Labour cannot wish the AV debate away….
Mark Ferguson has a good post on LabourList speaking up for a third side to the AV debate; they may not be the most vocal but the ‘AV agnostics’ are probably the largest group within Labour. They are also likely to find themselves the subject of an awful lot of attention from both sides of the debate as time roles on because, as I have said, the simple truth is that whichever way Labour voters split will most likely determine the outcome of the AV Referendum. Mark’s central point; that Labour is ‘hopelessly divided’ over AV would be easily confirmed by anybody who even cast a casual glance at the Labour Twitterstream today. Add onto that the 114 Labour MP’s who have today spoken out against AV and you can see this division clearly afflicts the Party at all levels.
It’s understandable on one level why comrades want to try and wish this away but with the stakes so high this simply can’t happen. Both sides are also passionately invested in their cause as well so not only can it not happen but it wont either. However, apart from that maybe we should pause for a moment and wonder whether it is right to want to forget about this.
As a Party I feel it would do us good to have a raucous debate. We have become far too timid; far too scared of sharp and, yes sometimes bitter debate, and this simply isn’t healthy when it comes to cultivating a democratic culture. Harsh debate and bitter polemic does not just light our collective way but it also makes us stronger and more united when a course is finally chartered. This has simply been forgotten and this is exactly why the electorate turned on us because, brutally, as far as they were concerned we became a dried out husk of a Party incapable of offering a uplifting vision to a nation that needed one.
A vigorous debate about AV which cuts to the chase of some fundamental issues (like, for example, how we view our democracy and how we make it better) would go along way to dispel this view. Furthermore, the sight of comrades taking opposing views but, nonetheless, of course uniting to fight for Labour in the local and national elections would look very impressive indeed. It would show maturity but also that the contrarian spirit of a Party which should thrive on this is alive and kicking.
I make no apologies for opposing AV and I do so in the name of democracy. This pathetic reform shows what happens precisely when we leave reform to politicians and trust them to solve problems which they cannot possibly solve. No electoral system is perfect and the fact that the pro-AV camp pretends it is manna Nick Clegg rained from heaven by doing a deal with the devil should tell us all we need to know about its numerous and inexcusable imperfections. Furthermore, these comrades have abandoned the cause of real change, as was shown when the Liberal Democrats duly voted down an amendment calling for more options. Real, lasting democratic change will not arrive via this rotten plebiscite but will be won through the struggle of the growing anti-cuts/fees movement.
Labour as a Party should not be shy of this debate, if it wants to show the electorate it has changed and learnt from the General Election then rather than try and skirt round the issue it should plunge headlong into it with confidence it will safely emerge the other side.