UK commission proposes fairer voting system (FWD)

Thu Oct 29 13:07:59 PST 1998

Are *semi* reforms *semi* acceptable ?

UK commission proposes fairer voting system

By Gerrard Raven

LONDON, Oct 29 (Reuters) - A commission on Britain's voting system on Thursday
proposed sweeping changes that could make coalition government more likely and
give small parties greater representation. 

"The system we propose would give voters more choice, it would be more
democratic in the constituencies and it would lead to a fairer result
nationally," former Finance Minister Lord Roy Jenkins told a news conference. 

The commission, chaired Jenkins, estimated its proposed system would have
given Prime Minister Tony Blair a 77-seat majority at last year's election
rather than the 179 majority he actually won. 

Blair has promised a referendum to let voters choose between Jenkins's idea
and the current "first past the post" system, which is unique in Europe, to
elect the lower House of Commons. 

In an initial government reaction, Home Secretary (interior minister) Jack
Straw said no decisions had been taken on the timing of this plebiscite. 

He noted the commission's words: "We cannot realistically expect our
recommendations to be in operation at a general election in much less than
eight years." 

Referring to the government's plans for devolved Scottish and Welsh
parliaments elected by proportional representation, Straw added: "The
constitutional reform programme should be looked at as a whole prior to any
decision being made on this issue." 

The Jenkins commission was set up under an agreement reached between Blair's
Labour Party and the minority Liberal Democrats before last year's general

Blair's pledge of a referendum during the current parliament is a cornerstone
of the close relations between the two parties, which could quickly sour if he
reneged on it. 

Under the Jenkins system, between 80 percent and 85 percent of the 659 MPs in
the House of Commons, the lower chamber of parliament, would still be elected
in single member seats. 

But if no candidate won at least 50 percent of the vote, second preferences of
those supporting the least popular candidates would be taken into account. 

Additionally, to make the result reflect more closely the number of votes cast
for each party, between 98 and 132 extra seats would be awarded at county or
city-wide level to parties which suffered most from the distortion of
constituency voting. 

The report estimated that the system would have given a majority to one party
in three of the last four elections. 

"It is therefore difficult to argue that what we propose is a recipe for
either a predominance of coalitions or for producing a weakness of government
authority," it said. 

But in 1992, when the Conservatives sprang a surprise win, the Jenkins system
would have given them 20 fewer seats and left them outnumbered by combined
opposition forces by 27 seats. 

"(Former Prime Minister John) Major would therefore have found himself from
the start in a hung parliament," the report said. "The probable outcome would
have been a second early election." 

At last year's general election, Labour, with 44 percent of the votes, won 419
seats. The report estimated the proposed system would have reduced its tally
to 368, with seats for the Liberals, who won 17 percent of the votes, rising
to 89 from 46. 

13:24 10-29-98 

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