In Depth

PR back on the agenda as post- electoral depression looms

Is it fair, asks Lord O’Donnell, that Ukip and the Greens will win lots of votes and very few seats?

The Mole

The looming threat of a post-election shambles with David Cameron remaining in Number Ten without a working majority has put reform of Britian’s first-past-the-post system firmly back on the agenda for voters who fear they could be cheated by the result. 

Labour said it would be a “constitutional outrage” for Cameron to “squat” in Downing Street if the Conservatives won more seats than Labour but were unable to command a majority of votes in Parliament. But that is exactly what Cameron appears to be ready to do.

Lord O’Donnell, who drew up the Cabinet manual that will be the rule book for the post-election negotiations, confirmed that Cameron will be able to stay on as Prime Minister until 27 May when the Queen’s Speech has to be delivered, even if he cannot put together a majority in the Commons.

“The Prime Minister remains PM after the elections,” said O’Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary. “He can take a Queen’s Speech to the House of Commons even if he is well short of the numbers.”

But O’Donnell, appearing on Radio 4’s Today programme, added his weight to the calls for voting reform.

“All elections have their issues about legitimacy,” he said. “In our system every individual MP can get through without winning the majority of the votes even in that constituency. You can have three-way marginals.

“There will be questions about whether it’s fair that Ukip and the Greens got lots and lots of votes, and very few seats. It’s for us to think about: is this the electoral system we want for our country?”

O’Donnell pointed out that a referendum on proportional representation in 2011 was heavily defeated by 68 per cent to 32 per cent.

But if the 2015 general election delivers the second hung Parliament in five years, many voters will argue the first-past-the-post system no longer delivers the clear outcome nor the stability that it used to. A poll for The Independent found that 61 per cent now support voting reform. 

Meanwhile, Cameron stepped up his bid to hold on to power by accusing Ed Miliband on the Today programme of preparing to carry out a “con trick” on the British electorate by denying he will do a deal with the SNP but actually preparing to govern with their tacit support. 

Cameron has also ordered his policy chief, Oliver Letwin, to flesh out a deal for running a minority government with the support of the Lib Dems, the Financial Times reports.

There is no guarantee, however, that Clegg’s own party will not split over the issue. Clegg has refused to make Cameron’s promise to the electorate of an in-out referendum on the EU a “red line” but Tim Farron, the former Lib Dem president, said it could be a deal-breaker.

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