Backlash after Falconer slates reform push

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The Government was facing a furious backlash after a senior cabinet minister and close ally of Tony Blair dismissed any prospect of change in the voting system and claimed there was "no groundswell" of support for electoral reform.

The Government was facing a furious backlash after a senior cabinet minister and close ally of Tony Blair dismissed any prospect of change in the voting system and claimed there was "no groundswell" of support for electoral reform.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, angered politicians when he declared yesterday that the public did not want to change the voting system - even though he acknowledged that a poll conducted by The Independent showed that 62 per cent of people wanted a switch to proportional representation. His comments followed Downing Street's assertion that there was no appetite for reform.

"I don't think there is a real groundswell for change," he said on Radio 4's Today programme. "We don't, as a government, support the idea of a referendum."

Politicians claimed that Lord Falconer was out of touch. The Labour peer Lord Lipsey, chairman of Make Votes Count, which supports reform, asked: "On what planet has Charlie Falconer been dwelling since the election?"

"You would think that the upsurge of popular fury at a system which so distorted the people's will would have penetrated even to his fastness in the House of Lords by now. Even King Canute was not so deluded as to think he could actually reverse the tide. Electoral reformers are not the kind of people who break windows and throw bricks. But they are determined and persistent. The Government ignores them at its peril."

Since The Independent launched its Campaign for Democracy, in support of a review of the voting system, the paper has been deluged with support from readers.

More than 4,000 readers have signed a petition calling for a large scale review of the first-past-the-post voting system, and sacks full of coupons - destined for Tony Blair's office - have been sent in calling on the Prime Minister to "institute urgent reform of the voting system".

Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer, said Lord Falconer was disconnected from public sentiment. "Who is Lord Falconer to turn round as soon as the votes are counted and tell the British people there is no support for change?" he said. "Tony Blair came to power ... pledging to hold a referendum to change the voting system. He strung Paddy Ashdown and Roy Jenkins along but has nowhere to hide now after this outrageous election result."

The Labour government was elected on the smallest share of the popular vote since 1832. Labour gained the support of only 22 per cent of the electorate.

Today, young people in favour of voting reform will take to streets with a petition as part of a national campaign for voting reform. Support for reform comes from all parties. Almost 100 Labour MPs, including Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, support a review of the voting system in Britain.

Mary Southcott, of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, said the election had given fresh impetus to the case for reform. The Green Party said first-past-the-post was "archaic and anti-democratic".

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