Look Left – Referendum battle hots up

With less than five weeks to go, campaigning in the referendum on the alternative vote has been stepped up a gear, reports Shamik Das.

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 • With less than five weeks to go, campaigning in the referendum on the alternative vote has been stepped up a gear, with polling cards dropping through mailboxes, campaign launches, and an ad campaign aimed at raising awareness of the referendum all taking place this week.

The awareness campaign will feature adverts on TV, radio and newspapers informing voters about the referendum, the first UK-wide plebiscite in this country since 1975. The campaign will focus on Electoral Commission information booklets (pdf), which will be posted to 27.8 million British households from today.

On Tuesday, Labour leader Ed Miliband, alongside Green party leader Caroline Lucas, and senior Liberal Democrats Baroness Williams and Tim Farron, launched the cross party campaign for the alternative vote, with Lucas proclaiming “two party politics is dead, it’s finished”.

She added:

“People vote differently now and we therefore need a voting system to reflect that… a no vote would set back the debate for electoral reform for at least a generation.”

A major debating point this week has been whether AV will benefit extremists, with the No2AV campaign saying it will benefit the BNP, and will force mainstream politicians to pander to BNP voters. As Left Foot Forward explained three times this week, not only will AV make it much, much harder for the BNP to get a seat, under the current system, some Labour and Conservative politicians, like the disgraced Phil Woolas and Baroness Warsi, already chase after the BNP vote.

The AV referendum takes place in just under five weeks’ time, on Thursday, May 5th; if you aren’t already registered to vote, click here.

• The TUC March for the Alternative took place last weekend, with half a million private and public sector workers, pensioners, children and families taking to the streets of London in protest at the scale and speed of the government’s cuts.

As with the student demos last year, however, coverage of the march was dominated by the violence and terror inflicted on central London by a small group of mindless, selfish individuals, whose acts of thuggery drowned out the voices of the hundreds of thousands of peaceful demonstrators and may yet result in a crackdown on peaceful protest from the authorities.

Among those seeking to score political points out of the chaos and suggest some kind of implied support from trade unionists and politicians for the madness were Telegraph columnists Boris Johnson and Toby Young, who said the TUC “must take responsibility for the violence and destruction triggered”, and claimed public spending wasn’t being cut.

Writing on Left Foot Forward, Nicola Smith took on Young’s arguments:

“‘Cuts, what cuts?’ asks Young – all of those worried about the devastating impacts these negligible spending reductions will have (and our polling shows it’s not just half a million marchers but over half the country) are simply ‘useful idiots’. It is tempting to suggest that there is only one idiot here. Denying that Britain is about to face the sharpest cuts in public spending in decades is simply wrong…

“Reducing spending, while the population and its needs continue to grow, will have real impacts. The poorest will be hit hardest, unemployment will rise and services will suffer. And it won’t only be the public sector that is hit – with 38p in the pound of public spending going directly to private sector companies workers and businesses across the economy will, as the FT sets out, feel the impact.”


“With over 1,000 stewards, many hundreds of senior stewards (all of whom had been provided with detailed briefing and access to pre-march training), activities on hand for children and an event plan that allowed for the orderly dispersion of hundreds of thousands of people from central London, the organisation of the march was a clear success.

“To claim the actions of a small group of violent trouble makers are the responsibility of the TUC is unfair – the only way to prevent their action would have been not to hold a protest at all, and given Toby Young’s strong support of individual freedoms I find it hard to believe that he’d be in favour of this democratic right being removed.”

Also on Left Foot Forward this week, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber wrote about the importance of the march, explaining that the real test is “not the turn-out but whether we return home even more determined to defend public services and step up the arguments for the alternative”, while Dominic Browne interviewed some of those attending the march – including Brasseye creator Chris Morris; read it in full here.

• Once again, the lead international story is Libya – with minds turning from the military battle to a possible political solution, following the defection of regime foreign minister Musa Kusa.

On Left Foot Forward this week, George Irvin looked at whether peace could be brokered in Libya:

“The matter boils down to this: First, ‘coalition forces’ arguably have already exceeded their UN mandate by destroying Gaddafi’s ground forces when these forces were not actually shelling civilians;

“Secondly, part of the Libyan population clearly supports Gaddafi. The closer the rebels come to Tripoli, the more likely it is that ‘coalition’ air strikes in support of the rebels will inflict ‘collateral damage’ on regime supporters;

“Thirdly, the more blatantly the UN mandate is infringed, the less credibility UN power will have, a matter of real concern not just to Turkey, but to Russia, China, India and other emerging powers. On the above logic, a negotiated solution becomes more likely by the day.”

While former Army Captain Patrick Bury, writing about Nato taking command of the no fly zone, added:

“Where does this leave Nato? Despite the overt diplomatic manoeuvring by members, the alliance responded relatively quickly to the Libyan crisis, and prevented the high probability of a massacre of Benghazi’s citizens last week. Even if this response was relatively ad hoc, and whatever the ultimate outcome, the organisation has proved it stands alone in terms of capability and willingness to act.

“But, like Britain and France, it too will be looking for a quick victory that can boost the perception of an organisation that has been damaged by involvement in Afghanistan.

“The trick, therefore, is knowing when to quit. And as the history of conflict over the last half century tells us, this is the hardest trick to learn.”

