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Brown’s voting reform plans branded Monty Python politics

Gordon Brown’s flagship plan to change how MPs are elected suffered a range of attacks yesterday, with the fiercest coming from a former minister who ridiculed efforts to rebuild public trust with constitutional reform as “Monty Python politics”.

The Prime Minister argued that changing the traditional first-past-the-post system at Westminster to the Alternative Vote (AV) -- where voters rank candidates in order of preference -- could be part of the “new politics” that would help restore public trust in the political system.

In a keynote speech, Mr Brown said people had been “rightly outraged” by the expenses scandal and that real change was needed.

He stressed while the Labour Government had undertaken reform, from Scottish devolution to an independent Bank of England, more was needed.

Now was the time, he said, for “a radical, modern, open and democratic agenda to change the way our country governs itself”.

Among the proposed changes are:  Reforming the House of Lords -- a commitment previously given in Labour’s 2001 and 2005 manifestos l Making more data available online l Allowing voters to recall an offending MP Establishing a group to look at creating a written constitution -- possibly by the 800th anniversary of Magna Cart in 2015 Allowing MPs to vote on who chairs Commons committees rather leaving it up to the whips

 

On AV, Mr Brown explained that it gave voters “more choice” because they could express candidate preferences. He added: “It offers a system where the British people can, if they so choose, be more confident that their MP truly represents them, while at the same time remaining directly accountable to them.”

Amendments to the UK Government’s Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill were tabled yesterday. If passed, it would enable a post-election referendum on AV to take place by October 2011.

It is thought MPs will vote on the issue before the Commons rises for a half-term break next Wednesday.

Mr Brown’s change of heart on AV was dismissed by his political opponents.

The Conservatives accused him of wanting to “fiddle the electoral system” to cling on to power while the Liberal Democrats, who prefer full-blown PR, dismissed it as a “deathbed conversion”.

The SNP, meanwhile, said the PM’s move “smacked of desperation” coming weeks before the General Election, and argued that it made Scottish Labour’s opposition to an independence referendum look “totally ridiculous”.

However, the most scathing attack came from Tom Harris, the Labour MP for Glasgow South, who is a keen supporter of the first-past-the-post system.

Arguing that voting reform would be a distraction from bread-and-butter issues during the election campaign, the backbencher declared: “It is a complete myth to suggest that the response to the expenses scandal should be changing the electoral system. It’s just Monty Python politics.”

He added that such an approach was “utter nonsense”.

Mr Brown’s critics insist his proposal is all about party politics: trying to paint the Conservatives as the party of privilege and the status quo while keeping the LibDems sweet in the event of a hung parliament.

Outwith Westminster, Power 2010, a group that campaigns for electoral and constitutional reform, said Mr Brown’s proposals were “a step in the right direction” but did not go far enough.

“Without troubling the public for their views, ministers hand-picked the voting system they favour in a cynical exercise aimed at wrong-footing the Tories ahead of a likely election defeat,” said a spokeswoman.

However, the Electoral Reform Society urged all parties to back the proposals, saying: “Any improvement is worth having.”

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