Election 'took Britain back to era of rotten boroughs'

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Ministers have been warned not to shelve electoral reform after a report said the general election took Britain back to the "rotten boroughs" of the 19th century.

Campaigners for voting reform demanded that the Government hold an open inquiry into the electoral system as part of an internal review of voting methods by the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

The Electoral Reform Society has condemned the 2005 general election as "the worst election ever" because of the slim margin of Labour's victory, with just 35.2 per cent of the vote.

Almost 40,000 people have signed The Independent's Campaign for Democracy demanding a review of the voting system.

The society's report on the election said: "No majority government in British history has rested on a flimsier base of public support; or more accurately, none has since the extension of the franchise in 1918. In terms of active public consent for government, Britain is almost back in the pre-reform era of rotten boroughs."

The society warned that Tony Blair's winning share of the vote was "scarcely higher" than the 34.4 per cent of the vote won by Neil Kinnock in 1992. It was also less than the 36.9 per cent of the vote gained by James Callaghan when he failed to secure a third Labour term in 1979.

The report added: "The electoral basis of British government also emerges looking shakier than in most other democratic countries. Only Turkey has a majority government with a lower share of the vote."

Lord David Lipsey, chairman of the pressure group Make Votes Count, referred to the terror attacks on London in an open letter to Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor. He wrote: "The issue of how to strengthen Britain's democracy is all the more important at a time when its very existence is under attack."

Lord Lipsey, a Labour peer, insisted a proper review of the electoral system should include open hearings around Britain and a full parliamentary debate on reform. He wanted assurances that there was a "real possibility" Labour would hold a referendum on changes to the electoral system, as promised.

He wrote: "Not only I, but electoral reformers in general, are concerned at what appear to be shortcomings in the way this review is being approached.

"If it is to be accepted on all sides as a way forward, and not simply as a tactic for shelving the issue, there are certain criteria that have to be met."

He added: "I seek your assurance that there is still a real possibility that this review will lead to the holding of the referendum promised in the 1997 manifesto. I believe it would be unwise for the Labour government to close the door on this process. The debate is out there in the country and the Government ignores it at its peril."

Labour's 1997 election manifesto said: "We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons." But the manifesto for the last election said merely, "a referendum remains the right way to agree any change for Westminster".

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