The Tories and Liberal Democrats have welcomed the Power commission's blueprint to revive Britain's ailing democracy, boosting the chances of the proposals being implemented.
With Gordon Brown endorsing the thrust of the commission's report, campaigners for constitutional reform hailed the inquiry as an important milestone in their fight for measures to bridge the gulf between the politicians and the people. In an interview with The Independent, Mr Brown backed a key element of the report - concordats setting out the relationship between Parliament and the executive and between central and local government. That would be seen as a step towards a written constitution.
In its report yesterday the independent commission, chaired by the Labour peer and QC Helena Kennedy, proposed 30 recommendations to re-engage people with politics. They included the abolition of the first-past-the-post voting system in line with The Independent's Campaign for Democracy, which has won the support of almost 40,000 people.
Oliver Heald, the Tories' spokesman on constitutional affairs, said the Power report would be considered carefully by the party's task force on democracy, chaired by the former cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke.
Mr Heald said: "Conservatives agree strongly with the commission's view that too much executive power is today concentrated in the hands of ministers rather than in the House of Commons, and that this is one of the areas where there needs to be a 'rebalancing of power' within our constitution.
"We share the commission's concerns about the disengagement felt by many people from the formal political process and the disconnection between the public and politicians."
But Mr Heald said the Tories disagreed with some of the recommendations - including the plan to reduce the age at which people can vote from 18 to 16.
Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrats' president and leadership candidate, said: "The Power report is timely, welcome and important. British democracy is in crisis whatever the Government pretends. Most voters are ignored and most people feel they have no influence. The Liberal Democrats will continue to push for fairer parliamentary representation and greater government accountability."
Chris Huhne, a rival Liberal Democrat leadership contender, pledged his "110 per cent" support for The Independent's campaign and said: "The Power inquiry is an excellent basis on which to convene a UK-wide constitutional convention which should attempt to reach agreement on the problems with the present system and then on solutions."
The Green Party urged the Government to act swiftly on the Power report. Peter Cranie, the party's elections co-ordinator, said: "Tony Blair has developed a presidential-style leadership, making major, controversial decisions without public support, including going to war with Iraq and backing the insidious takeover of the NHS and state schools by private companies. This has contributed to the alienation of the electorate, particularly young people, who feel that their trip to the ballot box is ignored."
Geoff Hoon, the leader of the Commons, rejected the commission's finding that Parliament had been emasculated, pointing to the recent rebellions by independent-minded Labour MPs.
He told BBC Radio Four's PM programme: "I welcome this report in terms of offering ideas about the way we improve our democracy. I recognise that there is a problem out there. This report makes clear that there is a desire, an appetite, an enthusiasm for politics, but perhaps with a small 'p'. What I have got to do is to bridge that gap." He promised to look "very seriously" at the Power commission's proposals but said there were "no quick fixes".
Campaigners for proportional representation welcomed the commission's call for reform. Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of Make Votes Count, said: "The simple message that emerges strongly from the report is that if people feel that their vote will count, they will turn out; if they feel that their vote does not matter, they won't participate."
Ken Ritchie, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: "The Power commission has produced a report to be proud of. They have investigated all aspects of our democracy and found it wanting in many respects. We welcome the decision to recommend a move away from the first-past-the-post voting system. They note that it produces uncompetitive elections and this can drive down turnout."
As the report was launched at a reception in London last night, Ferdinand Mount, the commission's vice-chairman, said he had been converted to electoral reform during its 18-month inquiry.
He said: "I have spouted all the arguments against proportional representation myself in the past. David Cameron and Ken Clarke are spouting them still. But I have been converted to reform, not so much because it is fairer than first-past-the-post but because it is the only way to galvanise the parties to canvass every ward in every seat."Reuse content