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LETTER: Electoral reform: rhetoric or 'new' politics?

rom Ms Lindsay Cooke

Sir: What is important about Labour's commitment to a referendum on voting reform for the Commons ("Labour unease over electoral 'U-turn'", 14 August) is not whether such reform is or is not a good idea. It is critical to any evaluation of just how "new" Labour is because it recognises that the decision on an issue so central to the relationship between government and governed belongs to the people, not the politicians.

It was under John Smith's leadership that Labour committed itself to the referendum. In an interview with Andrew Marr on 29 July 1993, John Smith gave his reasons:

I am not in favour of changing to PR, but I have made a commitment to a referendum and I mean that ... I don't think MPs should decide it, I genuinely think this is a case for a referendum because people elected under system A are not the people to decide whether it should be system A or system B.

Asked whether he would commit himself to legislating for PR if that was the way the referendum went, he replied:

Absolutely. No point in having a referendum if you ignore its results.

This is principled, value-based "new" politics in action, rather than in rhetoric. We look forward to an unequivocal endorsement from the Labour conference in October.

Yours faithfully,

Lindsay Cooke

Charter 88

London, EC1

15 August