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Tories attack hung parliament and PR

By Emma Thelwell

Updated on 26 April 2010

The Conservatives push into Liberal Democrat heartlands, warning that a hung parliament would "paralyse" the economy and condemning PR as a "big mistake".

Cameron dismisses calls for a PR electoral system (Getty)

Unveiling a new party policital broadcast (PPB) this afternoon, shadow chancellor George Osborne said Britons faced higher mortgage bills, fuel costs and holiday expenses under a hung parliament.

The PPB featured the fake "Hung Parliament party", which offered "no change" in education and health policies, among others.

The Conservatives turned on Lib Dem calls for an overhaul of the electoral system, and warned of the dangers of a hung parliament.

The Liberal Democrats branded the move "total panic" from the Tories.

"Having promised to redouble the positive, George Osborne is now the front man for a negative campaign against a hypothetical election result," a Liberal Democrat spokesman said.

"Voters must be wondering when on earth the Tories will actually get round to discussing some actual policies."

All three leaders from the main parties have hit the campaign trail across Britain today, with Labour leader Gordon Brown tearing up his election strategy and heading to Wales in a bid to win over the anti-Tory majority.

Campaigning in Southampton this afternoon, Brown promised to help a man who broke down in tears over unsuccessful job search efforts.

With the polls favouring a hung parliament, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has said Brown's position as Prime Minister would be "inexplicable" if Labour came third on election day - as it is in the polls today.

Political editor Gary Gibbon's blog
- No answers from David Cameron on any hung parliament deal

Clegg looks set to emerge kingmaker, saying today that electoral reform - favouring proportional representation (PR) will be an "absolute pre-condition" of his post-election demands.

Conservative shadow culture secretary Jermey Hunt said that a hung parliament would lead to horse-trading between politicians 'behind closed doors'.

"This is not new politics, that's stitch-up politics. It's not putting people in control of the decisions affecting their lives, it's taking control away and giving it to polticians who use it by exercising their ability to horse trade."

Mr Hunt said it was tempting for people to imagine politicians sitting around a table thrashing policies out, but "people need to know they won't".

Speaking shortly after Tory leader David Cameron was heckled in the Lib Dem seat of Romsey, Osborne said only a Conservative majority would secure an economic recovery.

Admitting that he is extending the Tory battleground to gun for Lib Dem and Labour seats, Cameron was heckled by a Lib Dem supporter over Tory policies on schools and tax

Taking aim at Labour strongholds, Osborne said the Tories were targeting 'safe' seats such as the constituency of Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary.

Osborne said he had been tracking Balls' movements on Twitter @edballs4mp, noting how Balls has gone from spending two days at his constituency in every 10 - to seven days in the last 10 days.

Meanwhile, at a news conference in London earlier today, Cameron warned that the introduction of a PR electoral system would be a "great con", whereby politicians would rule by "haggling and scheming".

"It doesn't put power in the hands of the people, it puts power in the hands of politicians", he said.

"I don't want the electoral system to change. I think it would be a big, big mistake for this country," he added.

The debate over electoral reform has moved to centre stage in the election battle, after Home Secretary Alan Johnson claimed he was a long time supporter of PR.

"Because I am a supporter of proportional representation and have been for a long time, I obviously don't have this horrified approach to how a more balanced Parliament would work", he said.

Throwing Labour's campaign into turmoil, Johnson appeared to be aligning himself as the leader of Labour's post-election talks with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

Clegg champions a PR system - which favours smaller parties and would therefore boost the number of seats the Lib Dems would gain for the same share of the popular vote.

The Lib Dems are keen to move away from first past the post (FPTP), which exaggerates the number of seats awarded to a winning party - or the runner-up - traditionally favouring the Labour and Tory parties.

Speaking in Edinburgh, Clegg did not rule out a pact with Labour or the Tories, but confirmed that PR would be a key issue.

The current electoral system - that allows a party to 'lose' the election and yet still enjoy the largest number of seats in the House of Commons and occupy Number 10 - is a "dusty convention", he said.

"Alan Johnson seemed to agree with that yesterday," he added. Johnson's comments came just hours after Clegg ruled out keeping Gordon Brown in Number 10.

Clegg said: "It seems to me to be just another illustration of an electoral system which has really gone well past its sell-by date, which may have made some approximate sense at a time when politics was just a two-party spat... but makes no sense at all in a changed environment where we have now three-party politics in this country."

However, Health Secretary Andy Burnham hit back at Clegg's growing confidence. "Nick Clegg has had a good campaign in many ways, but he sounded yesterday like he was beginning to believe his own hype."

"Let's just wait and see what the country says. It is not vote cast, it is seats in the House of Commons that will determine what happens, and people will have to deal with the situation as it arises", he said.

The current system remains for this election, but electoral reform is the genie in bottle Clegg argued this morning. "I don't think after this election it will ever be possible to put the genie back in the bottle. Electoral reform is an absolute pre-condition for renewal in this country."

Political analyst Greg Callus on hung parliaments
- Electoral reform – who would be the winners?

While Cameron would not rule out a switch to PR, he said: "We are not proposing a referendum on PR because we do not support PR", he concluded.

The Tory leader said he stands by the current system and proposes for fair votes - reducing the size of the House of Commons. "I think all seats should be the same size", he said.

"Elections should be decisive events, where the public choose who they want to be the Government, not the politicians," he concluded.

Supporting AV
Earlier this year, Brown put forward proposals for a referendum to introduce alternative vote (AV) as a way of choosing MPs.

This system - favoured by Johnson - would enable voters to rank candidates first and second.
Speaking on the BBC1 Politics Show, Johnson said the aftermath of the election would be met by a "strong focus on the electoral system".

"It is empowering the voters that matters", he said. "It is a system that is democratic rather than politicians being able to say it gives us strong governance."

Johnson insisted that he was not "waving a flag" to the Lib Dems, but merely stating that PR will be debated after the election.

"I don't find that as frightening as some of my colleagues do," he said.

PR negotiations
Drawn on the question of PR electoral reform and whether Labour would negotiate over PR with Nick Clegg in the event of a hung parliament, schools secretary Ed Balls dismissed it, claiming the Labour Party are aiming for an outright majority government.

He said: "It will be decided by voters who vote and not by posters and interviews in advance. It will be decided by people who are voting and we will see where we are after election day.

"I think what we want to see is a majority Labour government."

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