Tory and Lib Dem leaders give weight to calls for political reform

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Pressure on the Government to breathe new life into Britain's ailing democracy will mount when the Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders back demands to close the divide between politicians and the public.

David Cameron and Sir Menzies Campbell will address a conference staged by the Power Commission, which issued a landmark report in February calling for urgent reforms to prevent "meltdown" - including the introduction of proportional representation at general elections as demanded by The Independent's Campaign for Democracy.

The inquiry, chaired by the Labour peer and QC Helena Kennedy, is holding a follow-up "Power to the People" conference on Saturday to discuss its next moves. More than 600 people have already applied for tickets for the all-day event at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre at Westminster.

Mr Cameron's decision to address the conference is a sign that the Tory leader takes constitutional reform seriously. He is keen to boost the powers of Parliament, a key theme of the Power report, to restore trust and credibility in what he calls a "new politics".

Ferdinand Mount, vice-chairman of the Power Commission, has joined a Tory policy review group on democracy, chaired by the former cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke, which will draw up reform proposals next year.

Other speakers at the conference include Douglas Alexander, the minister for Europe; Harriet Harman, the Constitutional Affairs minister; and the Labour MP Ed Miliband - all close allies of Gordon Brown, who welcomed the Power report and may bring in some of its recommendations to bolster the role of Parliament if he becomes Prime Minister.

Organisers are disappointed that Mr Brown and Tony Blair have turned down invitations to address the conference.

Pam Giddy, the inquiry's director, said: "We are delighted that David Cameron and Ming Campbell are willing to come along and speak at the Power conference. It shows an appreciation of one of the biggest issues facing Britain - the parlous state of our democracy. It is a pity that the Labour Party, the party of government, is not able to put forward a senior figure to reflect on why people feel politicians are not listening to them . I am sure delegates will draw their own conclusions."

The Liberal Democrats' long-standing interest in democratic reform will also be highlighted by speeches from Simon Hughes, the party's president, and Chris Huhne, the environment spokesman. Other speakers include representatives from think-tanks, pressure groups and academics. Both Mr Cameron and Sir Menzies will answer questions from the audience.

The conference will be told by members of the Power Commission that large-scale reforms of party funding, the voting system, the House of Lords, and the control of power by the Government are now urgent. It will also be told that lack of faith in politics and disillusion with the political system are now so endemic that it cannot be left to politicians to solve themselves .

Since the inquiry first reported, the "cash for honours" scandal has sent two of its key recommendations - a mainly elected House of Lords and more state political funding - higher up the Government's agenda.

But commission members want the Government to adopt all the report's central planks, including an end to the first-past-the-post system, rather adopting a "pick and mix" approach.

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