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banner Monday, 25 September, 2000, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Raging against the new-fangled
The mood was triumphant at Monday's AEEU/First Past the Post campaign meeting on "Defeating Jenkins: the last chance to save the party from proportional representation".

Middlesbrough MP Stuart Bell, chairing an all-MP panel, opened by brandishing "the latest in luxury goods" - a t-shirt bearing the words "No way Roy" on the front, on the back a claret-nosed caricature of Lord (Roy) Jenkins, the Liberal Democrat peer appointed by Tony Blair soon after the 1997 election to recommend a proportional election system for Westminster.

"It's spelt wrongly," Bell apologised. "It should've said 'No way Woy'. But we wanted to be polite."

Above all, though, Bell and his fellow anti-electoral reformers were "celebrating a great victory over and above those who support PR".

Clydesdale MP Jimmy Hood hailed "the right of the people to kick the government of the day out. And that's what PR doesn't do."

He had seen what PR did to the Labour vote at the Scottish Parliament elections last year, as well as in Wales, the Euro-elections and London. He had opposed the whole business from the start.

But he confessed that the "some of the Machiavellian among us" had foreseen benefits to its introduction north of the border. Because "once they've seen what PR's done in Scotland, they won't have it anywhere else."

Now PR's effects had been seen, he could freshly warn: "Don't touch it with a barge-pole!"

Referring to pro-reformers' efforts to get council elections held under PR, he insisted it was "not good enough" to have "buried PR for Westminster"; it had to be six feet under with a stake through its heart when it came to local government too.

Watford's Claire Ward derided the pro-reform camp for saying Labour's first-past-the-post-ers were "old, traditionalists against change and modernisation".

"I am neither old nor against change or modernisation," the New Labour loyalist protested. She nevertheless described holding 1999's Euro-elections, at which the Tories out-performed Labour, as "the worst decision" the government had made.

"I am sorry I ever went through the lobbies in support of that change."

But she hailed the "great success" of the anti-PR camp in ensuring that "Jenkins is no longer part of the future".

Dennis Skinner's contribution was a tour de force against the "new-fangled" system that had brought nothing but trouble for Labour.

And the Olympics made a rare intervention into the week's political debate when the Bolsover MP admitted: "I've been watching Jonathan Edwards and he's just won a gold medal for Britain."

"I'll tell you something else while I'm at it," Skinner declared. "He won it under first-past-the-post!"

Elections should have the same simple manner of deciding the victor.

Why, he demanded to know, should the "chattering classes decide who's won after the people have voted?"

He condemned the "new-fangled" systems imposed so disastrously - for Labour, that is - on Scotland, Wales, London and Europe.

Before that had happened, the Scottish and Welsh nationalists "hadn't got a prayer".

As for the presumed chief beneficiary of PR for the House of Commons, "quite frankly I can't stand the Liberals and Social Democrats... That Woy of the Wadicals!"

But Labour's anti-reformers could congratulate themselves that they had won. "We've seen them all off," Skinner said in his closing remarks. "Jenkins, [David] Steel. Paddy [Ashdown] backed down - he's been and gone.

"And now they've got Charlie Chuckle."

The audience gave the left-winger a standing ovation.

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See also:

28 Sep 98 | Labour Conference
Blair answers his party's questions
20 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Hughes issues Lib-Lab ultimatum
28 Sep 98 | Labour Conference
Ministers shy away from PR pledge
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