Anticipating the electoral reform vote

20 to 40 Labour MPs are expected to vote against Gordon Brown's proposal of a referendum on the alternative vote. The Tories have been accused of hypocrisy.

Between 20 and 40 Labour MPs are expected to vote this afternoon against a referendum on the Alternative Vote. But the vote is expected to pass with support from Liberal Democrat MPs.

An amendment to the constitutional reform and governance bill will require a referendum to be held by the end of October 2011 on AV. But a new poll released by Politics Home this afternoon shows that 43 per cent of voters want to see a referendum, but with a wider range of options, while a further 20 per cent support the Government’s proposed referendum. The poll also finds 42 per cent would vote to keep the current system, 37 per cent would vote for AV, and 19 per cent don’t know.

Conservative opposition to the amendment was expected with the Liberal Democrat’s home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne, accusing Cameron this morning of hypocrisy:

“The Conservatives use the alternative vote to elect their own leader, but they don’t think it’s good enough for us to elect MPs. That’s a hypocritical party if ever I saw one.”

Responding to the day’s developments, Left Foot Forward canvassed opinion from a range of progressive voices.

Pam Giddy, Director of Power2010 – the grassroots campaign aiming to reform democracy, said:

“Today MPs will vote on whether we the people should have a referendum on changing the voting system for westminster elections from first past the post to AV. Yesterday David Cameron said he wanted to fix broken politics and  set out a number of populist ideas.

“In the final days of a parliament the leaders of our two main parties, recognising finally that trust in our democracy is at an all time low – are desperate to wrap themselves in the mantle of reform. who will believe them? Both stink of narrow political manouvering which will leave our democracy no better off.”

Willie Sullivan, Campaign Director of Vote for a Change, said

“It will, of course, be interesting to see which Labour MPs line up with Cameron and vote against change. However on the whole its seems that the House of Commons will offer a significant rejection of first-past-the-post, a system which  sees voters in marginal seats, the equivalent of the population of Brighton, deciding the government for the whole of the UK.

“At present is it any wonder that most people don’t feel represented by their politicians and politicians don’t care what voters think? The expenses crisis has shone a spotlight on parliament and while the electoral system struggles to hold MPs to account the glare of public concern should encourage them to vote for a change. They are to be applauded if they do but it would only be a travesty of our already damaged democracy if the unelected House of Lords was to block reform later this month.”

Jessica Asato, Acting Director of the Labour pressure group Progress, said:

“Those Labour MPs set to rebel against the Government on an AV referendum have failed to recognize that the public no longer have faith in the old political system. It is sad that MPs elected for the Labour Party do not see their role as winning power in order to give it back to the people. Instead they are preparing to join with the Tories in order to protect their own shaky grip on the status quo.

“They can’t rely on the defence that the Labour Party doesn’t want a change – the three main membership organizations of the party: Progress, Compass and The Fabian Society, have all endorsed an AV referendum. And of course, Labour members voted for the manifesto which promised the public a vote on electoral reform when our membership was at its highest in 1997.”

Gavin Hayes, General Secretary of Compass – a centre-left membership organisation, said:

“It is clear that the entire Westminster system of doing politics is bankrupt! We need a new constitutional settlement. A fairer voting system, with the consent of the people, is central to this.

“With that in mind, for the very future of our democracy, MPs of all parties – including David Cameron’s – should now put aside their tribal differences and support a referendum on the electoral system. Parties and politicians that can’t trust the British people can’t expect to win their trust and their votes in a general election.

“So with the biggest political scandal to hit Westminster in over 100 years now is the time for our politicians to give real power to the people and give them the opportunity to vote for a change and let them decide the future of our political system. On this basis I would urge all MPs to support a referendum in the parliamentary vote.”

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