Labour to press ahead with review of voting systems

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Indy Politics
LABOUR'S national executive will today be asked to approve a proposal that the party should decide its preferred voting system for elections to the House of Commons at next year's annual conference.

John Smith, the Labour leader - who remains open to persuasion on the issue - wants a firm decision on electoral reform to be taken next October, to coincide with the party's internal constitutional changes.

If the national executive backs the move proposed by its working party on electoral reform, chaired by Professor Raymond Plant, this October's conference will be asked to approve a programme of work for it, which would include choosing a more proportional system for elections to the European Parliament.

The Plant working party's second interim report - to be considered by the NEC today - leaves open the possibility of retaining first-past-the-post for the Commons. It also rules out the idea of replacing it with the single transferable vote (STV), the Liberal Democrats' favoured option, or introducing pure list systems, both of which would significantly weaken MPs' constituency links.

That leaves the additional member system - the method chosen for the proposed Scottish assembly - and the alternative vote as the likely options if Labour decides to support change.

However, both these systems are ruled out for elections to a second chamber to replace the House of Lords. The new chamber is planned to have a revising rather than primary legislative role, to reflect regional aspirations, and to protect civil liberties. The Plant committee argues this more deliberative role favours a directly proportional system, making either STV or a list system suitable. The second chamber should in any case be elected on a different basis to the Commons to avoid conflicts of legitimacy, the working party argues.

The national executive is expected to back the idea of Plant completing its work next year, despite the desire of some senior Labour figures to put the issue off, believing it to be a diversion.

Labour's manifesto contained a pledge, if elected, to widen the Plant commission's membership to include people from other parties. No firm decision is expected to be taken until after the party conference on whether and how to do that now Labour is once more in opposition.