launch of a Labour Yes! group which will campaign for Labour voters to vote Yes in the referendum on the Alternative Vote.
This confirms the party leader's commitment, in his first conference speech as leader, to supporting a change in the voting system.
The range of voices making up the 50+ signatories to the launch letter to The Guardian suggests that Labour Yes! will stake a strong claim to make Labour a majority "Yes" party, though there will be some Labour voices on both sides of the referendum debate. Indeed, the signatories show that this is a rare cause with the ability to unite Ken Livingstone with Neil Kinnock and Oona King, Tony Benn and Peter Mandelson, Tessa Jowell and Tom Watson, Jon Cruddas and Roy Hattersley, James Purnell and John McDonnell, Phil Collins and Neal Lawson (and even, from journalism, Kevin Maguire and John Rentoul). There are quite a few of us somewhere in the middle too!
The campaign - chaired by Ben Bradshaw MP - is also bringing together key staffers from the David and Ed Miliband leadership campaigns in an effort to mobilise party opinion for a Yes to AV. The director of Labour yes! is Jessica Asato, who was social media organiser for the David Miliband leadership campaign, and who is collaborating on Labour Yes! with Marcus Roberts, director of the field campaign for Ed Miliband.
That experiences should important opportunities to mobilise from the grassroots up in the party, rather than being a Westminster-based campaign solely dominated by Parliamentarians. Eight Shadow Cabinet members have signed the letter, including Douglas Alexander and Sadiq Khan, campaign managers of the rival Miliband leadership campaigns.
That Jack Straw is among the Labour "big beasts" backing a Yes on AV also shows that the campaign is managing to unite those who have taken different views on electoral reform in the past. Straw has said he thinks AV is an improvement on the present system, but would oppose a move to full PR, which is a position shared by Peter Hain. They are joined in supporting a Yes on AV by long-standing advocates of PR in the Labour ranks - including John Denham, Ben Bradshaw and Alan Johnson.
The pressure groups Compass and Progress from the left and right flanks of the party are among the founders of the Labour Yes campaign, alongside the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, and individuals involved with a range of Labour and progressive groups, such as myself, Will Straw of the Left Foot Forward blog, ippr director Nick Pearce and Young Labour director Sam Tarry.
The campaign will work with the national "Yes to Fairer Votes" campaign involving supporters of all parties and none, but Labour Yes will be an autonomous group, able to engage in reaching Labour activists and voters, including articulating specifically Labour arguments for a Yes vote to AV.
Ed Miliband has said that he will allow shadow ministers to advocate personally on either side. To date, no shadow cabinet voice has said they will support a no vote, though Andy Burnham has been sceptical about Labour giving any priority to the issue given other elections in May, though there are also good arguments that at least some local parties will want to campaign for AV as a way to help Labour win local votes and seats in their area.
The No to AV campaign does have the support of several party veterans including ex-cabinet ministers Lords Prescott, Reid and Falconer. (As peers those three can not vote in General Elections, whether under first-past-the-post or AV. The No campaign may be please that the referendum franchise will be the national electorate, plus peers!).
Labour MPs who have declared for the "No" side of the argument include Margaret Beckett, David Blunkett, Emily Thornberry and Toby Perkins. To date, Labour "no" voices have taken part in joint Tory-Labour No to AV public advocacy on that side of the argument, rather than forming a party-specific campaign to make their case.
PS: I made the case for AV in a Fabian Review essay back in the Autumn of 2007. As ever, under Fabian rules, the Fabian Society will not take a collective organisational position. I will be happy to publish competing arguments from Fabians for debate on this blog.