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Friday, November 20, 1998 Published at 07:36 GMT

UK Politics

Committed means no compromise

Ballot papers under AV Top-Up show candidates' names

As the European Elections Bill was bounced to and fro between the Commons and Lords, the government insisted it was committed to introducing the closed list system.

Nothing else would do. In fact, before the final Lords' vote, Downing Street warned that if peers voted against it for a fifth time, they would "kill the Bill" and the elections would have to be held using the first-past-the-post system.

But only weeks ago, ministers were welcoming Lord Jenkins' report recommending another system of voting for Westminster elections.

[ image: Lord Jenkins proposed a version of PR]
Lord Jenkins proposed a version of PR
AV Top-Up, as it is known, is a form of hybrid system which goes some way towards satisfying advocates of proportional representation, while trying to iron out imbalances in party representation by topping up numbers of MPs from party lists.

So, why was the government so insistent on closed lists rather than choosing an alternative such as AV Top-Up for future European elections?

Privately, Labour officials admit that criticisms from some backbenchers over party managers' anxieties to keep control over the candidates' selection process were close to the mark. Labour chiefs want control over the crucial ranking of candidates on lists.

A Home Office spokesman told BBC News Online: "The government has said all along it is committed to the closed list system.

"Lord Williams said on 13 November that open lists can lead to those with most votes losing.

"If the government says it's committed to closed lists, it's committed. If they had wanted to compromise, they would have done so but didn't want to compromise.

"They feel the closed list system is the best."

Baroness Jay was unavailable to answer the question.

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