MPs urged to end 'first-past-the-post' election system

By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent
Published November 14th 2005 in The Independent
Proposals to end Britain's first-past-the-post system for electing MPs and replace it with a more democratic alternative, will be published tomorrow.

A coalition of constitutional reform groups and MPs will call on the Government to back a national referendum to choose a more representative method for electing politicians to Westminster.

New research commissioned by Active Citizens Transform and Charter 88 shows that, in May's general election, Labour won only 36 per cent of the vote, the lowest support for a government since the Great Reform Act of 1832. Not a single MP was elected by half of the electorate in any constituency and only two MPs won more than 40 per cent of the vote.

The reform groups believe that without a fairer system of national elections, confidence in British democracy will be undermined.

The Electoral Choice Bill is supported by John Denham, the Labour MP and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, David Chaytor, a Labour member of the Education and Skills Select Committee, and David Heath, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for constitutional affairs.

There is also strong support from the country's foremost reform organisations, including the Electoral Reform Society and New Politics Network as well as Charter 88 and Active Citizens Transform.

The Bill would require the Government to hold referendums for elections to both Houses of Parliament as well as answering questions about the composition of the House of Lords. The country would also be asked to choose the system by which local authorities should be elected.

At May's general election, according to the campaigners' report, it took only 26,858 votes to elect a Labour MP, 44,241 to elect a Tory and 98,484 to vote in a Liberal Democrat. Nearly two thirds (65 per cent) of the population did not vote for the present Government and on the results for just England, 60,000 more people voted for the Conservative Party than the Labour Party yet Labour won 92 more seats and was chosen to represent the people.

The launch at Portcullis House tomorrow will allow MPs to begin the process of reform by unveiling the Electoral Choice Bill. Proponents will then look to gather support in Westminster where it is hoped to be debated under the 10 minute rule and then taken on as a private member's Bill.

John Jackson, the chairman of Active Citizens Transform, will say at the launch that the Electoral Choice Bill is the "first step" on the road to electoral reform, a pressing concern for all democrats. "It is not possible in a modern democratic society to maintain civil cohesion unless the political structure of that society is determined in a manner which is an expression of the popular will. The 'manner' is more important than 'structure' which it leads to."

Debbie Chay, the chairwoman of Charter 88, said that the results of the last general election "underline the widening gulf between those in government and us, the people".