Leading article: Cracks in the edifice of denial

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The Independent Online

Now it seems the Lord Chancellor may be ready to engage in that debate. In his interview with The Independent today, Lord Falconer is at pains to stress that electoral reform is still "not a priority" for the Government. But he concedes for the first time that there is a case for reform and that "the detail of the debate is interesting". He even admits there are members of the Government who think reform would be "worthwhile".

This is a far cry from the ostrich-like approach the Government displayed in May. To the extent that it shows the momentum for reform is growing, this is welcome. Cracks in the edifice of denial are always encouraging. The logic of electoral reform is as compelling as it was in May, when Labour was elected with a 67-seat majority on just 35 per cent of the popular vote. Only a fifth of the electorate backed the winning party - a record low in British political history. And the divorce of MPs from the electorate is as wide as ever. If politicians are serious about tackling the "trust" issue in politics, they should begin by examining electoral reform.

Lord Falconer argues today that introducing PR would be a formidable political undertaking. That may be true, but it is not a system unknown in Britain. Among others, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly are both elected by PR.

The practical challenges of imposing reform are consistently overemphasised by the Government. Lord Falconer also claims that to commission a government review of the present arrangement would be wrong since it would "create the expectation you are going to do something about it". But he neglects to mention that such a review already exists - the Jenkins report, which recommended a PR system. This was commissioned by the Prime Minister in 1997 - the year, lest we forget, in which the Labour manifesto promised the British public a referendum on voting reform. We are still waiting. And in the meantime, this vital debate will continue.