Bishops caution Blair over PR

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The Independent Online
LEADERS OF all the main Christian churches have written to Tony Blair expressing "great concern" about the Government's attempt to introduce the controversial closed list system for European elections, writes Rachel Sylvester.

They warned the Prime Minister that the proportional voting arrangement would "disenfranchise many people of religious conviction" and asked him to drop the proposal.

The closed list system, under which people vote for a party but not individual candidates, "would make it extremely hard for people to vote with their consciences", they wrote. "For many people of religious and other deeply held moral convictions, the personal convictions and views of prospective candidates are more important than party political ideologies."

The letter will increase pressure on the Government to drop its European Parliamentary Elections Bill, which was thrown out by the House of Lords last week. Ministers are still considering whether or not to reintroduce it when Parliament returns this week, but they are unwilling to do so without the cooperation of the Conservatives who could delay it so that there is no time for the new system to be in place by the Euro elections in June.

The letter will put the Prime Minister in an awkward position as he has been competing with William Hague, the Tory leader, to present his party as the group most in keeping with Christian beliefs.

The bishops' intervention adds a new dimension to the debate. Until now the main criticism has been that it would play to the "control freak" tendencies of party headquarters by allowing them to manipulate the order of candidates on a list to ensure that obedient people were elected.

Peter Shore, page 28

Alan Watkins, page 29