Making every vote count
It looks like Labour is slowly coming round to the case for electoral reform.

By Ben Rogers
Published October 29th 2006 in Guardian Unlimited
Is Labour slowly coming round to the case for electoral reform? The most surprising thing for me in this year's Labour conference so far has been the announcement by Jack Straw, long an ardent defender of the electoral status quo, that he now supports a modest degree of reform in the form of the Alternative Vote. (Not that surprising, I know, but this is modern politics!).

By my calculations this means that all the leading candidates or possible candidates for the position of deputy leader - Jack Straw, Peter Hain, Harriet Harman, Hilary Benn, Alan Johnson - support either the Alternative Vote or the Alternative Vote Plus, as recommended by Roy Jenkins and his commission. Even Jon Cruddas, who has just announced that he will run, has expressed his doubts about the present system on the grounds that Labour's dominance in his Barking constituency means voters have no reason to turn out.

But what about Gordon Brown? This is one of those issues on which the chancellor tends to keep mute, but he is generally taken as another opponent of voting reform. On the other hand, he has now clearly committed himself to a fairly major programme of constitutional reform - in part, at least, because he thinks the state has to be brought closer to the people.

Most reformers argue that you can't do that without electoral reform. And the Power Inquiry, which argued along exactly these lines, was warmly welcomed by Brown when it came out earlier this year. It is also said that Brown's interest in constitutional reform was stirred and deepened by his reading of Robin Cook's writings the summer before last, while preparing the eulogy he gave at Cook's funeral. Cook of course, was a lifelong exponent of electoral reform.

There is no doubt that even if Labour's new leadership supports voting reform, it will be fairly low down their list of priorities; let's not forget that Blair was open to reform once too.

But this does not mean that it will not happen. If, as seems increasingly likely, the next parliament is hung, the Liberal Democrats are likely to make the introduction of a more proportional voting system a condition of joining a Lib-Lab coalition. Brown's promise of constitutional reform, and Labour's growing openness to some change in the voting system, should make that a little easier to achieve.
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