Today the House of Commons debates the Referendum Bill which proposes a mix of hybrid measures including a Referendum on the Alternative Vote electoral system. The Coalition Tories and the Lib Dems will vote for it while Labour and some backbench Tories will vote against. At the General Election the party positions were reversed Labour proposed a referendun and the Coalition parties opposed. It is reasonable to assume that this Bill is not about reform. It’s purpose is to sustain the Coalition in power. A referendum is about genuflecting in the direction of a reform that no one wants.
The Coalition is obsessed with holding on to power. A referendum is part of a price paid by the Tories for Lib Dem support of Tory economic policies which they opposed in the General Election. The Lib Dems are willing to go through the motions of achieving an electoral reform which its members do not support as part of the fairy-tale that the price paid for their public office is a fair one.
The Bill contains measures to reduce the number of contituencies by the simple application of the guiding principle that there are too many MPs, despite a rising population, and that the electorate should be roughly equal in every constituency. Two Lib Dem held seats in Scotland are seen as an exception to the rule but in reality there are many others. The Boundaries Commission considers much more than numbers. It looks for natural communites. Some of these are below an average size and some have more electors. Now the Commision is to be harried into a process much quicker than it prefers and to conclusions it would nomally resist. It is common knowledge than many electors are not registered to vote and past actions to get all that are entitled onto electoral lists have been inadequate. A Constituency that seems to be on the small side would often reach a national average if potential voters were identified and encouraged to be on the list. A compulsory voting system, which I would prefer, could ensure that every adult was on the list and did vote. This is not part of the Bill.
If there were a General Election now the opinion polls suggest that the Tories might win. Whenever the election is called there is little doubt that the Lib Dems will be heavily defeated.
There is every reason for the Labour Party to oppose the Referendum. It is Labour’s duty to bring down the Coalition as soon as it can to prevent changes in British Society that will make it a less just and prosperous society. This is not a time for fine words and delicate consciences. It is a moment to sound the bugle and to oppose.