Progressives of the week:

The Primary Care Trusts helping struggling hospitals fight the NHS cuts, using tactics designed at channelling patients away from private health providers in a bid to protect public hospitals. As Andrew Georgiou wrote on Left Foot Forward on Tuesday:

“Following the chancellor’s budget it was revealed that NHS funding would actually decrease in real terms by 0.9%. The news that NHS management is having to take innovative action to protect the financial sustainability of public hospitals will deliver another hammer blow to the Tories’ NHS credentials.

“The NHS played a vital role in the ‘detoxification’ of the Conservative brand and was a key part of David Cameron’s election strategy. The Tories now find themselves in a position where they are being seen as privatising the NHS whilst at the same time cutting its budgets.”

Today, meanwhile, it was reported that Andrew Lansley’s health reforms were coming under further pressure – from David Cameron, who is said to want to ‘soften’ the reforms.

Regressives of the week:

Bal Thackeray’s far-right Shiv Sena thugs who threatened to prevent Pakistan playing in the World Cup final in Mumbai tomorrow, were they to have made it, reminiscent of the threats against Pakistan players the last time they played a World Cup knock out game against India on the sub-continent, the quarter final in Bangalore 15 years ago.

As Sunder Katwala said:

“…that’s really not cricket…”

The World Cup final, hopefully sans extremists, takes place between India and Sri Lanka tomorrow at 10am.

Evidence of the week:

Research (pdf) from the new economics foundation (nef), which showed that last week’s budget could leave a shortfall of 520,000 jobs – because George Osborne had not adopted a coherent strategy for growth in key sectors of the economy. As many as 1.4 million people could remain unemployed, said nef.

Their report sets out ten key goals for government action, including:

• Good jobs: “The government should aim not just to create jobs, but to create jobs that are satisfying and secure, and which pay enough for a flourishing life. Good jobs also leave time to spend with family, friends and community”;

• Good consumption: “Economy policy should encourage consumption only within environmental limits: this may mean discouraging passive consumption of products, and encouraging more active consumption based on experiences and services”;

• Good future: “Economic policy also needs to ensure that we are resilient against future shocks, such as rising energy prices and an increasingly unstable climate”.

On Left Foot Forward yesterday, nef chief economist James Meadway explained the need for the chancellor to recognise that:

“…driving industrial transformation is about more than vaguely demanding GDP growth, but of setting clear objectives that meet real social needs.”

Ed Jacobs’s Week outside Westminster:

Wales: As the Assembly was formally dissolved ahead of May’s elections, one of the giants of contemporary Welsh politics, Rhodri Morgan, bowed out after more than a quarter of a century. The former first minister said:

“As my political career comes to a close, a line of poetry remembered from my childhood has been ringing in my ears: ‘For men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.’

“These lines from Tennyson’s The Brook resonate because politicians – the names, faces and personalities – may come and go, but this institution we have built together, our National Assembly for Wales, will outlast us all, it will go on forever and continue to develop and grow to serve the people of Wales.”

Meanwhile, following the successful vote to give the Assembly full law making powers, Plaid Cymru had reforms to the Barnett formula firmly in its sights. Former leader, Lord Wigley, told the party’s conference:

“Following the overwhelming success of the Welsh referendum, the battle for legislative justice has been won. The next battle is the battle for economic powers and budgetary justice for our country. This is not a small, marginal matter – it affects every community across Wales.”

Scotland: The first full week of electioneering in Scotland saw:

Polling which suggests an SNP/Labour partnership would be the voters’ preferred option for a coalition government, and showed the Greens pushing the Liberal Democrats into fifth place. There is just a one-point difference between Labour and the SNP;

• STV hosting the first leaders’ debate of the election, with Alex Salmond attacked for agreeing to the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi;

• Conservative leader Annabel Goldie opening her party’s campaign as it emerged three Scottish Tory candidates had decided to step down.

Elsewhere in Scotland, outgoing Lib Dem MSP Hugh O’Donnell decided to contest his seat as an independent. He said of Nick Clegg’s decision to enter into coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives:

“Since that fateful day, I have watched helplessly from the sidelines as this government at Westminster has attacked every vulnerable group in Scotland, from carers to disabled students to migrants, with some of the most draconian policies I have ever seen in the name of cuts.

“Not a word of criticism from the party leadership in Scotland has been uttered – even though the contempt shown for Scotland and, indeed, the federal structure of the party knows no bounds.”

Northern Ireland: This week saw the formal end of 50/50 policing, with parties divided in their response. The Democratic Unionist Party welcomed the decision, with one of its MPs, Gregory Campbell, explaining:

“It’s about the best person for the job – not where they choose to go to church. Anything else is quite simply sectarian discrimination.”

Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey, however, argued against the move. He said:

“Clearly progress has been made in relation to policing but that has been slow and painstaking; collectively we still have some way to travel yet.”

Meanwhile, launching his party’s election campaign, DUP leader and first minister, Peter Robinson, reminded those assembled of the significance of the vote, explaining:

“Last week saw the dissolution of the first full Assembly term for over 40 years. That is something that many people thought unimaginable just a few years ago. No one could say that it has been perfect but it is a far cry from what went before. Mistakes have been made along the way but I believe we are far better placed to deliver in the next Assembly term.”



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