From Left Foot Forward- “No2AV campaign start 2011 with another gaffe”

I thought I’d better mention news covered by progressive political blog-site Left Foot Forward (& elsewhere) about the No2AV campaign starting the New Year with a list of 114 Labour MPs who, like turkeys wanting to squash the very idea of Christmas, are going against their leader, Ed Miliband, by wanting to stick with the current FPTP system for elections (despite the recent Institute for Public Policy Research report which correctly describes FPTP as “broken”).  Sounds like quite a coup for the No campaign, especially as they seem to want to focus on what major parties, MPs & Lords want our electoral system to be, while the Yes campaign focus on the really important people in all of this- us voters.

Not for the first time though, it appears No2AV have got a bit too carried away with themselves & put some names down of MPs that either haven’t made their minds up yet or are actually in favour of the much-needed reform that AV will bring. According to Left Foot Forward, & the sources they quote, there are so far 5 MPs listed that are wrongly claimed to be “No to AV” (some basically undecided, others actually favour AV). The 5 so far are-

Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Alun Michael (Cardiff South & Penarth)

Ivan Lewis (Bury South)

Albert Owen (Ynys Mon)

Meg Hillier (Hackney South & Shoreditch)

First highlighted by the Left Foot Forward article, via a quote from the Financial Times, is Barry Sheerman (story originally from the Huddersfield Examiner):

“May’s voting referendum campaign begins with a slip from the NO2AV camp. They named some 100 Labour MPs supposedly backing the current system. One on the list, Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, was surprised. He doesn’t back the status quo, and told his local paper he had “never even spoken” to the No campaign.”

It then transpired that Alun Michael (formerly 1st Secretary of Wales) is in fact an ardent supporter of changing our voting system to AV, which Left Foot Forward disclose courtesy of his daughter-in-law’s twitter account! Here’s the tweet in question:

“Highly amused that my father in law, who unlike me, is true believer in AV was on the no list. Wdn’t trust no ppl to organise voting system!”

Since then both Ivan Lewis & Albert Owen have been dropped from the list, & Meg Hillier has asked No2AV to remove her as well. There’s still a lot of Labour MPs that for whatever reason appear to want to keep the voting status quo, which is alarming when you consider the case against our current electoral system.

It would appear some are confusing matters, rather like former Deputy PM & No2AV cheerleader John Prescott did when first interviewed about his anti-AV stance (basically muddling all the issues about boundary changes & reduction in the number of MPs with the referendum which is only about whether to adopt AV or keep FPTP). One Birmingham MP appears to be doing just that- Steve McCabe (Birmingham Selly Oak). Here’s how he’s quoted in the Daily Mail (who are a bit out of date with which seat Mr McCabe now occupies):

“Steve McCabe, a former Labour whip, warned his colleagues not to support AV while it is being lumped in together with constituency boundary changes.

The Birmingham Hall Green MP told the Mail: ‘I am in favour of a proper debate but this is nothing more than a ConDem trick by Nick Clegg.

They are trying to bind together reform to our voting system with gerrymandering our constituency boundaries. This is tantamount to political fraud.’

Steve McCabe MP- YTFV supporters who are his constituents aim to talk with him very soon about his position on AV

This makes me wonder how much for or against AV Steve McCabe actually is once you strip away all the other related proposals in the Reform Bill, as after all on May 5th we will be only voting on whether to ditch FPTP for AV or notthe voting public don’t get to decide whether the faster than usual boundary changes & reduction in number of MPs goes ahead or not. Members of the Fairer Votes Birmingham group have heard comments from Steve McCabe hinting that he’s mildly in favour of AV, but after the No2AV Labour MP list publication we are actively trying to talk to him about where he stands, as we have been with a whole range of West Midlands MPs, local councillors & even MEPs.

Other MPs from the West Midlands on the list are much less of a surprise- we’d known for a while that Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston) favours retaining FPTP (she held her seat in the 2010 election with 40.6% of the vote, in a rather close contest), & we’d also already heard Ian Austin’s (Dudley North) argument against AV from his response to one of our members who’s a constituent of his, though he didn’t go as far as to actually give an argument for retaining FPTP! In defence of Mr Austin though, he does appear to still be thinking through the arguments on either side of the electoral reform debate, as he assured the Fairer Votes supporting constituent:

“I believe that change and improvement are both necessary, but I will be scrutinising the new government’s proposals very carefully to ensure that the motive behind their plans is a desire for greater fairness rather than to achieve party political advantage.

It will no doubt be a long debate, and I am sure that we will be talking to and corresponding with each other regularly throughout its process, and I promise that I will think long and hard about this issue and consider carefully the points that you and other people in the area make.

Let’s keep in touch as the proposals become clearer and the debate develops.”

All of us at Yes To Fairer Votes Birmingham hope these words aren’t empty platitudes.

You can read the Left Foot Forward piece here, & we may share more in detail of what local MPs tell us about what they think regarding the voting reform referendum on here soon, & don’t worry, we already know that quite a few Birmingham area MPs are in favour of AV!

*Update – 6th January*

According to the latest from the Huddersfield Examiner, Barry Sheerman MP is confirmed as having gone from being an ally of the No2AV campaign to a strong supporter of changing our broken FPTP voting system to AV. Here’s what he said to the Examiner’s Barry Gibson:

‘There’s no doubt that it’s time to have a radical re-think of how we elect MPs in this country,’…

‘I will be joining the campaign for AV and I will be voting for it.’

Mr Sheerman is concerned that the current first-past-the-post system allows many MPs to win their seats with a minority of votes.

He said: ‘I have won more than 50% of the vote in past elections, but I didn’t do so in 2010. To think that more than half the electorate didn’t vote for you is chilling for any MP.

‘In the 1950s there was a two-party system – Labour and the Conservatives took more than 90% of the votes between them and nearly every MP won a majority of votes in their constituency.

‘That’s very much changed now, there’s no longer that two-party dominance.’

Mr Sheerman believes electoral reform could encourage more people to vote.

He said: ‘I was dismayed at the very high percentage of people in Huddersfield who didn’t vote in the last election. I think AV would boost turnout.’ “

You can read the full Huddersfield Examiner article here

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One Response to From Left Foot Forward- “No2AV campaign start 2011 with another gaffe”

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