Bid to get PR into May political reform referendum

By staff writers
5 Oct 2010

New Green MP Caroline Lucas is jointly heading up attempts to give voters the option of Proportional Representation in May's electoral reform referendum.

At the moment, the ballot in 2011 will only give one option on the voting paper - to support the non-proportional Alternative Vote (AV) system, or else to keep the current 'first past the post' one which consigns millions of votes to the waste bin.

Teaming up with Ms Lucas, leader of the Green Party in England and Wales, and MP for Brighton Pavilion, is a Conservative backbencher, Douglas Carswell.

They hope to attract support from centre-left MPs ranging from Labour reformers to Liberal Democrats who want voting system change but are against AV.

The idea is to move a series of amendments to the Electoral Reform Bill in the House of Commons next week. The aim is to give voters the "fullest range of options possible" in the referendum.

Mr Carswell made his bid at a fringe meeting for the Conservative Party conference meeting in Birmingham.

He said AV was "a reform that was picked by politicians trying to cobble together a coalition in order to gain power" and that it would "guarantee that we move to an even more bland and generic way of doing politics".

Dr Lucas also backs either the Single Transferable Vote system (STV) or the Additional Member System (AMS), under which MPs from a party list are added to their total to reflect the share of their vote.

The proposed amendment says voters should be asked if they want to keep the status quo, and if not which of four voting systems would they prefer - AV, STV, AMS or AV Plus, where top-up seats are allocated in line with a party's share of the vote.

The move to include proportional options has been strongly backed by reform campaign Unlock Democracy.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the beliefs and values think-tank Ekklesia, which was an active participant in the Power 2010 reform coalition in the run-up to the last General Election, commented: "Voting reform is not just a political issue. It is a moral one too. The move to include genuinely proportional options in the Electoral Reform Bill is a very important one. This is about whether ordinary people are given a genuine say in how Westminster operates, or whether the self-interest of career politicians is allowed to block change before it has been properly considered. "

"If the choice is between AV and the current first-past-the-post lottery, a step towards wider reform is undoubtedly better than maintaining the status quo, especially from the viewpoint of millions of people whose votes do not presently count. But wider change is backed by an emerging cross-party coalition and by a huge range of civic and faith groups. It is about principle not partisanship," he said.

The Greens' Dr Lucas has also called for sweeping reform of the way Parliament works to make it more inclusive.

"The Palace of Westminster is like a beautiful museum," she says in a Readers Digest article this month. "But it's the only museum where the staff and members are forced to behave like exhibits."

The new MP writes publicly for the first time of her frustrations in the first three months of her career at Westminster, and of her hopes for change.

She describes how inefficient she finds Westminster compared with the European Parliament in which she sat for more than a decade.

It took well over a month for Parliamentary officials to find an office for its first Green Party member, during which time her working base was "a variety of cafes".

[Ekk/3]

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