Friday, 31 December 2010


Nick Cohen, Spectator blog, 30 December 2010

Over on Coffee House my colleague Dan Hodges notes that a large chunk of the Parliamentary Labour Party has come out against AV, and speculates that their stand will help the “no” campaign.

So it may, but he is missing the true danger to the “yes” campaign, which lies with its friends rather than its enemies. To be blunt, the supporters of “reform” are at best deluded and at worse rank hypocrites. The alternative vote solves no problems and remedies no grievances. It is an unlovely and unloved electoral system, as the voters of New Zealand showed when their government gave them the chance to choose how they cast their votes. New Zealanders were interested in all kinds of reforms to first-past-the-post but dismissed AV with scorn. Which is all AV deserves because no one in their hearts believes it is the best or fairest way to produce a government, least of all the constitutional reformers behind the “yes” campaign.

They believe, as I believe, that the fault with first-past-the-post is that it produces governments with large majorities on a minority of the popular vote. AV does not solve that the problem because it is not proportional. Indeed in some circumstances, it makes unrepresentative governments more powerful. To understand how, imagine a popular party leader heading for a resounding victory. It is not just the people who vote for his party who quite like the look of him. Many of those voting for rival parties will have soaked up the mood of the times. They too will see his appeal and under AV will be able to give him their second preferences, and deliver more seats to his party.

This was precisely the position Tony Blair found himself in 1997. Lord Jenkins in his report on electoral reform in 1998 concluded that far from making the 1997 parliament more representative, AV would have “swollen the already sizeable Labour majority”:
A "best guess" projection of the shape of the current Parliament under AV suggests on one highly reputable estimate the following outcome with the actual FPTP figures given in brackets after the projected figures: Labour 452 (419), Conservative 96 (165), Liberal Democrats 82 (46), others 29 (29). The overall Labour majority could thus have risen from 169 to 245. On another equally reputable estimate the figures are given as Labour 436, Conservatives 110, Liberal Democrats 84 and others 29, an overall majority this time of 213. On either basis an injustice to the Liberal Democrats would have been nearly two-thirds corrected (their strictly proportional entitlement was 111 seats) but at the price of a still greater injustice to the Conservatives.
There were other problems too – Tories in Scotland and socialists in Surrey would still have wasted their votes under AV – but let us stay with Lord Jenkins’ objection and relish the hypocrisy of the “yes” campaign. We now have supposed constitutional reformers lobbying for a change to the electoral system that can exacerbate the worst features of the old regime they claim to oppose. They know this. They have read the Electoral Reform Society’s pamphlets and argued at meetings in draughty halls about the virtues and vices of various electoral changes. Yet they persist in recommending that the public vote “yes” for a system which Nick Clegg once described as “"a miserable little compromise”.

Eventually, even the nodding dogs of the BBC are going to have to ask them why they are abandoning principles they have supported for decades, and recommending that voters support a system they once opposed.

I have heard only two honest answers, which both reek of desperation. The first is that any change is better than no change, even if it is a change for the worse. The second is that AV referendum was all Cameron would offer the wretched Clegg, and they are stuck with it.

The moment of danger for the “yes” campaign will not come when old Labour MPs announce their support for the status quo, but when journalists start exposing the fraught and insincere arguments of the supporters of “reform”.

Cross-posted from the Spectator

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


Gordon MacMillan has a pop at Labour backers of the alternative vote in a post on Harry's Place:
The AV system is a third rate option for electoral reform and backing it is a serious mistake. That should be reason enough to abandon support for the "yes" campaign. If you need more, then look to Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. I’m sorry, but people who try to ignore the fact that AV is now the political baby of Clegg and the Lib Dems are deeply misguided... Whether the Labour "yes" campaign likes it or not, supporting the AV referendum gives succor to Clegg and his band of Tory-supporting Lib Dems... If the "yes" campaign succeeds in winning it will be delivering a victory for Clegg and the Lib Dems and not one for democratic change.

