UK politicians take sides on voting reform (FWD)

Thu Oct 29 13:08:09 PST 1998

How about adding the separate nonpartisan election of the executive branch ?
P.R. will sort out in the House of Commons by itself.
UK politicians take sides on voting reform

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 in the House of Commons. 

Under the proposals, which would give Britain a semi-proportional system
closer to that of most other European countries, the Labour party's landslide
majority of 179 seats at the May 1997 election would have fallen to 77. 

Staking out their position ahead of an expected referendum on the issue,
opponents of change denounced the proposal as likely to lead to weak coalition
governments formed after behind-the-scenes political wheeling and dealing. 

But advocates of reform said the proposals by former finance minister Lord Roy
Jenkins could transform British politics. 

``For those committed to modernising politics, it is the only alternative,''
said Andrew Puddephatt, director of the Charter 88 campaign to reform
Britain's constitution. 

Jenkins, a former Labour cabinet minister and now a Liberal Democrat member of
the House of Lords, chaired a government-appointed committee to identify an
electoral system to be pitted against Britain's current first-past-the post
system in a referendum. 

His report proposed a hybrid in which 80-85 percent of the 659 members of
parliament would continue to be elected for single member seats, although by a
preferential system. 

Some 98 to 132 ``top-up'' seats would be allocated to make the overall
election result within city or county boundaries more proportional in terms of
votes cast for a party and seats won. 

The report said such a system would still have given one party a majority at
three of the last four general elections. 

At the 1992 election, the Conservatives, who actually won a 21-seat majority,
would have had 27 fewer mebers of parliament (MPs) than all the opposition
parties combined. 

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. 

Insisting that his proposals would reduce the unfairness of the present
arrangements to smaller parties, Jenkins told a news conference: ``We are
proposing a system that is right on its own merits and has a realistic chance
of being carried into effect.'' 

The Jenkins commission was set up under an agreement between Prime Minister
Tony Blair's Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. 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

Blair said Jenkins had produced an ``excellent report'' which ``addresses some
of the weaknesses of the present system.'' 

But the government showed no urgency about the plebiscite that Labour promised
in its 1997 election manifesto. 

``There is no need to rush on this at all,'' said Blair's chief spokesman.
``We always said we envisaged doing it this parliament, and that does remain
an option.'' 

Ministers noted that the report says it would not be realistic to expect the
new system to be in operation at a general election ``in much less than eight

The opposition Conservatives and a group of over 100 Labour MPs immediately
tried to rubbish Jenkins's report. 

``The proposals will...lead to unstable government, add volatility to the
electoral system and confuse the electorate,'' said Stuart Bell, leader of the
Labour group opposed to change. 

14:08 10-29-98 

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