Labour MPs say they will fight against PR deal with Lib Dems

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Indy Politics

Labour MPs have reacted angrily to the renewal of talks on reviewing the voting system and said they will campaign to stop a deal with the Liberal Democrats going ahead.

The Lib Dems confirmed yesterday that they had held preliminary talks with Downing Street about a review of voting, which will look at introducing proportional representation (PR) in Britain. Charles Kennedy, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, told The Independent that he had held "informal discussions" with the Government about reviewing how people elect MPs to Westminster.

The review, expected after the European elections in June, would consider scrapping the present first-past-the-post system and replacing it with a proportional system, like that used in Scotland. But many Labour MPs fear that the introduction of PR could lead to a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats and are determined to oppose it.

Martin Salter, Labour MP for Reading West, said support for reform was almost non-existent among his colleagues in the House of Commons. "Given the chaos caused by directly elected mayors and the European list system, the support for PR ... in the Parliamentary Labour Party would easily fit into a very small number of phone boxes," he said.

Labour promised to review the voting system in its 2001 election manifesto but most in the party assumed that the issue had been shelved after widespread opposition.

Tom Watson, a senior Labour MP and aide to Home Office ministers, who led the first-past-the-post campaign, said last night that he thought a deal with the Liberal Democrats on PR was unlikely. "This isn't the 1997 [to] 1998 era," he said. "Our opposition is to do with ideology. It is to do with politics. Even if Charles Kennedy got to the point where he could sign a deal, there is no trust or belief that he could carry his party with him."

A Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said: "There have been informal discussions between the Liberal Democrat leadership and Downing Street on PR. We have proposed that the Government should review the operation of proportional representation in Scotland, Wales and the European elections after 10 June, as a basis for what to do about the Westminster elections."