AV is not going to deliver a better voting system. It isn’t close to being proportional representation or going to make a major difference to the imbalance of the current voting system. That’s why we should all oppose it.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


Bill Myers of Leicester has this letter in the London Review of Books (scroll down from here):
Whatever Ross McKibbin may say, opponents of AV are not ‘cave dwellers’ (LRB, 18 November), AV maximises the votes of extremist candidates, since anyone voting for them knows their second preference votes will still count, while the second preference votes of the last candidate to be eliminated have no impact on the result, though as many as 40 per cent of the votes may be affected. In constituencies where the Labour and Lib Dem candidates are the leading contenders, for example, only the second preferences of Conservative, UKIP and BNP supporters will matter. It is possible, however, that if their own candidate is defeated, Labour voters would prefer to be represented by an ‘honest-to-God’ Tory than a ‘pragmatic’ Lib Dem. The second preference votes of the last candidate to be eliminated should take precedence over those of the least successful candidates. Under the standard counting procedure, AV is demonstrably less democratic than first past the post.

Friday, 12 November 2010


Trevor Fisher, Chartist blog, 11 November 2010

The alternative vote vote on 5 May next, if the bill currently in the Lords is not modified, will be a decisive moment for the proportional representation camp. It could end the hopes of PR and democratic renewal for a decade, possibly for a generation. The bill deliberately polarises debate for or against AV and links AV to gerrymandering constituency boundaries.

The bill as it left the Commons specified that “the next general election [is] to be held on the AV system, provided this change is endorsed in a referendum on 5 May 2011 and boundary changes have been made to reduce the size of the House of Commons to 600”. The boundary changes could fall if the vote is lost, but do not have to. However, the converse is the case: a “yes” vote will empower the gerrymander.

The big issue is however the AV proposition. The opponents of change have a simple position: vote “no”. The “yes” lobby seeks to win support by implying that AV will be a springboard to PR. Nothing is less likely. The next election would be held on AV and once a government is elected by AV it would oppose a move which would threaten its own legitimacy. The opponents of change would oppose any further reforms, and both sides would block further change. Like the Chartists in 1836, the PR camp will find itself blocked by both the Whigs And the Tories.

In effect, a “yes” vote offers nothing to the PR lobby. This is why David Cameron and his supporters can back AV. It changes little, empowers them, and gives nothing to reform – key issues such as the power of the executive are not on the agenda. Indeed, reducing the total of MPs makes scrutiny of the executive more difficult. Which is what the Orange-Blue coalition wants.

The Labour, Lib Dem and Green parties are currently backing a “yes” vote, Labour and the Lib Dems to back their leaders (Gordon Brown invented the position, Ed Miliband had to endorse it, and Nick Clegg is leading the charge for the coalition) though both parties are split. Many Labourites are opposed to any change – for example Andy Burnham – while supporters of PR in both parties cannot but hold their tongues. The Greens seem to think they will gain, though the advantage to small parties in AV is marginal. It is a change which keeps the status quo in essentials.

The Tories are opposed, and Cameron has stated in the past he will vote “no”. He is, however, in a win-win position, and his political skills are dangerously impressive. He really cannot lose whatever happens.

PR is effectively ruled out if the “yes” lobby secures a vote in favour, and PR supporters have to consider a “no” vote. There is no issue of principle involved in voting “no”. There is no proposition in favour of change per se on the ballot paper, only a “yes”/”no” vote on AV. If the government had allowed a vote in principle then a vote on options, it would be a different situation. This was never seriously considered.

The only option is therefore AV, and the issue is whether the triumph of AV would have any benefits for the PR lobby and democratic renewal. I would argue it would not. Once AV is in, it will be in for at least 10 years (if the five-year fixed parliament bill goes through).

The yes lobby argues this is now or never. If AV is defeated, reform is off the agenda. But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If all the eggs are put in this basket and the vote is lost, the status quo brigade will argue forever the country does not want change. This has to be challenged.

Currently opinion poll and newspaper loyalties are unclear. Some, including Kevin Maguire of the Mirror, think the vote will be lost. Certainly by May the coalition should be unpopular, and Clegg who leads the charge has seen his party’s poll position drop to 9%. For him defeat would be damaging – but not for Cameron. The Lib Dems have to back him. But a strong voice for PR would put his party under stress. It is difficult to see how a campaign led by Clegg could be popular.

How Labour will face up is unreadable. No one wants to damage Miliband. But if the outcome looks to be a defeat, how can Burnham and friends – or Ken Livingstone and the PR lobby – hold the line? It is imponderable, but one thing is clear. There is no automatic progressive support for the uneasy half measure that is AV.

