There is more than one way of looking at the Labour Party’s statement at the weekend on possible changes to the electoral system for the National Assembly. Predictably, most people have picked up on the part of the statement which says that if the system is to be changed at all, then it should be changed to a wholly FPTP system, and portrayed that as support for what Peter Hain has been saying for some time.
The ‘if’ is important though; because the first part of the statement says that Labour will oppose any change to the voting system if proposed by the UK Government. Their default position, therefore, is that the current system should remain unchanged, and that any change which does happen should be decided in Wales rather than in London. As Glyn Davies points out (“Until today, we thought that all parties supported changing National Assembly electoral arrangements to being based on 30 coterminous constituencies as well”), this is a significant shift away from what Peter Hain has been saying.
Their proposal for what should happen if the system is to be changed at all is rightly ridiculed by all and sundry, but concentrating on that aspect - which they effectively describe as their second choice - is to give inadequate attention to their first choice solution.
It’s not so long ago that Hain was claiming that “Everyone is agreed on the need to avoid decoupling in Wales, and maintain the same boundaries for Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies”. I was not alone in wondering at the time who this ‘everyone’ was and what was the basis for the statement. This weekend’s announcement puts a significant distance between what the Labour Party thinks and what Hain has been saying.
For all the scorn being poured on Labour, the position taken by them is actually more robust – and, dare I say it, more nationalist – than any other party in Wales. They’re now the only party rejecting the need for co-terminosity, and the only party arguing that the decision should be made in Wales rather than in London. It's something of a turn-up.