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Tuesday, June 2, 1998 Published at 22:15 GMT 23:15 UK

UK Politics: News

Yes campaign for electoral reform referendum launched

The campaign has the backing of the Rowntree Trust and Charter 88

As the government re-affirms its commitment to hold a referendum on electoral reform, the campaign for a Yes vote is already under way.

[ image: Lib Dems Charles Kennedy and Baroness Nicholson - backing electoral reform]
Lib Dems Charles Kennedy and Baroness Nicholson - backing electoral reform
The Make Votes Count campaign is a cross-party body counting Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Scottish and Welsh nationalist MPs among its members.

It is determined that the current "first-past the-post" system will be replaced by a more proportionally-based alternative when the question is put before the public sometime within the next 12 months.

[ image: Labour MP Austin Mitchell at the Yes campaign's launch]
Labour MP Austin Mitchell at the Yes campaign's launch
The campaign's director, Kate O'Rourke, said the referendum represents "a once in a lifetime opportunity for change".

Politicians who have already given their support to the campaign include the Lib Dems' Paddy Ashdown, Robert Maclennan, Charles Kennedy and Baroness Nicholson the Labour MPs Austin Mitchell and Stephen Twigg, the Labour Lord Plant and the Conservative MP Tim Rathbone.

Public's choice

The Home Secretary Jack Straw, himself an opponent of PR, earlier told the House of Commons that the referendum would "offer the public a choice between first-past-the-post and an alternative drawn from the recommendation of the Jenkins Commission."

[ image: Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown lending the Yes campaign his support]
Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown lending the Yes campaign his support
The Jenkins Commission, named after its leader Lord Jenkins, the former Labour cabinet minister and now Liberal Democrat peer, is currently studying alternatives to the current system for electing MPs to Westminster and will publish its recommendations in October.

The Liberal Democrat MP Robert Maclennan, one of the campaign's backers said the desire to replace the current system was simply "all about giving people their voice".

Opposition to change

But as the Conservative party, and MPs from all sides of the House of Commons, made plain their opposition to any change in the current system, Make Votes Count, may well have their work cut out persuading politicians and the wider public that change is desirable.

Speaking during the Commons debate on the Jenkins Commission the former prime minister, John Major, criticised PR's tendency to produce coalition governments.

"The last time we had a coalition 1977-78, the Lib-Lab coalition, led to an erratic, ineffective government in hoc - not to moderate, sensible opinion - but to extremist Welshmen and sour Scots, who had to be bought off."

Senior Labour backbencher Gerald Kaufman also made clear his dislike of change but pledged his support for the referendum itself."

"I was elected to support my manifesto, which I do, and after that to be free in a referendum to campaign for the continuance of the present system. I hope the government will do that - I certainly shall."

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02 Jun 98 | News
Labour re-affirms electoral reform referendum