Are Labour preparing to sabotage Lords reform?

Hilary Benn has written an ominous piece on Labourlist. He ostensibly supports the principle of reforming the House of Lords to make it more democratic… but his carefully constructed wording suggests that Labour are preparing the ground to sabotage the whole process to score cheap political points.

Benn writes:

“The Labour Party is firmly committed to a 100% elected House of Lords, and therefore what we will look for in the government’s Bill is whether it provides for a wholly elected second chamber. … how could anyone contemplate reforming our system on any other basis than full democracy?”

The hypocrisy is obviously staggering. How could anyone contemplate reforming our system on any other basis than full democracy? I don’t know, Benn, you were the one in power for thirteen years who, rather than reforming our system on the basis of full democracy, oversaw the greatest expansion of political patronage in modern British history.

Given that there isn’t a majority in the House for a fully elected Upper Chamber, we are likely to be presented with a compromise bill with an 80% elected chamber and the appointment of cross-bench peers. It’s not ideal or perfect, but as the Conservatives are the largest party in Parliament, this should be considered a massive victory for Clegg and a thoroughly worthwhile reform.

But now we can expect Labour to vote this down on the basis of their suddenly-discovered love of “full democracy”. Combined with the votes of the reactionary Tory right, this will sink Lords reform.

If and when this happens, I hope liberals will realise that, as with the AV referendum, Labour are trying to wreck even the good things the Coalition is doing for their own narrow political ends. I hope we remember that in their thirteen years in power Labour amply demonstrated that they have no love for democracy.

And, most importantly, I hope that all liberals remember that, however they may prattle on about their “principles”, the Labour party, from the very top to the very bottom, are a bunch of bastards who have no higher goal than to screw us over.

Published in: on May 16, 2011 at 10:11 pm  Comments (1)  

Reasons the AV vote was lost

I guess it’s about time to squat on the scorched earth of our referendum disaster and pick ghoulishly at the corpse of the Yes to AV campaign. Here’s why I think the AV campaign failed.


Ed Miliband is a weak leader. While he was willing to put his neck out for reform, he utterly failed to take his party with him. Cameron almost silenced the pro-reform Tories (with honourable exceptions), but Miliband couldn’t lead Labour. What this referendum does reveal is that when Ed talks, his party isn’t listening.

His petty refusal to take a podium with Nick Clegg was deep and a self-inflicted wound to the Yes campaign. The No campaign was making the most of the anti-Clegg feeling (which, in my opinion, is nothing more than both left and right being bitter about uppity interlopers in their cosy duopoly). Ed Miliband validated this argument for them, and advertised it. By being so petulant and unstatesmanlike, he was doing the No campaign’s work.


It became obvious the national campaign was dead in the water when they ran a ‘cross-party’ launch with only Labour, lefty Lib Dems, and Greens. Where were Nigel Farage and Andrew Boff? If Darren Johnson, an obscure Green member of the London Assembly, got to speak, why not a prominent Tory member of the London Assembly? Why not the leader of UKIP, a populist right wing party that came second in the 2009 Euro elections? Then Tim Farron and Chris Huhne started talking explicitly in terms of a ‘progressive’ conspiracy. Disaster.

Interestingly, the two most-cheered speakers at the Yes London launch event were Tory-voter Kris Akabusi and the head of Conservative Yes. They were great, passionate speakers. We never heard from them again.

The campaign should have been more inclusive. Unless Yes were utterly, absolutely sure that they could pile up votes from left-leaning voters, we needed something to throw to the country’s conservative majority.


No dominated the air war with a traditional media operation. Yes was a bottom-up campaign, completely dominating the internet and social media. We had homebrew Youtube videos featuring cats and pubs, endless twittering, active and positive Facebook groups.

But social media doesn’t reach out beyond a small number of people of a narrow demographic who are already predisposed to vote for you. It’s not a way of reaching the average voter who, if they even use the internet, aren’t looking at the #yes2av twitter spool.

Social media is a tolerably good way of recruiting and organising volunteers for the ground war. But unless you turn online activity into boots on the ground, it’s more or less meaningless.


This was by far the most important failure of the Yes campaign.

A lot of people have been complaining that the Yes messages were weak, including Polly Toynbee today in the Guardian, who wrote that Yes was “insultingly stupid with its call to make MPs work harder”.

I strongly disagree with this. I think that right at the beginning of the campaign, Yes did a good job of formulating and testing the campaign messages. In my experience, they resonated with voters on the doorstep.

But we should have gone harder on the No campaigners.

