Letter: How to achieve democratic reform

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Independent must be congratulated for its clear and informative coverage of the recommendations of the Plant Committee's report on electoral systems (21 April). Central to any debate on the merits or demerits of electoral reform must be the understanding of what the confusing assortment of letters - STV, FPTP, AMS, etc - would actually mean in the polling station.

The debate surrounding Plant, however, has been distorted by those who still subscribe to the outdated Eighties' notion that proportional representation for the Commons is the be-all and end-all of constitutional reform - that if we adopt this or that system of election to the Commons all will be right.

This attitude, fallen into by Laurence Mann and Carole Tongue in their letters of 23 April, displays a worrying Commons-centrism, and completely ignores the context in which the Plant recommendations for the Commons were made - as part of a package that included election to a reformed House of Lords by Regional List and List PR for European parliamentary elections as well.

What the more ardent proponents of particular electoral systems fail to grasp is that far more important than individual systems for individual chambers is the creation of a plurality of democratically accountable institutions, each checking, restraining and limiting the powers of the others. That is the democratic agenda for the Nineties, and that is what lies at

the heart of the recommendations coming from both Plant and Labour's Commission on the Constitution.

There is no 'Holy Grail' of electoral systems. All have their strong and weak points, and all excite far stronger reactions - both for and against - than they deserve.

The crisis of confidence in our democracy, which crosses all political and social classes, will not be resolved by simply changing the way we elect 650 MPs to Parliament, but by creating a new political order in which the excessive powers granted to the executive and its client first chamber are spread between a diversity of

different centres of power - to a new second chamber, to independent local and regional government, and back to citizens themselves through a British Bill of Rights.

When those in all parties who are now wasting time, maintaining long-established positions in an essentially sterile debate - 'my system is better than your system' - recognise the need to view constitutional reform within a wider context, perhaps we will be able to achieve real democratic reform in this country.

Yours faithfully,

GRAHAM ALLEN

MP for Nottingham North

(Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

23 April

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