12 May 2005


I've been convinced of the case for proportional representation for a long time, and I'm heartened that yesterday evening's Make Votes Count meeting in Westminster was well attended and enthusiastic (click here for Anthony Barnett's take on it).

But I'm also aware of just how difficult it will be to persuade any ruling party of its merits. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Tories simply blanked the issue, and Labour since 1997 has taken pretty much the same line. Obviously, a change in the voting sytem for the Commons requires a government to legislate it. But turkeys, to use the old cliche, don't vote for Christmas.

Labour support for electoral reform, as the Independent reminded us this week, is at an all-time high – though its figure of 100 MPs in the reform lobby conflates enthusiasts for PR and backers of the alternative vote, which is not remotely a PR system.

But the antipathy to any change at all remains strong at the top of the parliamentary Labour Party (click here for Jack Straw in the Guardian today), and there is little indication that either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown has suddenly embraced PR – not even the compromise version advocated by Lord Jenkins in his long-forgotten first-term report. The Tories for the most part remain antipathetic, and the Lib Dems want a single-transferable vote system that, well, hardly anyone else would back.

The upshot is that, despite the renewed interest in electoral reform as a result of last week's election result, which saw Labour win a large majority on just 36 per cent of the popular vote, it's no clearer than ever how it could come about. In my dreams, I see Blair and Brown suddenly realising that a PR referendum right now would be a brilliant way of restoring legitimacy to the democratic process (which would also do serious damage to the Tories' prospects of ever winning a majority on their own). But in the cold light of day I reckon the cause will have to wait until there's a hung parliament.

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