John Denham strapped on his boxing gloves, and produced this effort. Sadly his argument has more holes in it than machine-gunned Emmental.
Off we go:
I've been an electoral reformer all my political life. Chairing the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, I'm hardly likely to "play fast and loose" on this issue, as Martin Kettle alleges
Martin didn't criticise you personally in his article, John. (By the way, check out that link - their website hasn't been updated for 5 years. Rather telling...)
Our support for a simple AV referendum bill is unconditional. But there is no philosophical, legal, practical or parliamentary reason for combining the referendum with boundary changes: it's simply that the changes favour the Tories, who won't support the Lib Dems' referendum without them.
What? First there's no "practical or parliamentary reason", but then John concedes that the Bill needs to stay in its current form to get the Tories to support the referendum - that's an excellent practical reason to have a single Bill. By the way, the suggestion that the changes will favour the Tories is highly contestable.
But he's right to say that the case for reducing the number of MPs and equalising constituencies should be considered on its merits, not from party advantage.
It does take more Tory votes to elect a Tory MP.
True. There are 33,000 votes per Labour MP, and 35,000 per Tory MP. Oh yeah, and 120,000 votes per Lib Dem MP. It is that third number (and the equivalent numbers for the other minor parties) which is the outrageous discrepancy that needs be removed from Britain's electoral process.
The real answer is the more proportional system that the Tories won't countenance.
Sorry, are you saying Labour will? Ha! Why did Labour do nothing about it for 13 years, despite promise after promise in your manifestos? Why did Labour vote against the proportional STV system earlier this year?
Most electoral reformers have concluded that AV for the Commons and an elected House of Lords is the best attainable constitutional reform at the moment,
You'd best vote for it then, John.
but this pragmatic response doesn't allow the Tories to use "fairness" as the basis for rigging the boundaries.
I repeat: the suggestion that altering the boundaries will favour the Tories is highly contestable.
Kettle (and Nick Clegg) seem to argue that if Labour tried and failed (as we did) to register these voters, no other party need even bother.
Blatantly untrue. The coalition will be introducing individual voter registration in an attempt to tackle this problem left by Labour.
Voters want their MP to represent an identifiable community: current constituencies are mostly centred on real places.
This is a minority concern at best. Most voters don't know who there MP is, never mind which constituency they live in or where the boundary is drawn. I know of no empirical evidence that backs up John's claim, so it is just as valid for me to argue this: what voters really want is to ensure the electoral map is drawn up in a way that ensures a fair level of representation, no matter where you live.
But here is the most outrageous claim:
And the coalition parties will instruct the Boundary Commissions to respect the boundaries which favour them.
This is a smear, pure and simple. There is no reason to believe this to be true. No-one has any idea of what boundaries the Commission will come up with, so it is ridiculous to assume dishonour of this kind before the process has even begun. The only time any political party has engaged in gerrymandering of this scale was the Labour Party in the late 60's.
It is to John Denham's discredit that he has sunk so low.