If the PR camp can make a “no” vote a way to keep further reform alive, then PR might survive. At the present, the pressure is to avoid splitting the front and giving the Tory status quo camp advantages. If, as the vote nears, it is clear it will be lost, other options will open up. The PR camp needs to keep its powder dry. There is no case at this stage for supporters of PR to do anything but keep their options open.

Cross-posted from Chartist

Monday, 8 November 2010


Independent on Sunday columnist John Rentoul is that rare beast, a supporter of the alternative vote as such and not just as a supposed stepping stone to proportional representation. He is pessimistic about his side's chances in the referendum, but he does at least argue for AV because it is not PR, which is a refreshingly honest stance:
It is just too easy for the opponents of change to misrepresent reform. The "no" campaign can throw everything at it: Italy, Israel, Ireland, Winston Churchill (who described the 1931 attempt as one to give power to the "most worthless votes of the most worthless candidates"), deal-making, fudge-and-mudge, and a system that won't let voters "kick the rascals out".

Against such nonsense defenders of the alternative vote can only explain patiently that being able to rank candidates in order of preference gives more voters more of a chance of a say in the outcome. It is not morally superior, or perfection, but it minimises the need for tactical voting and reduces wasted votes. Its supporters can use the slogans "power to the people" and "vote for what you really believe in". But they also have to try to make clear what AV is not: it is not a proportional system.

That is precisely why I would rank AV first in order of preference over all other systems. I am not keen on proportional representation because it tends to give disproportionate power to small parties.
This, however, is a problem for the "yes" campaign in Rentoul's opinion:
For most of its activists AV is a halfway house on the road to what they really want, which is proportional representation, where the number of MPs reflects each party's share of the national vote.
As Rentoul makes clear, AV would deliver nothing of the sort.

Monday, 27 September 2010


Nick Cohen, Observer column, 26 September 2010

For the British Liberal party and much of the liberal intelligentsia, the referendum on the alternative vote has become a desperate justification for a disastrous misjudgment. Like a couple in a terrible relationship, who think that having a child will save the marriage, or a gambler who thinks he can recoup his losses by staking everything on one spin of the wheel, they believe that the promise of bringing the electoral system of post-colonial Papua New Guinea to Britain will spare them from the consequences of economic folly.

Forget that they are going along with the extremist programmes of fiscal hawks who have already pushed Ireland back into recession. Jobs, public services and a decent future for the young count for nothing when set against the prospect of "reform".

Ah, how that word thrills the liberal heart. The remedying of abuses, the annihilation of anachronistic traditions – what nobler calling is there for the earnest soul?

Not that I deny that the British constitution needs fundamental reform. We have an unelected House of Lords and a hereditary head of state. In the Commons, the first-past-the-post system guarantees that parties can win landslides without a majority of the electorate voting for them. In 1997, Tony Blair secured a crushing majority of 179 on a mere 43% of the vote.

To add insult to injury, the unelected Lords and the unrepresentative Commons cannot do their job of holding the executive to account. Because we draw our national leader from Parliament rather than electing him or her directly, Liberals and Tories are doffing their caps to Nick Clegg and David Cameron in the hope of office and sinecures, rather than scrutinising their policies, just as Labour MPs doffed theirs to Blair and Gordon Brown.

Real reformers have much work to do. But instead of constraining the abuses of an over-mighty executive and unrepresentative Parliament, the liberals will make them worse.

Their "new politics" consists of a backroom deal in which the Liberals accepted a Tory proposal to cut the number of MPs and the Tories accepted the Liberals' proposal for a referendum on the alternative vote.

Too few people have noticed the authoritarian implications of reducing the number of MPs. Like electoral reform, constituencies of equal size sounds like a marvellous idea. But in an attempt to secure party advantage, the Conservatives will rush a process that ought to be handled carefully. The Boundary Commission will not just liquidate 50 seats, it will reorganise the boundaries of hundreds of other constituencies to find new homes for the abandoned voters. Metropolitan commentators dismiss complaints as special pleading from Labour, which will probably lose ground to the Tories.

They do not understand that most people in Britain still live and die close to where they are born. A sense of place and an attachment to their town or city remain central to many citizens' identity. The Tories are instructing the Boundary Commission to forget about local pride and dispense with public inquiries, where voters in Wolverhampton, for example, could object to being moved into Dudley or voters from Portsmouth could object to being annexed by the Isle of Wight.

