Letter: Constitutional convention

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Sir: Graham Allen (letter, 26 April) is right that democracy is much more than which system we use to elect MPs, but he should not try to rewrite history. Call it 'Commons-centrism', if he wishes, but the reason why 61 Labour MPs and 1,900 members of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform concentrate on the way we vote for the Commons is because Labour's policies on democracy and constitutional change will not be believed if they are accompanied by arguments for retaining first-past-the-post voting that sound like vested interest from Labour conservatives.

The reason voting systems excite such strong reactions has very little to do with academic descriptions and everything to do with what people believe about power. Do they want to control or to liberate? Can they negotiate to build majorities for their policies or merely take sides in adversarial debate?

This is how Labour will be judged. Will its conference this year reject first-past-the-post voting for all tiers of government under consideration as the Plant Commission has just recommended? Will it move to a system that will encourage new politics and pluralism to flourish? There is no contradiction between constitutional and economic renewal or social justice. There is nothing sterile about asking what relationship there should be between citizens and government and building the new institutions and voting systems that will deliver it.

That is why it is important that we do not rule out the model chosen in Scotland, a constitutional convention. We need a forum in British political life where a new constitutional settlement can be discussed. That should not await a Labour victory at the next general election.

The merit of a convention is that churches, trade unions, women's and ethnic minority organisations can all contribute and things are not just left to politicians and parties. Before any voting system was adopted, a preferendum could occur, but a much-needed process would have been set in motion that will bring our dilapidated constitution into the 20th century before we reach the 21st.

Yours sincerely,


Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform

Guildford, Surrey