New Times,
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  1. Politics
30 November 2009

Brown to embrace true PR?

Move from AV to AV+ could secure Lib Dem support

By James Macintyre

So, they were telling the truth.

When Ben Bradshaw told Mehdi Hasan and myself that Gordon Brown’s decision on the non-proportional system of Alternative Vote was not “set in stone”, he sounded a little over-optimistic. But then Alan Johnson agreed in his interview with us last week, saying “the debate still goes on”. Now, it has emerged that electoral reformers within the cabinet are indeed urging a change of heart on the Prime Minister, towards the proportional system that retains the constituency link, “AV Plus”, designed by the late Roy Jenkins.

Johnson and Bradshaw were apparently joined in their plea by Tessa Jowell. Clearly, the government is finally addressing the question — potentially crucial to its survival — of how to win over the Liberal Democrats before the election or in the wake of a hung parliament. Polling has shown that a significant number of Lib Dems would vote Labour if it hardened its commitment, first made in 1997, to a referendum on PR.

Recently, I was at a private event where I asked both a cabinet minister and a senior Lib Dem peer whether Labour had done enough to secure the support of the Lib Dems in the event of a hung parliament. Yes, said the minister. No, said the peer. If Brown makes the apparently obscure but vitally important switch from AV to AV Plus, that disagreement may yet be resolved.

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