Dan Falchikov researched the No MPs, and found them to be “some of the greediest, most venal and pathetic MPs to survive the 2010 expenses cull”.

In a campaign that ultimately came down to trust, we needed to get this information out. For a Yes campaign that was intentionally anti-politician- a people’s campaign against the establishment- and working to install a system that if nothing else makes it easy to kick out an unpopular MP, it was a highly relevant attack. It was, in fact, the only effective way to counter the baby-killing soldier-shooting lies of the No campaign.

They fought dirty, yet our gloves didn’t come off. This was no time for Queensbury Rules

As the campaign progressed, the Yes campaign appeared to have no clear communications grid.

Too much time was given to rebutting the No claims. We should have said “this is a lie, you’re not credible”, and moved on.

Instead, Yes went on and on and on about how the costs weren’t £250 million, and how electronic vote counting machines wouldn’t be necessary. Even if people hadn’t heard the No lies, if they heard the Yes rebuttal it would have seemed like a suspiciously specific denial, and they’d suspect it might be true anyway.

The same goes for the BNP claims. Lefties are prone to giving fascists levels of attention that grossly outweigh their seriousness as a political force. Usually I think that’s fine: if Labour want to ship their young activists to Dagenham to fight phantoms, then at least they’re not on the ground in Labour marginals. The BNP are an irrelevance, politically and in the minds of the electorate. So going on and on about Nick Griffin was another suspiciously specific denial, and was a total waste of time and energy.

Once you’ve let the enemy set the terms of the debate, you’ve been sunk.

Published in: on May 7, 2011 at 1:59 pm  Comments (4)  

Hackney votes Yes to AV

It looks like Hackney had the highest Yes2AV vote in the UK, at 61%.

Thank you to all Hackney reformers who helped with the campaign, and to everyone who came out and voted yes.

Hackney must be one of the few places in the country where it was a truly cross-party campaign. It was a real pleasure campaigning alongside Liberal Democrats, Greens, Labour – and even Conservatives.

Greens, Lib Dems, Labour, and Tories all campaigned together to win the referendum in Hackney.

Shame about the rest of the country.

Published in: on May 6, 2011 at 9:42 pm  Comments (2)  

AV loss is good for the Liberal Democrats

The alternative vote system would have been a disaster for the Liberal Democrats.

What we are seeing in the local elections and the recent opinion polls are the birth pangs of the liberal party as a serious party of Government.

The Liberal Democrats were never going to win an overall majority and enter Government alone. Eventually, we were going into coalition. And this was going to involve sloughing off part of our vote: the part that never wanted us to be in power.

The Liberal Democrats were treated as a bin for protest votes, a ‘none of the above’ vote. Most perniciously, we won single-issue votes from people who don’t share, or in many cases were actively opposed to, liberalism as an ideology. Many of these people would have realised they disagreed with the Lib Dem manifesto, if they’d read it. This includes a lot people who voted for us because we happened to make the right call on the Iraq War.

A lot of council votes were based on time-honoured Lib Dem skills of pointing at potholes and then getting them fixed. Or, in urban seats, particularly in London and the North, because the Liberal Democrats represent a competent alternative to disastrous, corrupt, and bankrupt Labour councils.

All this is ok, because however they get into power Liberal Democrats do liberal things. But its too precarious without a real ideological support base behind it.

I think that in the long term, coalition with the Tories is significantly less harmful than coalition with Labour would have been. Labourism is more offensive to liberals than Toryism. With the Tories we have essentially only had to compromise on tuition fees, which is merely a policy, not a principle. With Labour, we would have had to compromise on real principles, including respect for individual freedom and choice, civil liberties and the principle of subsidiarity.

A coalition with Labour would have deprived us of the voters that never wanted us to be serious about power – but with the same blow it would have deprived us of our distinctive liberal ideology.

Our true task, which I think Nick Clegg recognises, is to build ourselves an ideological core base. The only way we can be secure in power is if enough people vote Liberal for liberalism. Our current polling probably represents the extant British liberals – and while it’s lower than we would like, it represents a start. Clegg has been a good leader because at all times he has consistently put across a distinctive liberal ideology. The height of Cleggmania maybe represents the amount of people this speaks to: our potential core, even if they are not liberals yet.

AV would have made the Lib Dems forever aspire to be the mushy centrist party that is everyone’s second preference. This would have seriously harmed our true task: to create and nurture an ideologically liberal society.

Published in: on May 6, 2011 at 6:34 pm  Comments (3)