James Forsyth

Labour’s referendum gambit won’t work with Brown in charge

Labour's referendum gambit won't work with Brown in charge
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Toby Helm reports in The Observer that Downing Street is considering the idea of holding a referendum on a move from first past the post to alternative vote on the same day as the general election. (Alan Johnson proposed a referendum on PR on the same day as the election a few months back). Downing Street’s thinking is that because Cameron would oppose the move, Labour could then portray him as a defender of the discredited political status quo, someone who doesn’t grasp the need for change.

Leaving aside the propriety of introducing huge constitutional change just to discomfort the opposition, it strikes me that this strategy can only work with a fresh Labour leader. It is hard to imagine the public seeing Brown, who has been an MP since 1983, as the change, a fearless reformer.

Interestingly, Helm quotes one source as saying, “"It has the added attraction that if the Tories won power and the answer in the referendum was 'yes', the first act of a Cameron government would be to do something he was fundamentally opposed to, or overturn the will of the people." There are clearly now senior figures in the Labour party who accept that the party will lose the next election and are now working out how best to discomfort an incoming Tory government.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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