Hain and Blunkett call for constitutional reform

Hain presses for "Great Reform Bill" including fixed-terms and electoral reform

More senior Labour figures have urged Gordon Brown to support major constitutional reform after a week dominated by proposals from opposition parties.

Writing in the Guardian, former cabinet minister Peter Hain called on Brown to introduce a “Great Reform Bill” including an elected House of Lords, a new voting system, fixed-term parliaments and state funding for political parties.

He said: “There is now a window of opportunity for a Great Reform Bill that may not come around again for a generation, if ever. It should be introduced this autumn and taken through in the coming parliamentary session so that it is in place before the next election.”

Hain described the House of Lords as an “anachronistic stain” on democracy and said that an 80% elected upper chamber should be introduced as soon as possible.

Calling for electoral reform, he said that the current first-past-the-post system was unsustainable as smaller parties gained in popularity. However, he warned that proportional representation would hand more control to party structures and break the constituency link between MPs and the electorate.

Instead, he supported the Alternative Vote system, under which voters rank candidates in order, with the preferences of those who supported the losing candidate allocated to those above, until only one is left.

He said: “AV is much fairer, the single member seat would be retained, and there is less scope for "wasted" votes as electors can express their first preferences which might encourage turnout.”

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary and the current favourite to succeed Gordon Brown, has called for a referendum on electoral reform to be held on the same day as the general election.

David Blunkett, also writing in the Guardian today, warned that proportional representation would encourage “horse trading” and “dodgy stitch-ups” between political parties, as coalitions were formed behind closed doors.

However, the former Home Secretary said he could be persuaded to support the Alternative Vote system.