At their best, Conservatives once understood the importance of the local and the quirky. Cameron is giving up on the Burkean tradition and carving up Britain like a demented socialist planner scoring lines on a map, not just because he may win more seats but because "reform" will also make the Commons easier for the executive to control.

Consider the position of the harassed MP in the new order. He or she will have thousands more constituents. But they will not have more staff to serve them. A grateful executive has taken the opportunity of the expenses' scandal to hack the resources they need to represent their constituents and investigate the state.
More to the point, if Tory MPs object to Cameron's policies, they will find it far harder to combine with the opposition to mount a successful rebellion. The PM is not proposing to match a cut in the number of MPs with a cut in the number of ministers and junior ministers who must toe the party line or lose their jobs. The payroll vote will remain as strong as ever, while the number of potentially rebellious backbenchers falls.

Say what you will about his hunger for power, but Cameron emerged from the coalition negotiations as a formidable political operator. After making sure the public could not vote on or even attend public inquiries to contest his boundary changes, he made certain that Clegg's proposed "reform" would be subject to a referendum he could well lose.

Clegg, by contrast, emerged as a twerp. He was such a pushover he could not even get a reform of the system the public might support on the ballot paper. Instead of a modified version of PR, he settled for the alternative vote, a joke system that does not solve any of the democratic problems Britain faces. Only Australia, Fiji and the guano-rich Pacific island of Nauru use AV. (The Papua New Guineans dropped it and the Fijians are having their doubts.) In New Zealand, when voters were asked what should replace British first past the post in 1992, only 6.6% supported AV. The rest rejected it for the sensible reason that it would not produce a parliament that reflected the views of the country.

As we approach the referendum, I will take great pleasure in watching journalists destroy alleged supporters of AV by reading out their past statements in which they explicitly rejected it in favour of more proportional systems.

Just as Cameron's boundary changes will not limit the power of the executive, so Clegg's AV will not stop prime ministers getting whopping majorities on a minority of the first preference vote. Go back to Blair's landslide in 1997. As the late Lord Jenkins pointed out in his commission on electoral reform, "simulations of how the 1997 result might have come out under AV suggest that it would have significantly increased the size of the already swollen Labour majority". To be precise, it would have swollen it from 179 to 245.

As compensation for economic mismanagement, the liberals' reforms fail to pass two basic tests. They are not liberal. They do not reform.

Cross posted from Comment is Free

Thursday, 8 July 2010


Longstanding Green activist Derek Wall thinks that the alternative vote is a means of keeping Greens out of parliament:
If voters support AV we lose and if voters support the existing system we lose... AV is not a fair or proportional voting system... AV can be seen as a means to prevent the growth of the Greens. If it is introduced it will make the system a little more democratic, reducing the pressure for change ... and if the referendum fails to introduce it, it will be said that voters are happy with first past the post... We need to be campaigning for actual PR, something the Liberal Democrats have abandoned so quickly most of their supporters have not even noticed.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 6 July 2010

It is easy enough to see why Nick Clegg supports introduction of the alternative vote for elections to the House of Commons. All the indications are that it would make it much easier for the Lib Dems to retain the parliamentary seats they currently hold – and they could well need all the help they can get after jumping into bed with a Tory party that seems intent on crashing the economy just as it did in the 1980s.

Why anyone apart from Clegg and his party should want AV is, however, something of a mystery. AV would do nothing to address the major flaws in the first-past-the-post system we currently use for Westminster elections, which are its gross disproportionality and its concomitant tendency to turn general election campaigns into battles for the votes of a few hundred thousand wavering voters in a hundred of so marginal seats. And AV might make these flaws worse.

AV is not, repeat not, proportional representation. It is not even a step towards it. It is the electoral system used in Australia for the House of Representatives, in which voters in single-member constituencies rank candidates on the ballot paper in order of preference (1, 2, 3, 4 etc) rather than putting a single “X” next to their first choice as we do in first-past-the-post elections in the UK. If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent of first preferences, the second preferences of the candidate with the lowest number of first preferences are redistributed. The process is then repeated until one candidate reaches 50 per cent plus one of votes cast.

