This is the second of the two things I wanted to highlight from Gordon Brown's speech yesterday.
Hearing Gordon Brown say he is in favour of electoral reform is a bit like hearing Peter Hain saying he's in favour of law making powers for the Assembly. Their thinking is exactly the same:
Do as little as possible, make sure that your own party will be the main beneficiary of any change ... and leave everything until it's too late for you to be able to implement it.
If Gordon Brown wanted to be positive he could easily have introduced legislation for a referendum on this right now, in the seven months he has left at Downing Street, with a binding referendum being held on the day of the election. It could be combined with a question on fixed-term parliaments.
Only a few months ago—when Gordon Brown's position as Labour leader was under threat and Alan Johnson was one of those put into the frame to replace him—electoral reform seemed more likely than it had been for some time. Things went quiet when he was given the job of Home Secretary instead but, from what I've picked up in a few conversations, electoral reform was being spoken about quite earnestly behind the scenes. This seemed to be confirmed in tonight's edition of Newsnight, in which Michael Crick said that some senior figures he had spoken to were taken by surprise at the announcement, but still hoped to be able to change this and adopt stronger proposals.
Perhaps it is still possible to change this but, as much I'd like to see it, I doubt it will happen. The Prime Minister has now defined "his" position, and he is likely to doggedly hold on to it at all costs.
So, far from Brown's announcement that there will be a referendum if Labour win the next election being something positive or radical, it is in fact a cop out. He bottled it.