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AV extra: Government whips organising AGAINST government policy

Michael Crick | 16:15 UK time, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

On Monday I revealed in this blog, and on the programme, that the government's plans to legislate now for a referendum on the Alternative Vote had effectively been scuppered by Ed Balls and the Chief Whip Nick Brown.

At the beginning of December the Cabinet agreed not just to have an AV referendum in the manifesto (as Gordon Brown announced at the party conference), but to legislate before the election to ensure a referendum on AV is held after the election even if Labour loses power.

This was designed as a wheeze to put David Cameron on the spot, and also a way to cosy up to the Lib Dems in case of a hung parliament.

But so successful have Mr Balls and Mr Brown been in their lobbying against the plans which ministers agreed last month that it is now probably too late to get the referendum measure through Parliament before the election.

John Prescott tried to rubbish my story live on air on Monday night, but now, more extraordinary still, I'm told that government whips are actively lobbying MPs to argue and vote against the AV referendum legislation at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party this coming Monday night.

The whips office is thought to be pretty hostile to the AV referendum, not just because Mr Brown is their boss (and his Newcastle seat would be at risk from AV) but also because many whips represent northern and Scottish constituencies - regions where Labour would probably lose seats from AV, whilst maybe gaining them elsewhere.

Willie Sullivan, campaign director of the cross-party Vote for a Change campaign told me: "We understood that this was the agreed government position. It seems bizarre that government whips are organising against the government in the interests of what seems to be protecting their own seats for the future."

The Votes for a Change campaign is so annoyed about Mr Balls' efforts to block the AV referendum legislation that today they called him a "hypocrite" for publicly backing AV, yet privately opposing the referendum.

Today the group launched an e-mail appeal amongst their 40,000 supporters for a slogan for a billboard they plan to hire in Balls' constituency in Normanton.


  • Comment number 1.

    AV or FPTP are one and the same favouring either Tory or Labour ad in finitum. As I believe in Democracy a proper PR system is the only way the UK voter coupled with fixed term parliaments will get nearer that goal.

  • Comment number 2.


    Did I notice Westminster's toads disinforming us, recently, that the whips are no more a force in New Westminster? Might that be the message, because they are alert to a mood of 'PLAGUE ON ALL THEIR HOUSES' echoed in my 'SPOIL PARTY GAMES', and are a little nervous? After all, the whip is what the ROSETTE STAND (aspiring MP) must 'take' if they are to be allowed, by a party, to CARRY THE ROSETTE (aka party 'favour').

    Lets have no more disinformation, just SPOIL PARTY GAMES.

  • Comment number 3.

    As much as I want AV to be installed in favour of FPTP, both are poor systems and the only true alternative here is PR. Until we get PR, I will never, ever call the UK a democracy.

  • Comment number 4.

    LEST WE FORGET 2005 election

    Labour polled 9,566,618 gained 356 seats

    Tory's polled 8,785,941 gained 198 seats

    LibDems polled 5,985,414 gained 62 seats

    CAN YOU SEE WHAT IT IS YET? Not democracy, that's for sure.

  • Comment number 5.

    You are not going to get Labour turkeys voting for christmas are you! What is new in this self preservation at all cost, parliament.

  • Comment number 6.

    The aversion of the British political class to P.R. is a direct consequence of the adversarial political and judicial systems that have been our M.O. for centuries now. Too many vested interests. The sooner that we get a proper P.R. system, the sooner the political class will set about tackling the copuntry's real problems and, learn the meaning of the word "compromise". It can't be a moment too soon.

  • Comment number 7.

    No politician has really come up with a way to reflect how people are thinking and to vote on it.

    Is that because they are so out of touch with the real world?


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