Cabinet split over poll system reform

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The Independent Online
THE CABINET is still split over pressure from the Liberal Democrats to replace the first past the post voting system with proportional representation before the next election, writes Colin Brown.

Jack Straw yesterday signalled he would support a change to an alternative vote system, but the Liberal Democrats protested that did not count as PR.And sources close to the Home Secretary said he would not support a compromise, known as AV-plus, in which a proportion of MPs would be elected through a PR system.

"He quite passionately supports the link between MPs and their constituencies and he would not want to see that broken. AV-plus would do that," said one.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, is also reluctant to support PR. The Prime Minister has said he is not persuaded by the campaign for PR but has set up a commission chaired by Lord Jenkins, former leader of the SDP, which is due to report on possible reform to the voting system by the end of the year.

Mr Straw said yesterday that a referendum would be held before the election on a new system, but there was no commitment to implement the conclusions of the Jenkins commission for the next poll. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and Jack Cunningham, the agriculture minister, are known to support PR but Mr Straw and other opponents in the Cabinet are still as deeply entrenched as ever, and reports of a shift within the Cabinet are being dismissed.

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