Opinion Former Article

Electoral Reform Society: Gordon Brown faces 'Lloyd George' moment

Government must approach Speakers Conference with an open mind on reform of Westminster

On the eve of the first Speakers Conference (1) in 30 years, reformers have called on the government to ensure that this is not another wasted opportunity to bring Westminster up-to-date.

The group, which will report next year, will address the dearth of women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities at all levels in British politics.

The Electoral Reform Society's Chief Executive Dr Ken Ritchie said:

"Tomorrow's launch of the Speakers Conference should mean more than another round of Westminster wonkery. Past Speaker's Conferences have led to women being enfranchised and the voting age lowered to 18. This Conference should also be prepared to act decisively.

A long report and pious words will mean little if the Conference does not address the nature of our elections. We do not have a voting system designed to produce a parliament that reflects our society, so we should not be surprised that parts of the electorate are under-represented. A better voting system could go some way to overcoming that problem, but it could also encourage a change to a political culture in which more women and more people from under-represented groups want to play a part.

"Gordon Brown knows his history. And he knows the promises left unfulfilled in eleven years of Labour government. When in 1917 Lloyd George was offered a chance to embrace PR for the Commons, he clung on to minority representation, a judgement call that would lead his party into the wilderness.

The Electoral Reform Society is available for comment and analysis on all aspects relating to the Speakers Conference for its duration.

Please contact the press office on 020 7928 1622 or email ashley.de@electoral-reform.org.uk

Notes to Editors:

(1) Explanatory notes on the format, history and timetable of the Speakers Conference are available at the Parliamentary website:

http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/principal/speaker/speakers_conference.cfm

(2) The recommendations of the first Speaker's Conference of 1916-17 led directly to the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave the first British women the vote.

(3) The Wilson Government accepted The Government accepted 60 of the 71 recommendations of the 1965-8 Conference, including lowering the voting age from 21 to 18

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