Electoral reform: make your voice heard

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The Independent Online

Today we are asking you, our readers, to sign up to The Independent's Campaign for Democracy, which aims to persuade the Government to reform our unfair electoral system. The response to this campaign, launched after this month's general election, has been extraordinarily positive. We have been inundated with letters of support. And as our survey this week demonstrated, public opinion in Britain is now broadly in favour of some form of proportional representation being introduced into the Westminster elections. It emerged that 62 per cent of the British public disagree with Downing Street's recent assertion that there is no appetite for reform of the current system.

Today we are asking you, our readers, to sign up to The Independent's Campaign for Democracy, which aims to persuade the Government to reform our unfair electoral system. The response to this campaign, launched after this month's general election, has been extraordinarily positive. We have been inundated with letters of support. And as our survey this week demonstrated, public opinion in Britain is now broadly in favour of some form of proportional representation being introduced into the Westminster elections. It emerged that 62 per cent of the British public disagree with Downing Street's recent assertion that there is no appetite for reform of the current system.

Now we are giving you the chance to make your case directly to the Government. If you are in favour of making the composition of the House of Commons more representative of the way the country casts its votes, fill out the form below and send it to us. We will then collate the list of names and deliver it to Downing Street - together with the hundreds of letters received calling for reform.

Those who would defend the status quo have had ample opportunity to make their case over the past two weeks - and indeed have done so. But our campaign has demonstrated that the arguments against proportional representation are tenuous at best. There is simply no reason why a PR system would inevitably result in an unstable coalition government, as the experience of many continental European nations attests. The single transferable vote system functions perfectly well in Ireland. Austria has the alternative vote.

And, indeed, we already have PR in some elections in Britain. We elect UK members to the European Parliament on the basis of a party list and we use the additional member system to decide the constitution of the Scottish and Welsh assemblies. The authoritative and wide-ranging 1998 report by the late Lord Jenkins laid out how a system of PR could be introduced into our democracy. All that is lacking is the political will. What we are recommending is not a leap into the dark, but a modification that has been tested - and that we can be confident will work.

And the truth is that our present system is emphatically not working. The pitiful turnout in all constituencies two weeks ago - except where there was a real chance of unseating a candidate - shows that the health of our democracy is at a lower ebb than it has been for some considerable time. The fact that the Labour Party was able to claim a majority with just 36 per cent of the popular vote, and 22 per cent of the electorate, ought to serve as a warning that our democracy cannot continue to stagger on unreformed.

The momentum for incorporating PR into Britain's electoral system is growing. The intellectual case is strong. The practical instruments are in place. What we need now is to put pressure on the Prime Minister to force his hand. Tony Blair, as he starts his third term in office, is understood to be concerned about his legacy. What better way for him to seal his place in history than by leaving Britain with a more equitable system of democracy? Help us make electoral reform a reality by joining our campaign.

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