AV battle consumes Labour

By Hannah Brenton

Labour’s divide over the alternative vote has widened further as the bitter battle to win over the party’s supporters intensifies.

The votes of Labour supporters could decide the outcome of the referendum as the Liberal Democrats are united for reform while the Conservatives want to keep first-past-the-post.

Both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns are encouraging senior figures within the party as their attacks against each other’s arguments step up. There are eight days to go until the May 5th referendum.

Speaking at a cross-party event for the ‘yes’ campaign this morning, former home secretary Alan Johnson called on the party to reject first past-the post.

“I think the electorate would actually believe that a party that could win by first-past-the-post but still felt it needed to change for the sake of the electorate was actually in a much stronger position,” he said.

“You can’t devise a system that just ensures that you win elections, but you can have a system that’s so outdated, that was devised by a tiny political elite when all women and most working men didn’t have the vote, that was designed by the establishment preference for a two-party system.

“Labour shouldn’t become part of that establishment view. It’s against our history, it’s against our principles, it’s against our ethos.”

Mr Johnson argued first-past-the-post no longer reflected the will of the electorate, calling it “miserably disempowering” and the relic of a “two-party system in a multi-party state”.

In a sign of the party’s divide, Mr Johnson hit out at another former Labour home secretary, John Reid. He recently shared a platform with prime minister David Cameron to promote the ‘no’ campaign, but Mr Johnson accused him of pursuing “narrow political advantage”.

Yesterday, Labour grandee Peter Mandelson said the party should vote for AV to embarrass Mr Cameron and the Conservative party.

But the Labour ‘no’ campaign said today that AV would hinder Labour’s electoral chances, arguing Labour would have lost 20 more seats in last year’s general election under AV.

Former home secretary David Blunkett also revealed that over half of Labour MPs will be voting against reform.

“Peter Mandelson is wrong when he says that No to AV is a Conservative campaign. The Labour ‘no’ campaign now includes over half of Labour’s MPs, 4 out of 5 councillors, and thousands of Labour activists,” he said.

Mr Johnson shared a platform with Liberal Democrat deputy leader Tim Farron, UKIP leader Nigel Farage and leader of the Greens Caroline Lucas.

Mr Farron said he joined the Lib Dems because he wanted a change to the voting system in the face of the “organised wickedness” of Margaret Thatcher’s government.

“There’s nothing more real than the mass unemployment that I experienced growing up in Lancashire when Margaret Thatcher’s government used unnecessary joblessness political and economic tool,” he said.

“Avoidable human misery was used then as means to an end. This was organised wickedness given the veneer of legitimacy by an electoral system that gave 100% of government power despite being opposed by 60% of the population.”

Mr Farage and Ms Lucas both said they would prefer a move to proportional representation, but argued the alternative vote would be a “significant improvement”.