Opinion Former Article

ERS: The alternative vote - society warns of Brown's 'Hobson's choice'

The Electoral Reform Society has welcomed news that the government is preparing for a referendum on electoral reform, but called on the Prime Minister to ensure that a referendum would offer real change and not just a timid adjustment to the present voting system.

The government's apparent endorsement of the Alternative Vote (AV) [1] is well short of a move to a more proportional form of representation for Westminster.

The society's Chief Executive Dr Ken Ritchie said:

"Labour came to power in '97 with a promise of a referendum on a system to replace First-Past-the-Post. Then there was some understanding that new politics was impossible without a new set of rules, but when the old system gave Labour a thumping great majority, new politics was indefinately postponed. Now the level of public anger and outrage demands a rethink.

"We welcome the fact the government after more than a decade is appearing to move on its promise to replace an antiquated system. But Labour's 11th hour reformers need to look very hard at their motives when it comes to the choice of replacement. Is Brown more interested in the gesture or the substance when it comes to reforming parliament?

"We're clear that real reform requires a move to proportional representation, and a referendum on "a broadly proportional" system was what Labour promised in 1997. But the Alternative Vote is not proportional. It might make a few seats less safe, but it does not guarantee a more representative parliament that is better able to hold the government to account.

"With a referendum on AV, Brown's Choice would be too much like Hobson's Choice - whichever way you vote, it's business as usual at Westminster.

"This Summer has proved two points. That the support for real change at Westminster is growing, and that our politicians are incapable of self regulation. We don't imagine the Prime Minister has undergone a Dasmascean Conversion somewhere along the road to Norwich, but his personal views shouldn't limit the options on the table. He needs to demonstrate that he's serious about democracy and is prepared to let the voters choose their voting system.

"The Society shares the belief of today's Observer editorial - that the Single Transferable Vote is the single best solution to the current problems at Westminster. We are ready to argue our case, but it appears that Brown is simply unwilling to engage in debate on this issue. We will continue to support the work of the Vote for a Change campaign to ensure that the choice of system puts voters and politicians first.

"While we welcome the news of a referendum, there is still work to be done to ensure the choice on offer delivers the change we need." [2]

Notes

[1] For more on the Alternative Vote consult the Society's website:
http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/article.php?id=55

[2] The Electoral Reform Society is a a member of The Vote for a Change campaign - calling for a referendum on voting reform on or before the next election, with a process that ensures voters interests are centre stage. Partners include Greenpeace and the Fawcett Society. The campaign is calling for a referendum to feature in the Queen's Speech. For more see: www.voteforachange.co.uk

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