Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Second preferences are second preferences - unless you're Tom Harris, obviously...

One thing I find quite amusing about Tom Harris' rabid opposition to even the most trivial electoral reform is that every time he opens his mouth on the subject he reveals just how hopelessly (or perhaps willfully) he misunderstands it. Tonight he's trying to incite the Labour NEC to expel Ken Livingstone for helping the campaign of Lutfur Rahman, who is standing against the official Labour candidate for the mayoralty of Tower Hamlets. (Would it be too cynical of me to suggest that Tom has yet to reconcile himself to the prospect of a non-Blairite Labour candidate for London mayor in 2012, and is desperately scrabbling around for a get-out clause?) The point is that Livingstone was merely campaigning for second preference votes for Rahman, who he felt had been wrongly deselected by Labour after being chosen by party members as the official mayoral candidate. Tom regards this as a self-evidently lame excuse, and goes on to assert that "even in a ballot conducted under the Alternative Vote, Labour Party members should only campaign for the Labour candidate".

This is plainly nonsensical. It was Labour that gave people two preferences - and yet it's supposed to only want them to use one? A second preference vote, regardless of which candidate it is for, cannot possibly harm the official Labour candidate as long as the first preference vote was for him. Does Tom understand this simple principle? I think there are two possibilities - either he doesn't, or he is extremely keen to sow confusion in the minds of others about it. Actually, his post is rather revealing about one of his true reasons for being such a reform-phobe - clearly he cannot stomach any change that undermines the absolutist partisan tribalism he needs for comfort. "I can vote for Labour, and for someone else as well? I feel faint!"

In contrast, I doubt Tower Hamlets voters will have thought any less of Livingstone for being capable of thinking beyond the party line now and again, and indeed, if the party hierarchy are mature enough to accept the perfectly rational justification for his display of free-thinking, the incident might even end up helping Labour's image by extension. Something else that Tom would doubtless find utterly incomprehensible.

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