Voters 'were not cheated' by Tory minority victory: Inquiry into electoral reform shows party is divided. Anthony Bevins reports

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Indy Politics
THE MAJORITY of the British electorate who voted against the Conservatives last year were not cheated by the Tory victory, Labour supporters of the first-past-the-post system argued in a report sent to the party's national executive last week.

The Plant report concludes: 'There is no perfect electoral system . . . This has to be a matter of political judgement.'

Having confirmed the working party was divided in that judgement, the report provided a launch pad for the debate in which the proponents of first- past-the-post said: 'At the heart of our disagreement with most of those who seek change in the electoral system is a different judgement about the choice the electorate has made in recent general elections.

'It is argued that in 1992, for example, our system prevented a natural anti-Tory majority from achieving its desired purpose of removing the present government and so, some-how, 'cheated' the electorate. We do not share this view. Our reading of recent general elections is that a majority were - however mistakenly - prepared either to support the return of a Conservative government, or at least, by failing to support the only alternative government, to acquiesce in its re-election.'

Those arguing for the status quo said that any system replacing first-past-the-post would almost certainly increase the chances of hung parliaments, facing Labour with potential dilution of its policy.

'The electorate knows what a party stands for in its manifesto, and if it gains a majority of seats . . . then it has a mandate to carry out that manifesto,' they said.

'The only other alternative under a reformed electoral system would be to trade manifesto commitments for support for a minority government or as the basis for coalition. This is not democratic since the electorate is not able to exert any voice at that stage.'

Attacking the legitimacy of that 'doctrine of the mandate', those in favour of change pointed to the poll tax as an example of a policy introduced by majority government elected on a minority of votes.

'If Labour were in coalition,' they said, 'it would be by far and away the strongest partner in coalition and could insist on a very substantial part of its programme being at the centre of such a government's strategy. It is surely better to be able to carry out a very substantial part of a programme, rather than be left in a position powerless to make a difference to the lives of those who have suffered the depradations of a Conservative government.'