Con-Dem Nation,  Labour Party

Is it Labour’s job to back voting reform?

The Guardian reports this morning on plans by the Con-Dem coalition to “test its unity” by announcing that it will press ahead with a referendum on voting reform next May.

The paper says that Nick Clegg is expected to make the referendum announcement on Tuesday as part of a “constitutional package” that will also include “an equalisation in the size of parliamentary constituencies”. This is a favourite of the Tories with their big rural seats as it will favour their party at the expense of Labour.

It will be interesting to see how many Tories dissent on the referedum vote in the house — or whether that unity holds. The Tory party has no truck with voting reform, which makes Clegg’s position all the more laughable. He sits in a government in which the vast majority of holds one of the most cherished ideas of his party in utter contempt. In a referendum the two will campaign again each other. It makes no sense. His behaviour and that of some of his colleagues on the right of the Lib Dems has also helped to dampen, if not utterly extinguish, support for voting reform in the Labour Party.

The paper quotes Labour leadership candidate and shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, as saying that voting reform was “a peripheral issue”. I for one certainly held enthusiasm for it, but then watched as on as one side of the Lib Dems  said things such as “we will also make sure we don’t betray our principles” and talked about “the absurdities to a voting system” (Simon Hughes/Charles Kennedy) while others showed their preference for doing a deal with the Tories. Doing a deal that put the goal of fundamental voting reform further out of reach. Isn’t that non-sensical?

Burnham also told The Guardian that it was not the Labour Party’s job to “prop up the Liberal Democrats by helping them win a referendum that is important to them”. I’m slightly torn, but I think I find myself in agreement.

The party should certainly back vote in the house o f commons and allow the idea of the alternative vote to be put to the country, but then to to somehow support reform, to campaign with the Lib Dems, feels like offering a reward which that party does not deserve. It would be some kind of high irony for the opposition to campaign alongside part of the government while the Lib Dem’a coalition partner campaigns against reform.