Brown ponders voting referendum on poll day

A referendum to change Britain's first-past-the-post voting system could be held on the same day as the general election next spring, under proposals being discussed by ministers.

The idea is gaining support in the Cabinet, and Labour now looks certain to fight the next election on a firm commitment to scrap the current voting system.

Although ministers have ruled out a switch to the fully proportional system sought by the Liberal Democrats, they plan to allow voters to list candidates in order of preference, with the bottom candidate dropping out until one contender enjoys more than 50 per cent support.

This Australian-style alternative vote (AV) system is one leading option. Another is "AV-plus", recommended by an inquiry chaired by the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead in 1998 but left on the shelf by the Blair government, which commissioned it. This would also see the election of "top-up" MPs in proportion to the votes cast.

The Government's Democratic Renewal Council, chaired by Gordon Brown, met this week. Although no final decision was taken, The Independent has learnt that the options it is considering include:

* Rushing through legislation before the election to allow a referendum on electoral reform shortly afterwards;

* A polling day referendum on the principle of changing the system, to be followed by a second plebiscite if there were a "yes" vote;

* A polling day referendum on a switch to AV or "AV plus", to be implemented at the following general election;

* A Labour manifesto commitment to change the system if the party retains power.

One cabinet source said: "The idea of a referendum on election day is on the agenda. It is a very live issue."

Yesterday, senior Labour figures denied that the move was a desperate attempt to cling on to power by muddying the waters at the election and pitching for the votes of people who support reform.

"People have a way of getting the government they want," one Labour source said. "It could easily go the other way – voters might be more likely to vote against a proposal made by the government of the day."

The driving force for the last-minute push by Labour after 12 years in power is the expenses controversy. The party's internal polls show it remains a huge issue for the public.

"Two things matter on the doorsteps: the economy and expenses," one Labour adviser said last night. "The expenses row means people are not listening to us on the economy. So we have to try to restore trust, and one way is to change a discredited voting system."

The Tories strongly oppose electoral reform, and are bound to accuse Labour of "moving the goalposts" and trying to curry favour with the Liberal Democrats in case there is a hung parliament.

Tories point to a YouGov survey for the Electoral Reform Society which found that, among people intending to vote Liberal Democrat, 9 per cent say a referendum would make them "much more likely" to vote Labour and 21 per cent "somewhat more likely" to do so. Only 4 per cent would be deterred.

Even if the public voted for reform in an election-day referendum, a Cameron government would be unlikely to act on it. Similarly, if legislation were forced through calling for a post-election referendum, it could be overturned by an incoming Tory administration.

Labour officials say that raising the issue could allow the party to portray Mr Cameron as "anti-reform". There is frustration in Labour circles that the Tory leader has appeared to outflank the Government by responding quickly during the expenses saga.

Many Labour MPs oppose reform and grassroots activists who want to keep the present system are calling for a debate on the issue at the party's annual conference in Brighton this month.

Electoral reform: The options

The Alternative Vote (AV)

Instead of voting for one candidate, people can rank the candidates in order of preference. The candidate coming last drops out and second preferences are redistributed until one candidate enjoys more than 50 per cent. Retains link between MPs and their constituents. Used in Australia.

AV Plus

People would have two votes – one for constituency MP (as under AV) and one for a top-up list in 65 areas in England, eight in Scotland, four in Wales and two in Northern Ireland. Some 80 to 85 per cent of MPs would be elected in individual constituencies. The rest would be "top-up MPs" to reduce disproportionality and geographical divisions of first-past-the-post system.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living