AV has two superficial attractions over FPTP. Every winning candidate under AV can claim to have the support (however grudgingly faute de mieux) of a majority of his or her constituents; and AV makes the practice of tactical voting much less of a guessing game for voters. A UKIP supporter in a Tory-Labour marginal who prefers the Tories to Labour, for example, would be able under AV to vote “UKIP 1, Conservative 2” with a reasonable level of confidence that the second preference would count rather than, as now, having to decide whether or not to put an “X” next to the Tory candidate’s name for fear of letting Labour in by “wasting” a vote on UKIP.

But there are downsides even to these attractions. Is a candidate in a three-way AV contest who wins by 51 per cent to 49 per cent with the help of second preferences, having trailed 46-29 on first preferences, more democratically legitimate than someone who wins a three-way FPTP contest 46-29-25? Why should your second choice have the same weight as my first choice?

AV encourages the worst kind of lowest-denominator politics – every marginal contest is a sordid scurry to be everyone’s second choice – and, partly because of this, it delivers more ludicrous landslides than FTPT whenever one political party is no one’s second choice despite having a solid core of first choices. Labour was massacred in 1983 under FPTP: it would have been worse under AV. Ditto the Tories in 1997.

Sorry, but this is a farce. FPTP is crap – but so is AV. We are going to be asked to choose between the two, if the government has its way, in a referendum next May. The choice is an insult. If the referendum bill cannot be amended to include a genuinely proportional third option, reformers should spoil their ballots in the referendum by scrawling “AV is not PR” across their papers.


The government's proposed question for the referendum on the voting system has been released:
Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the 'alternative vote' system instead of the current 'first past the post' system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?
Put that way, I'll withdraw my plea for supporters of proportional representation to spoil their votes. Just vote no.

Cross-posted from Gauche

Saturday, 20 February 2010


Advocates of proportional representation have been divided over their response to Gordon Brown's promise of a referendum on the alternative vote – with some, among them the Electoral Reform Society, seeing it as a great opportunity, and some extremely sceptical.

The excellent Open Democracy website has carried a telling exchange (start here) between Stuart Weir, former editor of New Socialist and the New Statesman and co-founder of Charter 88 and Democratic Audit, and Andy White of the ERS. Weir's latest contribution is very much to the point:
As I understand the position of the Electoral Reform Society, they regard Brown’s statutory pledge for a referendum giving people the choice between FPTP and the alternative vote (AV) as some kind of brutal instrument that will burst open the logjam on debate on electoral reform, an ice-breaker, the thin end of a wedge; and as AV is a preferential system – i.e., it asks people to list their preferences rather than to deliver a single vote – it will ultimately pave the way for the single transferable vote (STV), their own long-term goal, as STV is also a preferential system.

My objections to this strategy are of two kinds – first, practical, secondly principled.

Practical You should campaign for what you really want and put the case for PR.
1. Arguing the merits of AV over FPTP will simply give AV more legitimacy in the public mind – especially through the emphasis on the fact that every MP elected will have more than a 50 per cent majority – thus glossing over its essentially unrepresentative nature and making it harder to win the debate for PR;

2. The emphasis on the single constituency will entrench still further the traditional, but damaging, attachment to the idea of the “constituency MP” and make the transition that the ERS envisages to the multi-member constituencies that STV requires to work even harder;

3. The ERS will tarnish the very campaign for a more representative or “new” politics by its association with a blatant example of the worst “old” politics of narrow political manipulation;

4. The ERS is tugging other democratic NGOs along in its slipstream, among them even Unlock Democracy which is committed in principle to PR, but is polling its members on the choice between FPTP and AV.
Principled The Brown referendum is a rank abuse of power. The referendum does not give the public a full choice of alternative electoral systems and denies them the opportunity of choosing PR because Labour believes is not in the party’s interests. I believe that it is dishonourable to back this course for any organisation that deems itself democratic.

I do not think this belief is “spiteful”, as Andy White says. I hope that he will not think me spiteful when I also point out that he adopts a contradictory position on the Jenkins Commission’s advocacy of AV-plus. He commends the ERS’s hostility to the Jenkins proposal back in 1998 while I and others “enthused” over it. (Well, that is not quite right. I reluctantly thought it was the best offer reformers would get.) But what does White then go on to argue ? – that AV could become “alternative vote plus” with the addition of a proportional top-up list! So has the ERS reversed its then policy? And if so, why not campaign for AV-plus now?

