I am truly sorry to see the Secretary of State being obliged to be associated with this guff.
The best starting point would be for the Secretary of State to take a short absence from the Chamber to look at the excellent blog site run by his son, Will Straw, on which there has been extensive polling in left-of-centre areas of radicalism about these proposals. No more than 20 per cent., he has concluded, support the alternative vote proposed by the Government and 29 per cent. want no referendum at all. Perhaps we should not be surprised to learn, particularly from a left-of-centre blog, that the vast majority of the remainder want such disparate things that it is impossible to assess what they desire. I think that the Secretary of State would have done rather well to have considered that blog first.
The Government have tabled new clause 88 at this late stage of the proceedings-indeed, at this late stage of the life of new Labour-following the Prime Minister's belated conversion to the cause of electoral reform, which he has so successfully and personally obstructed for more than a decade. For the benefit of hon. Members on the Benches to my left, I think that it is worth recapping the history of new Labour's conversion to the cause of electoral reform.
In 1990, Labour set up the Plant commission, which recommended something that was basically the alternative vote. What was the view of the Prime Minister? He said that it was "defeatism" and attacked
"those who say Labour cannot win and who seek refuge from Labour's mission ahead as a crusade for change in the technicalities of electoral manoeuvring and horse-trading".
How the mighty are fallen.
In 1997, the Government were elected on a clear manifesto promise of a referendum on electoral reform. We all know that it was a device-we know what happens when the Prime Minister promises a referendum. The Government got Lord Jenkins to devise an alternative voting system. Let us remember what Lord Jenkins thought of AV, which the Liberal Democrats will support, I assume, if they cannot get their amendment through. He said that it is "even less proportional" than the first-past-the-post system, "disturbingly unpredictable", and "unfair" to the Conservative party-not that that has ever affected Liberal Democrat and Labour thinking very much. He proposed the proportional system, AV-plus, which he thought fairer. What happened to the promise of a referendum? At that point, the Government's commitment to it completely faded away.
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