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Monday, August 10, 1998 Published at 00:01 GMT 01:01 UK

UK Politics

Labour turns back on PR

The NEC has backed the status quo

The Labour Party leadership has dealt a damaging blow to supporters of proportional representation by rejecting any radical change to Britain's first-past-the-post voting system.

The party's National Executive Committee backed a report which defended many aspects of the current system and warned PR could lead to coalition politics and unstable government.

[ image: Tony Blair has promised to hold referendum on electoral system]
Tony Blair has promised to hold referendum on electoral system
Labour MPs have been divided over whether to introduce PR, although the prime minster and many of his Cabinet colleagues are believed to oppose major changes.

The NEC-endorsed document will now be submitted to the Jenkins Commission, which is searching for an alternative to the first-past-the-post system. The commission will produce its report this autumn.

The party's ruling body privately backed the document at its meeting last month.

The NEC paper cautions against ending the link between an individual MP and his or her constituency, which is required by many forms of PR.

[ image: Paddy Ashdown's Liberal Democrats support PR]
Paddy Ashdown's Liberal Democrats support PR
It also underlines the need for government which can count on the support of the majority of MPs.

"By stable government we mean a government which is generally able to last its full electoral term and which is also able to carry through its manifesto pledges.

"We would regard as unstable governments which were unable either to last their full term or which ran into regular difficulties because of Parliamentary arithmetic," it says.

The paper says that proportional systems are more likely to lead to coalitions.

"Coalitions are not by definition unstable, but the process of forming a government can be time-consuming and divisive and small parties can gain a pivotal position where they wield power which is disproportionate to their degree of electoral support.

"We do not believe the electoral system should result in perpetual coalition."

"The existing system produces a clear `winner' and `loser' in accordance with the broad national mood," the report continues.

Any alternative to first-past-the-post should make single party majority government possible, it says.

The NEC adds that the current system will remain an option in the promised referendum on the issue.

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