So the Conservatives are offering the Lib Dems a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system. Both Hague and Osborne have now said that they would whip their MPs to support the bill in Parliament on the basis that it is right to give voters the choice in a referendum. Note, they have made the case in moral terms because they think it is the right thing to do.
As such it is consistent with their manifesto which was about democratic choice - which is an important principle.
Entitled “Invitation to Join the Government of Britain” the Conservative manifesto promised such things as a debate in Parliament for petitions with over 100,000 signatures. It also said that the petition presented with the greatest number of signatures should result in the introduction of a parliamentary bill. It is geared towards allowing the public to speak and have a say in the running of the country.
But as Michael Gove said at lunchtime on Sky News: “You can’t whip people (MPs) against their gut instinct”. So what then is the Tory gut instinct? Before the election it would certainly not have been in favour of AV. But, according to their manifesto, it would have been in favour of giving voters the choice about what kind of reforms they want.
And this begs the question: if the Tories will give voters the choice on AV, because it is the right thing to do, why not on a proportional system of voting too? Why would it be right to give voters the choice over AV and not the choice of a proportional system (particularly given the clear public support for it )? If MPs can be whipped to back a bill for a referendum on AV, why not for a referendum on PR? Conservative MPs wouldn't be forced to back the idea of voting reform. They would simply be asked to support the idea that voters should have a choice and a chance to decide on it. And that is a principle to which the party has already publicly committed.
The Conservatives now have a clear moral obligation to offer voters the choice of a truly proportional voting system.