Saturday, 23 January 2010


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 22 January 2010

Reforming the voting system is an anorak thing most of the time – but every now and again it breaks out of the closet, as it has in the past few months.

A year ago, electoral reform was barely on the agenda. Labour had won three elections in a row promising a referendum on the way we vote for MPs, and in government it had introduced different versions of proportional representation for elections to the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the London Assembly. Roy Jenkins had laboured mightily during Labour’s first term to produce a report recommending a more proportional system for electing the Commons, published in 1998. But the promised referendum on the Commons voting system had not happened – and since becoming prime minister Gordon Brown had given no indication of interest in it.

Then, however, came the MPs’ expenses scandal – and suddenly electoral reform once again lurched into view. There were letters in the papers and petitions demanding change. At last autumn’s Labour conference Brown promised a referendum on the voting system to allow voters to choose between the first-past-the-post status quo and the alternative vote (in which you have single member constituencies and mark your ballot paper “1, 2, 3, 4” in order of preference instead of “X”). And last month, Jack Straw, the justice secretary, said the government would legislate before the general election for such a referendum. Cue more letters in the papers and, of course, a backlash against the referendum among Labour MPs – apparently led by Ed Balls, the schools secretary – culminating in a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday that seems to have come to no conclusion whatsoever.

I’ve been an anorak on electoral reform for getting on for 25 years, but I’m afraid I’ve found it a bit difficult to get worked up about it this time round.

On one hand, what’s most likely to be on offer (if anything) is deeply unattractive. A multi-choice referendum with the options of the status quo, the alternative vote and a proportional electoral system would be fine. But a choice between first-past-the-post and AV is not. AV is not a system of proportional representation – and it’s not a step towards PR. Indeed, in many respects it’s worse than first-past-the-post when it comes to reflecting the spread of opinion in the electorate: voting “1, 2, 3, 4” and redistributing preferences means that the least unpopular candidate wins in every constituency. Big deal!

On the other hand, it’s a bit late for Labour to be changing the voting system. Yes, it’s a matter of democratic principle, and yes, I’ve signed the petitions, but legislating for potential change now, with a general election imminent and Labour 10 points behind in the opinion polls, smacks of desperate opportunism.

What ought to have happened is easy enough to spell out. Labour should have agreed in 1994 or 1995 to propose a sweeping new constitutional settlement for the UK in its first term, with proportional representation for Westminster elections integrated with a democratic second chamber based on regional and national devolution – so that, when implemented, we’d have had something like the federal republic of Germany as our political system. Of course, that’s just a bit too neat: there are plenty of things in the German basic law that wouldn’t have worked for Britain, not least because we’ve got three stroppy Bavarias to contend with, hazy boundaries to regional identities in England and a monarchy (at least in stage one) ... but you get my drift.

The idea of a “big package” constitutional revolution was first given traction by Stuart Weir, Anthony Barnett and others who set up Charter 88 in the wake of the 1987 general election. They were dismissed at first by the Labour leadership – Neil Kinnock famously described them as a bunch of “whiners, whingers and wankers” – but Kinnock and others gradually came round. By 1993, a Labour Party commission headed by Raymond Plant had recommended an end to first-past-the-post Westminster elections – and with a democratic Lords and devolution to Scotland and Wales solid Labour policy under John Smith (and John Prescott winning the argument on regional government for England in Labour circles), it looked as if a Labour government just might do the business.

Instead, Smith died, and Tony Blair decided that constitutional questions were a diversion. The focus groups didn’t see them as a priority. Labour rowed back from electoral reform and promised referendums galore on devolution. Lords reform was watered down.

What was left by 1997 was worth having, particularly devolution to Scotland and Wales. But the government lost all momentum on the constitution by 2001– both on Lords reform, which was appallingly fudged and then put out for endless consultation, and on electoral reform, on which nothing happened after Jenkins produced his report. English regionalism breathed its last as a cause (at least for now) after a farcical referendum in the north-east voted no to a regional assembly in 2004.

It is a sorry story of opportunities missed – and it would be great if the government could make amends, just a little, in the next couple of months. But something tells me that this is going to be one for the Labour manifesto after next.

Cross-posted from Gauche