Balls accused of blocking electoral reform

Ed Balls has been accused of planning to use the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting tonight to support a group of MPs opposed to electoral reform of any kind.

Ed Balls has been accused of planning to use the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party tonight to support a group of MPs opposed to electoral reform of any kind, but the allegations are strenuously denied by sources close to the Schools Secretary.

Speaking on the Politics Show yesterday, Guardian journalist Allegra Stratton said:

“They’re going to talk about … electoral reform which they want to be in their manifesto but lots of MPs don’t want it to be in their manifesto. They’re going to talk at the meeting and Ed Balls is their guy in Cabinet. We know that Ed is in favour of AV. He’s on the record as in favour so there’s some kind of positioning and one can only conclude that it’s for some months ahead…

Lots of Labour MPs would rather not [support AV], it would just completely cut away their base and Ed is lining himself up as the figurehead for it. There is a manifesto written by people in Downing Street that is in a drawer, ready to go. And there are all these bits that they can’t get agreement on in Cabinet. And you have Jack Straw, Peter Hain, others who have lined up and said this is great, let’s do it with the pretext slightly that this will appeal to Lib Dems if we need to go into a coalition. And we understand that Ed Balls is not in favour”

Watch it:

On his blog, the Observer’s political editor Toby Helm writes, “Arguments, I am reliably told, were raging more strongly than ever at the top of the Labour party at the weekend over that unsexy but still very important matter of electoral reform.” But sources close to Ed Balls told Left Foot Forward that remarks by the Schools Secretary in September, where he cautioned against getting bogged down in a row over constitutional reform close to an election, should not be confused with his continued support for AV.

An email from the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform sent earlier this morning and seen by Left Foot Forward says:

“The fears are coming from those in Labour-LibDem seats who believe that the LibDems may overtake them  – and others who think this is the thin edge of the wedge to PR.”

Progress Acting Director, Jessica Asato, told Left Foot Forward:

“If it is true that senior Government Ministers are making a last ditch attempt to block reform of our outdated electoral system, then it shows they have completely failed to learn the lessons of last year’s expenses crisis.

“At a time when we need a new politics, this feels like a depressing return to business-as-usual.”

The issue was discussed in detail at the Fabian Conference on Saturday with the first question asked to Gordon Brown after his speech on the issue. The TUC’s Secretary General Brendan Barber has also entered the frame with a new report, Getting it in Proportion?: Trade unions and electoral reform which is aimed to “stimulate debate about electoral reform for Westminster elections.”

UPDATE 12.10:

Willie Sullivan, campaign director for Vote for a Change, told Left Foot Forward:

“The Labour Party is getting ready to shoot itself in the foot over electoral reform tonight. A small group of MPs who are deeply conservative on this issue risk alienating a whole group of voters who expect a big response to last year’s expenses crisis. There are two crises at hand. Labour feels it’s got a response for a broken economy, but without electoral reform there’s little evidence they’ve got anything serious to say about our broken politics.’

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