Peter Hoskin

The side effects of the AV debate

The side effects of the AV debate
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Ok, so the general public doesn't much care for this AV referendum – and understandably so.  But at least it has added a good slug of uncertainty into the brew at Westminster.  Already, curious alliances are emerging because of it – Exhibit A being Jack Straw and the 1922 Committee.  And no-one's really sure about what the result of the vote will be, or whether it will deliver a killing blow to the coalition itself.

But regardless of what happens on 5 May 2011, it's clear that one group is already benefitting from the prospect of a referendum: the Labour leadership contenders.  Until now, they've been distinguished by their indistinguishability on policy grounds.  But, now, their different positions on AV have gifted the Labour faithful something, however small, to choose between.  David and Ed Miliband have said that they would campaign for a yes vote; Diane Abbot says she would like to see it implemented; Andy Burnham is vigorously opposing it; and Ed Balls has pitched himself somewhere in the middle.  It's one of the clearest, most wide-ranging distinctions we've seen so far.

True, it's hardly titanic stuff.  And whoever wins the leadership may face a difficult struggle to position the Labour party on AV more generally.  But, for now, I'm sure they'll be grateful for any spark of life in this grey corpse of a contest.