How not to woo the Liberal Democrats, lesson no.94

A Guardian story shows perfectly how badly the Labour Party is approaching the question of trying to persuade Liberal Democrats that a deal should be done with it:

One of the most enthusiastic proponents of electoral reform in the Labour cabinet argued: “The Liberals have got to realise two things. First, the chances of winning a referendum with a Cameron-led government are minimal. Labour will sit on its hands, the media will be against, and so will the Tory party.

“Secondly, the Lib Dems have to realise they cannot have anything more than the alternative vote – if they ask for more, such as the single transferable vote or the AV plus, that will require a redrawing of constituency boundaries, and that will not be possible before the next election.”

So what’s wrong with this Cabinet member’s views?

First, there’s the silliness of getting the party’s name wrong. Look, it’s not exactly the most important thing in the world, but it reeks of arrogance not to even both showing the modicum of respect involved in getting someone else’s name right. It’s like turning up to a job interview and getting the name of the firm wrong. Why do that unless you’re daft or don’t really want it?

Second, the utter lack of recognition about how many Liberal Democrats view Labour on electoral reform – i.e. Labour is the party that made a manifesto promise in 1997, broke it and then showed scant remorse about breaking it until facing electoral defeat in this election. If you really want to persuade others you are sincere, at least show the smallest of acknowledgements that the reason electoral reform is even having to be debated now is, you know, down to Labour failing to stick to its manifesto commitment.

Third, if you really want to persuade the Liberal Democrats you are sincere about electoral reform, how is talking up the idea that Labour might not campaign in favour of electoral reform in a referendum a smart move? It just plays into all the fears that Labour is no more committed to electoral reform now than it was in 1997.

Fourth, the idea that it’s AV or nothing. STV or AV Plus both in fact could be introduced without redrawing constituency boundaries in a significant way (by grouping together existing constituencies). But more than that, AV is far from an uncontroversial choice. Presenting it as if it’s AV or you’re not serious (pretty much Peter Hain’s comments over the last few days for example) again just needlessly puts backs up and cuts off what should be an important area for talking.

Or in summary: if that’s really the best Labour can do, Labour members should fully understand it is their own party writing itself out of any possible deal. If you’re serious, up your game.

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