Hewitt breaks ranks in call to improve voting system

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Patricia Hewitt has become the first cabinet minister to speak publicly in favour of voting reform since the general election.

The Health Secretary called for a full debate on electoral reform and admitted there was "no consensus" on the issue within the Government.

Ms Hewitt, a long-time supporter of electoral reform, declared on GMTV yesterday that she hoped the Government could "reach some resolution" on the issue. Her comments were in stark contrast to claims by Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, on Friday that there was "no groundswell" of support for changing the electoral system.

Ms Hewitt said: "I've always been in favour of electoral reform, but I'm not naive about it. Every voting system has its disadvantages, as well as potential advantages. There certainly isn't a consensus at the moment in Parliament or in the Government or indeed, I suspect, across the country about what the best voting system would be.

"But personally, yes, I would like to see a much fuller debate on these matters than we've had and I would hope that we could actually reach some resolution on this. Certainly, I think we could improve on the present voting system."

Campaigners repeated their demands for a review of the voting system after Labour won power with the support of only a fifth of the adult population, the lowest figure since the Great Reform Act of 1832.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said: "What we need is for those in all parties who have supported proportional representation in the past to make the case again with renewed vigour. The Government's determination to ignore the general election result, and the increasing popular support for electoral reform are a serious indictment of their supposed radicalism."

Nina Temple, director of the constitutional reform pressure group Make Votes Count, said: "At last a government minister is prepared to engage with, rather than try to deny, the groundswell of concern about Britain's democracy."

The Cabinet appears deeply divided. Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, are said to back reform, along with Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, and Alan Johnson, the Trade and Industry Secretary.

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

Campaigners will meet this week to step up their efforts. Possible promotions include a concert in London to demonstrate support for reform and a national lobbying effort in the style of red nose day to boost its profile among young voters.