Kennedy attacks 'Herod' Prescott

Published May 25th 2005 in BBC News
Putting John Prescott in charge of a committee looking at electoral reform is like putting Herod in charge of a maternity ward, said Charles Kennedy.

The Lib Dem leader said there was a public appetite for electoral reform, saying ministers were out of touch.

Mr Prescott's appointment to chair the Cabinet committee was announced as part of a wider shake-up.

The deputy prime minister replaced pro-reform Cabinet minister Peter Hain. Mr Prescott is not a PR enthusiast.

At the election earlier this month Tony Blair won a Commons majority of 67 despite Labour winning little more than a third of votes nationwide.

The Conservatives won the biggest share of votes in England but secured nearly 100 fewer English seats than Labour.

PR campaigners said the result showed the current first past the post system is a "travesty" but its supporters argue it ensures stable government.

Poll outcome
A proportional representation (PR) system would aim to elect MPs using the share of the votes cast for each party.

The election saw Labour win 36% of the votes across the UK but 55% of the seats in the House of Commons.

The Lib Dems secured 9.5% of the Commons seats on their 22% share of the national vote.

In England, the Tories won 35.7% of the votes compared with the 35.4% won by Labour.

But Labour has 286 English seats and the Tories 193.

Labour peer Lord Lipsey, chairman of the Make Votes Count campaign group, asked how any government could claim to have a valid mandate when it was backed by only 36% of the 60% of possible voters who turned out.

"The British first-past-the-post electoral system has reduced the general election to a travesty of democracy," he said.

PR support

Alex Folkes, from the Electoral Reform Society, said the current system was biased against the Conservatives.

"Boundary changes that are due will help to correct some of that but not all," he said.

"We think the Conservative Party would do well to accept that probably the best way of them getting back into power in the immediate future is through a system of PR."

Mr Blair appointed a royal commission, headed by Lib Dem peer Lord Jenkins, to examine electoral reform in 1998 but no fundamental changes have followed.

The report proposed a system called Alternative Vote Plus, where as well as constituency MPs, there would be a top-up list to ensure a more accurate reflection of total votes cast.