Monday, May 02, 2011

West Ham Labour Party AV Debate: 28.4.11

On Thursday evening former Labour Party deputy leader, Margaret Beckett and John Denham, former Labour Secretary of State for CLG took part in a Hustings on AV. Margaret was Against AV and John For. This was organised by West Ham Labour Party and our local MP, Lyn Brown. It was held in a new University of East London Lecture theatre in Stratford E15 and was sponsored by UNISON London Labour Link.

The meeting went very well. When you organise such events there is always a worry beforehand about how many people would turn up on the night. It was the eve of a Bank holiday and the media have been going on about how people are not interested in the AV referendum. However, when we went there to help set up at 6.15pm (for a 7.30pm start) some guests had already arrived at 6.30pm. Around 150 turned up and at the close of the debate at 8.50pm there was still a mass of hands still raised to ask the panellists questions or make points.   

Both John and Margaret had 10 minutes each to set their respective cases then there was the Question and Answer.  
This was thankfully an intelligent and even tempered debate unlike the rather puerile one that the national Yes and No campaigns have descended into at times. It was still a little sharp - with John or Margaret shaking their heads at what the other had just said and writing notes on counter arguments furiously. 

I am of course completely bias since I am a convinced YES supporter (who had already cast his vote by post) but I felt that John did have the edge.  

Margaret argued persuasively for retaining the First Past The Post (FPTP) yet was less convincing to me, in her attacks on AV. I accept many of her arguments since I do think that FPTP does have merits. However, many of her arguments against AV were in fact credible arguments against Proportional Representation (PR) which AV is not. I would agree with her that PR is unsuitable and flawed. To me AV is just a updated and modern version of FPTP.

It’s not perfect.  But the world will not end if it is introduced. I think AV is fairer and we do need to shake up our parliamentary political system after the mire over expenses.

I agree with her argument that all electoral systems are unfair to some and flawed to some degree and that this should be about principle not political advantage.  

While I support AV because I think it is right. I think that John made a telling argument about how the Tories had benefited from FPTP. The Tories dominated British politics in the last century in part due to FPTP. That is why Cameron is so opposed.   

I made a contribution about the level of support for AV in the Newham Labour Group and also made reference to The Today interview I heard with John Curtice, Professor of Politics, at the University of Strathclyde. He had number crunched that if we had AV in the last election, there could have been a Labour led Coalition government.  So I offered my update on the old saying that “the worst day of a Labour led Government is better than the best day of a Tory one”.  

We then had the traditional Labour Partry raffle and auction. Next was down to the "Black Lion" for drinks with John and Lyn. A good night was had by all.

Many thanks to UEL and the very helpful campus staff and all those who helped out to arrange such a successful event.

I will post photos on Facebook later but check out the professional snaps by Dan McCurry here.


Damien McKee said...

What I don't think you and John Denham(with the greatest of respects)understand is,as Labour MP Tom Harris said in a debate in Edinburgh in support of FPTP and against AV that the reason the Tories were dominant was that their ideas were much more popular with people back then than Labour's were!In my view we need to be careful not to fall into a Lib Dem trap !

John Gray said...

Hi Damien

I think Tom is wrong on this. The Tories in 1979 and 2010 may have been more popular than Labour but they have never been "dominant" in the polls since whenever.