The tectonics of voting reform
The tectonic plates of politics are on the move again. As I suggested in The Independent on Sunday yesterday, David Cameron is less opposed to voting reform than his spokesman pretends, while Labour is moving, quite quickly, away from its official policy of support for the Alternative Vote.
We are witnessing the beginnings of a historic reversal. By the time of the referendum next May, Labour may well be split down the middle on the issue, while the Conservative Party may well have a substantial minority in favour. Only a few weeks ago the Tories were nearly homogenous in their opposition, while Labour were overwhelmingly in favour.
James Forsyth, the political editor of The Spectator, had significant further intelligence yesterday. As well as saying that “I suspect David Cameron wouldn’t shed any tears if the AV referendum passed”, he names Oliver Letwin as the likely first advocate for reform among the Tory ministerial leadership:
Oliver Letwin, one of Cameron’s closest allies who helped negotiate the Coalition agreement, has been urging various people on the Right to support AV.
His argument to them is that change to the voting system is inevitable and that AV need not be bad for the Tories. Rather than being the end for the Tories, it could be the beginning of the end for Labour.
Fraser Nelson, the editor of The Spectator, has also changed his mind (as my colleague Ben Chu mischievously points out) to agree that Cameron sees the coalition as being for ever and not just for Christmas – moderating Tory support for a No vote in the referendum is clearly part of that.
The most telling change, however, is that reported by Sam Coates in The Times today (pay wall). It is that Boris Johnson (above, looking perplexed), the Tory mayor of London, has “lost faith” in the existing first-past-the-post system and won’t campaign for a No vote. It is true that Johnson was elected by a form of AV (the Supplementary Vote, which allows only a first and a second preference), but, as Coates points out:
Mr Johnson has changed his position since January, when he argued for the status quo in a Policy Exchange debate opposite Alan Johnson, the Shadow Home Secretary.
(Update: There seems to be some doubt about the mayor’s position, with Tim Montgomerie insisting that it is unchanged.)
Meanwhile, Andy Burnham has come out on the Labour side against change, dismissing it (to The Guardian) as “a kind of fringe pursuit for Guardian-reading classes”. Since then Denis MacShane, a Labour MP and moderniser has said:
If AV delivered unending years of right-wing government in Australia why are Labour grandees so keen on it?
Photograph: Ian West/PATagged in: electoral reform
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