There's been some comment in the media and on politics blogs about electoral reform these last few weeks (not least myself, here and here). Last night a step was taken toward the introduction of Gordon Brown's favoured electoral system, the Alternative Vote, with the submission of the Constitutional Reform and Governance bill by Jack Straw. The bill passed by 365 votes to 187. A LibDem amendment that deleted references to AV and substituted it for the proportional Single Transferable Vote (STV) fell by 476 to 69 votes.
In all just three Labour MPs voted against the bill (usual suspects of the Labour right, like Tom Harris and Frank Field, abstained). So why did they vote against? Is it a matter of a mistaken but principled defence of the Westminster system as is, or are there more pressing concerns influencing the outcome - such as a small majority likely to be overturned at the next general election?
Surprisingly and in contrast to what cynical observers of parliament may think, it *does* appear to be a matter of principle. According to Hansard votes against Alternative Vote came from Diane Abbott (maj. 7,427), Kelvin Hopkins (maj. 6,487) and Meg Munn (maj. 11,370). Their opposition was not motivated by a desire for a proportional electoral system - all three voted with the government on voting down the LibDem amendment. Harris (maj. 10,832) and Field (maj. 12,934) also found it in themselves to register their disapproval of a more democratic system (strangely, James Purnell (maj. 8,348) voted with the LibDems).
Against what the naysayers of populist anti-politics might think and say, it would appear MPs are perfectly able to to vote on the basis of ideas. Shockingly, they are not always motivated by narrow political advantage or careerist interests.