Bishops back voting reform

By staff writers
2 Feb 2011

Ten Church of England bishops have said they are backing a change from the first-past-the-post voting system to the Alternative Vote system which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.

A planned referendum on 5 May will decide whether to change the system for electing MPs to the House of Commons.

The bishops declaring their support for AV included the Rt Rev Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, and the Rt Rev Michael Langrish, the Bishop of Exeter.

They are joined by the Rt Rev Martyn Jarrett, Bishop of Beverley, the Rt Rev Nigel Stock, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, and the Rt Rev Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester.

The Rt Rev Colin Buchanan, former Bishop of Woolwich, the Rt Rev Peter Dawes, former Bishop of Derby, and the Rt Rev David Atkinson, former Bishop of Thetford, are also listed as backing a "yes" vote for AV in the referendum.

John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said: "I believe that there is a strong moral case for reform of the voting system and that AV is a considerable improvement on first past the post. "

Bishop Langrish said: "Voting systems are not value-free. I am supporting a change on the grounds of justice and accountability.

"AV will increase the likelihood that the general preference of a majority rather than a plurality will shape the choice of MPs, and so parliament. It will also increase the accountability of MPs, particularly in 'safe seats' who will have to have a greater regard for electors, not of their own party."

Bishop of Buckingham, Rt Revd Alan Wilson said: "One basic moral question is about truth. Most arguments adduced in favour of current arrangements are simply, demonstrably false. We are told it always yields simple majorities, lightweight government, and a high degree of accountability. It is currently doing none of those things.

"As the power of party whips and managers has grown, it has become plainer that they are really the only people First Past the Post really serves. It enables them to switch off in most constituencies and concentrate all their efforts on a minority. As boundaries are drawn and redrawn, all kinds of inter party horse-trading places the lines. The system provides a nicely contoured career path for professional politicians.

"AV marks considerable progress from where we are now, as an evolutionary step that is entirely consistent with our traditions, and workable. Now is the time to move on."

The news comes as churches gear up to hold hustings and play a major part in the referendum campaign. Church groups amongst others will be sending out briefings to their members and inviting their local communities to attend events. Groups involved include the Evangelical Alliance, CARE and Faithworks.

A major 'set piece' public event has been organised by the church groups in London on Feb 16th, chaired by the BBC's Jeremy Vine, and held at the charities Parliament.

You can find out more about the event here: http://www.faithworks.info/form.asp?id=9203

You can find out more about the "yes to fairer votes campaign" here: http://www.yestofairervotes.org/

[Ekk/2]

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