STRONG EVIDENCE of grassroots Labour opposition to proportional representation emerged last night in a survey of 150 constituency party chairmen.
In a warning shot across Tony Blair's bows as he prepares to decide whether to change the voting system for general elections, the poll suggested he will have serious problems persuading his party to support electoral reform. The survey was organised by the AEEU engineering union, which will lead the fight against changing the first-past-the-post system at next week's Labour conference.
BPRI, an independent research agency that questioned the local party chairmen, found that a majority (62 per cent) believed PR leads to weak coalition government. Almost three- quarters thought PR would give disproportionate power and influence to smaller parties such as the Liberal Democrats.
A majority (56 per cent) regarded as "flawed" the proposal expected to be recommended next month by the commission on electoral reform chaired by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, the Liberal Democrat peer. Under the plan, about 500 MPs would be elected under the alternative vote system, allowing people to list candidates in their order of preference, "topped up" by another 100 chosen to reflect each party's share of the vote in each region.
A huge majority (86 per cent) of those polled believed the introduction of a regional list system of candidates would give more power to Labour headquarters and take it away from ordinary members. More than half (56 per cent) thought regional lists would make it less likely that working class people were elected to Parliament.
Ken Jackson, the AEEU's general secretary, said: "No more proof is needed - the Labour Party will not want to take a leap into the dark and abandon first-past-the-post. Unions and constituencies are united in rejecting change for change's sake."
An AEEU source said the poll findings "put the skids" under Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown's attempt to win a seat in Mr Blair's Cabinet and form a coalition with Labour.
The union's survey was dismissed by the Make Votes Count campaign, which supports change. It said the poll was flawed because the questions were loaded, and that some chairmen had not had time to consult members.
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, adds his voice to those cabinet ministers who oppose PR in today's New Statesman magazine. He says: "Most people know that one of the features of Parliamentary democracy is the link between the member and the constituency. I value that, which is one of the reasons why I remain to be convinced."
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