Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Brown and the electoral reform referendum pledge

How else can you view Gordon Brown's pledge to hold a referendum on voting reform than as a pretty naked attempt to woo the Lib Dems and Lib Dem minded voters?

For sure, there are a lot of Labour supporters who also favour electoral reform, but I would argue that they aren't the people this bit of the speech was aiming at.

Brown's theme was 'change you can believe in' and this is change - so you must believe in it!

But the pledge will fall short in two respects. Whilst there are some in the Lib Dems who favour AV - including Lembit and Simon Hughes - the official party policy is for real change and so any post election negotiations would throw this out straightaway. You can bet that the grassroots of the Party (and conference) will see to that.

Brown will be buying far less support with this than he thinks. AV is not proportional (indeed, often it is less so than FPTP) but watch out for Labour figures 'mistakenly' claiming it is to hoodwink voters. Watch out also for Labour claiming this is a new pledge - as David Blunkett just did on BBC 5 Live.

Back in 1997, Labour pledged in their manifesto to hold a referendum on changing the voting system - and then broke that pledge.

And that is the second reason why this will backfire on Brown. When the idea was first floated, Brown was hinting in terms of a referendum on General Election polling day. Now the timetable has slipped. Whilst there are good and bad reasons for two votes on the same day, the one thing it would do was actually show his commitment. This pledge - a 'promise' of a referendum at some point after the election - will lead Lib Dems simply to say 'you promised us that before and broke your word, so why should we trust you now?'

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