Opinion Former Article

ERS: Johnson is right - a new politics is possible - Society greets calls for referendum on election day

The Electoral Reform Society has reacted to Health Secretary Alan Johnson's call for a referendum on the voting system to take place at the next general election.[1]

Johnson has called for the people to have their say on the Jenkin's Commission proposals that emerged from Labour's 1997 manifesto promise for a referendum on the voting system. "We need to overhaul the engine," he argues in The Times, "not just clean the upholstery." [2]

The Society joined calls for a PR referendum in Sunday's Observer [3]

Dr Ken Ritchie, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said:

"New Politics is now a battered term. Tony didn't deliver, Gordon hasn't, and David won't. The New Politics requires fundamental change, change that senior politicians have, to date, been unprepared to make.

"Alan Johnson is to be congratulated for being the first in government to recognise openly that changing politics needs a change in our electoral system. His proposal that there should be a referendum on the day of the next general election offering the choice between the 'Alternative Vote Plus' recommended by the Jenkins Commission, and our current, decrepit 'first past the post' system is a breath of fresh air in the debate on MPs' expenses that risks turning into a cul-de-sac.

"Of course we need to make sure that MPs do not abuse the expense system, but simply preventing MPs from doing what they should not be doing is hardly a reform. As Johnson notes, the debate on how we renew politics "cannot exclude the central question of electoral reform.

"The Society, along with a wide range of organisations and public figures, has already called for a referendum on the day of the next election. Johnson's proposal is one that will be welcomed by all who are seriously concerned with the state of our politics.

"It falls on politicians to prove the term 'New Politics' can still have meaning. Alan Johnson has started that process today".


[1] 'There is an alternative to our damaged system', By Alan Johnson MP, 25 May 2009 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6355254.ece

[2] Labour's 1997 manifesto promise led to the establishment in 1998 of the Independent Commission on the Voting System, commonly known as the Jenkins Commission. The Commission was asked to recommend a voting system that fulfilled (or best fulfilled) four criteria:

. The maintenance of a geographical link between MP and constituency
. The need for stable government
. The desire for broad proportionality
. An extension of voter choice
The recommended the Alternative Vote Plus (AV+). Labour's subsequent manifestos watered down the pledge on a referendum to a call for research into the experience of proportional representation in devolved assemblies. For more see http://electoral-reform.org.uk/article.php?id=56

[3] See 'Parliament in crisis: When will MPs start to listen to the people?', Observer letters pages, 24 May 2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/24/letters-mps-expenses for a full list of signatories.

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