Big week for electoral reform

By staff writers
11 Jan 2010

Campaigners will seek to put electoral and constitutional reform on the election agenda this week, with a series of initiatives from Parliamentarians and groups seeking radical change to the political system.

It comes as the Parliamentary Labour Party meets to discuss the Cabinet’s decision to move ahead with a referendum on reform of the voting system for elections to the House of Commons.

A letter with nearly 40,000 signatures will be delivered to David Cameron at Conservative Central Office this morning, demanding a meeting to talk about a referendum. Tonight, Alan Johnson and Boris Johnson will also be taking part in a debate about electoral reform, hosted by the think-tank Policy Exchange.

Different possibilities for electoral reform will also come under the parliamentary spotlight today, with Lord Alton's debate on the wider impact of party list systems taking place in the House of Lords on Monday 11 January 2010.

The cross-bench peer wants to focus the conversation on voter turnout, alienation and the rise of extremist groups.

Writing for the website of the think-tank Ekklesia this weekend (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10971), Lord Alton declared: "If there is to be a change to our voting system, let it be because genuine reform is long overdue. Let it have as its first requirement that an MP will continue to represent a defined geographical area and that votes will be cast for people, not parties."

He added: "Any move to Single Transferable Votes or Alternative Votes would need to command wide-spread support and should not, under any circumstances, be steam-rollered through as a last gasp political fix or as part of a political deal."

Lord Alton of Liverpool has both UK and Irish citizenship and is an active Catholic. He is a former Liberal and later Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament who now sits as an independent member of the House of Lords.

In 1997 he was appointed Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and helped to set up the Foundation for Citizenship there.

Electoral reform was one of a range of proposals for deep-seated political change discussed on Saturday 9 January 2010 by Power 2010, a coalition of civil society organisations, political figures and academics looking at means of reviving Britain's democracy and parliamentary system from the grassroots.

The Electoral Reform Society also lambasted the Speaker’s Conference today, for ignoring the barriers thrown up by the voting system, in its final report.

The Society, which gave evidence to the Conference earlier this year, charged the Conference with ignoring a system which it said had effectively handed out ‘jobs for life’ to so many white, middle aged men.

Dr Ken Ritchie, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said: “The Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation ran alongside the biggest crisis our democracy has faced in generations. So it is a tragedy that its final report has failed to even acknowledge this crisis, a saga which has turned a whole generation on to the chasm between voters and their politicians.

“People have seen how our Parliament has come to resemble a closed shop, with so few opportunities for new blood come election day. This report is deeply irresponsible to pass on the reality of our voting system.

“Safe seats are a wall that female and minority candidates will have to scale time and again until this country sees meaningful electoral reform. Until then it’s Jobs for Life for the boys.”

Ekklesia is a member of Power 2010 (http://www.power2010.org.uk/).

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