Frank Field MP
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A new voting system?

Yesterday in the Commons we debated potential reform of the voting system. The Tories charged the Government with conducting a cynical exercise to try to win votes at the pending election. But nevertheless the issue of reforming how Britain votes is crucial.

I have written before on the twin principles of representative and responsible government underpinning our democracy. Making our voting system fairer - in the sense of making each vote more equal, wherever it is cast in the UK - can impinge on holding governments responsible for their actions.

In a typically well crafted and intelligent speech the Liberal Democrat spokesman, David Howarth, pooh-poohed the idea of the mandate. That may be partly because he is a member of a minority party.

As the election campaign gets underway properly, and particularly when the party leaders are quizzed together on television, what is in the manifesto, and whether the ideas stack up, will be increasingly important. Look at how the Tories have got into a mess over their cuts programme which will be an important part of their mandate.

In the past the idea of representative government has held together with responsible government, i.e. a government being accountable for its actions, because our electoral system usually delivers a party with a clear majority in the House of Commons that is in charge of its programme. Nobody in yesterday's debate considered how making votes more equal, and with it the possible rise of a multi-party government, might begin to knock away and undermine the idea of responsible government as we now know it.

That is why I made a plea that yesterday's efforts should be considered the opening stages of a debate which ought to occupy parliament at regular intervals over the next five years.

There were two outstanding speeches yesterday. Roger Godsiff made the most powerful case for change. It certainly set me thinking on whether I could continue to hold the position I put forward.

The most fiery contribution was from George Galloway who is the outstanding orator in the House. George didn't consider how radically changing the voting system might make it even more difficult for voters to hold the government to account. But he made it impossible to defend the status quo.
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