Brown urged to call referendum, revive UK politics


Two British government ministers urged Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday to offer voters a referendum on electoral reform to overcome the disillusionment with politics caused by the scandal over MPs’ expense claims.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson — widely seen as a possible successor to Brown — said the Labour leader should give Britons the chance to adopt proportional representation. Ed Miliband, climate change secretary and in charge of the party’s election strategy, said now was “a moment for big reform.”

Johnson, writing in The Times newspaper, said public “anger and disquiet” — fuelled by days of revelations of how politicians abused their generous expense allowances by making claims for everything from pornographic films to cleaning out a moat — “demands a response”.

“We have the mandate to pursue the issue of electoral reform and to hold a referendum on a specific new system,” he wrote. “We need to overhaul the engine, not just clean the upholstery.”

The expenses scandal has damaged all three main political parties but is causing the most damage to the Labour Party, in power for 12 years.

At present Brown looks almost sure to lose the election due by mid-June 2010, opinion polls putting support for Labour in the low 20s, some 16 points behind the opposition Conservatives.

Johnson said Brown should look again at a 1998 report on electoral reform, commissioned by the government, which called for the introduction of proportional representation but was ignored by Brown’s predecessor, Tony Blair.

The referendum should be held on the same day as the next national election and should offer voters a choice between a PR system and the current first-past-the-post system, Johnson said.

“The mood of the public now is in favour of a root and branch look at how our democracy works,” Johnson told BBC radio later on Monday. “It would be absolutely perverse if, in the course of that debate, we didn’t look at the fundamental issue here — how people elect their representatives.”

Miliband, speaking at an event run by The Guardian newspaper, said Britain needed “a more pluralistic political” system where power is shared in different ways.

“Parliament needs to change,” he said. “It looks to too many people like a 19th Century institution.”

A poll published in Saturday’s edition of the left-leaning Guardian found that two-thirds of the voters sampled want Brown to call an election before Christmas — a highly unlikely move.

The Guardian/ICM poll also found that more than a quarter of voters planned to reject mainstream political parties in favour of minority ones because of the expenses scandal.

reuters.com

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