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Labour Peer John Reid No to AV Speech in Full

April 18, 2011

PM David Cameron listens to Lord Reids speech on No to AV

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, was joined by the former Labour cabinet minister John Reid in backing the cross-party No to AV campaign. In a shared speech in Westminster today they outlined their reasons why they want to protect One Person One Vote and keep this principle at the heart of British democracy. I have published Lord Reid’s speech below as it was the most powerful and relevant to not only Labour supporters but those all of all parties and especially to non-aligned voters:

This is a rather unusual event. There’s no doubt about that.

As the Prime Minister said, no one is pretending that he and I agree on everything.

There are some issues so important that they transcend party politics. Where we should rise above personal differences. Issues on which people expect politicians to put aside their differences aside for the sake of the people, the country and the public interest.

Foremost among those issues is the right of the British people to decide their government — and to do that in a way that is fair, equal in weight, one to the other.

This campaign is about defending the right of one person, one vote – a system that has been the foundation of our democracy for generations. A system that gives exactly the same voting rights to every single person, irrespective of background or station in life.

That is the British way, it is the fairest way, and it is the best way.

An issue like this is too important to let party rivalries take precedence.

It is outrageous to try to secure a change to the electoral system for tactical party advantage, by usurping the right of all of our citizens to an equal vote? But there is a growing and well-founded suspicion that is exactly what the Yes Campaign and the leadership of the Lib Dems want – not a change in the public interest, but one based on narrow self-interest.

A change like that should never be about face-saving or self-interest or advantage for parties or personalities. Of course, every system has winners and losers. That is the nature of elections. The answer for the losing parties is to work harder to win more votes — not to demand that their voters get more votes than anyone else…..not to introduce a system that tries to change losers into winners. And a system where the first votes to count twice are the votes of the least popular candidate!

That’s one – only one – of the reasons that AV has always been rejected for choosing our government. This AV idea is not as new a suggestion as some people would have us believe. Back in the 1930’s, our greatest Prime Minister (and possibly the most famous ever Liberal Cabinet Minister) Winston Churchill was asked to consider it. He concluded that not only is AV “the stupidest, the least scientific and the most unreal” voting system – his words not some Labour attack dog – but he said that that it means that ultimately elections “will be determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates.”

And just as tellingly, he warned that should it ever become our way of choosing a government: “respect for Parliament will decline lower than it is at present”.

Maybe some of our politicians could learn from Churchill.

But maybe they could learn even more from non-politicians; people like the sportsmen and women who represent this country. When they lose a contest or race, they pick themselves up, get back into the game and come back to fight another day. They don’t moan on about moving the goalposts to make things easier next time. And they don’t expect gold medals for finishing second, third or fourth or fifth.

In politics, as in sport, we all lose sometime. Like David I have had my disappointments. During my time in politics I have seen days when the Labour Party did extremely well and I have seen days when Labour did extremely badly. When you lose elections it isn’t a nice experience. But you take it on the chin. You accept the will of the people. What you don’t do is try to change the rules of the game to suit yourself.

Because, in our democracy it is not up to the Government to sack the electorate, or change the electoral system just because they, the politicians, don’t like the result. In a democracy it works the other way round.

So we will put the case for our present system every single day until the 5th May. It may not be perfect – first past the post – few things are. But it is clear, fair, decisive and it treats all our citizens equally. It has served us well precisely because it is built on the bedrock of our experience as a democracy.

The case for the Alternative Vote has been built, I believe, on a mountain of sand.

They say MPs would work harder because it would end safe seats. This is totally absurd. In fact, it would have no effect at all on the scores of seats where MPs already get 50% of the vote, or even more, when they get close to it. And of the MPs supporting Yes I haven’t yet seen one step forward to say they don’t work hard at present – it must be everyone else! I think the electorate might be sceptical about that. There are things we can do to make MPs deliver – such as giving constituents the right to sack their MP — but AV would not make a jot of difference.

They say MPs would no longer have a job for life. I think Michael Portillo in 1997 and Lembit Opik last year, and hundreds of others, might have something to say about that. The current system doesn’t guarantee jobs for life – but hard work helps.

They say every MP would have majority support under AV. Again, not true. This could only happen if you made it compulsory for voters to mark a preference against every name on the ballot paper. And even then someone might be elected who was the first choice of only one in four voters.

They say it would increase turnout. But when AV was introduced in Australia turnout fell sharply, and they ended up making voting compulsory. Is that what we want – compulsory AV? Do we really think people want to waste their time in polling booths pondering whether the Monster Raving Loony Party deserves their sixth or their seventh preference?

They say it would end tactical voting. The opposite is true. In reality AV would reinvent tactical voting, because the order in which candidates are eliminated is vital in determining the result.

They say it’s a step towards proportional representation – but it can deliver results less proportionate than now.

And the biggest myth about AV is that it will make every vote count. I have to tell you that there will always be winners and losers in any election. What we need is a system that ensures that everyone has an equal vote and that some votes shouldn’t count more than others.

And on top of that the AV system is complex, confusing and costly – which is why it has been rejected almost everywhere else in the world for choosing a government.

But above all it is not fair, not equal and not British.

That’s why I stand here today alongside David Cameron calling for a No vote.

I also stand alongside more than 200 Labour MPs and Peers, hundreds of Labour councillors up and down the land, thousands of rank and file Labour Party members, and my Labour colleagues, like Margaret Beckett, John Prescott and David Blunkett, and several members of the current Shadow Cabinet, all of whom are voting No to AV.

But most importantly I stand with those ordinary people of this country who have no party affiliation at all, but who want to defend their own right to an equal and fair say in choosing their government. That is what this campaign is about.

So my message today is simple. It’s your vote. Your right to a fair say – a say and a vote equal to everyone else. No more, no less than any other voter in this country. Don’t let them take that right away. Vote No on the 5th of May.

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