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Electoral reform: a call for change

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 25 May 2010

As the Queen prepares to open parliament Guy Aitchison from Take Back Parliament writes about why he is calling for electoral reform and a "fair choice on fair votes".

Statue in front of parliament (Credit: Getty)

Today the Queen will proceed from Buckingham Palace to the House of Lords in her horse drawn carriage for the state opening of parliament. Along the way she will be greeted by protesters, all wearing purple with purple flags, purple banners and purple confetti, demanding reform of the electoral system.

Why purple? Because it is the historic colour of democracy and the franchise in this country - it was the colour used by suffragettes in their campaign for the vote. It is now the colour adopted by the Take Back Parliament campaign in the latest chapter in the struggle for a fair representative democracy.

Take Back Parliament launched dramatically a few weeks ago, at the height of the coalition negotiations, when several thousand people chanting “fair votes now” and “we want to speak to Nick” gathered outside the LGA building where Nick Clegg was meeting and called the Liberal Democrat leader out to demand he does not abandon the party’s historic commitment to PR.

The Take Back Parliament campaign was planned in the few days before the election when the call went out for the first protest.

Backed by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust the group brings together all the main players in the democratic reform movement along with other groups, like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth etc.

The protest outside the Lib Dem meeting played an important role in putting voting reform squarely on the agenda, ensuring we have a referendum on the voting system, rather than just an investigative “commission” as the Conservatives were initially offering.

However, whilst this is a welcome step forward, the only option being proposed in the referendum is the alternative vote (AV) system. This is a small improvement on our current system of first past the post, since it allows voters to rank candidates and reduces the need to vote tactically, but it does not address the crucial unfairness at the heart of our democracy which is that a party’s share of seats in parliament does reflect the number of votes it receives across the country - a situation which leads to millions of wasted votes and a shameful system of “safe seats” where a donkey could be elected so long as they were wearing the right coloured rosette.

So today we will be calling for a “fair choice on fair votes” and for the option of a fair proportional voting system in any referendum.

As the Queen’s carriage passes we will release 31 purple balloons to symbolise the 31 ultra-safe seats that have not changed hands since the time of her predecessor, Queen Victoria.

The Queen may not have the power to put a referendum on PR into the speech she is about to deliver but we can ensure that the call for change is heard by the MPs and peers who will gather in the new parliament and by the millions watching at home.

And if the Queen agrees too with the call for fair votes for her subjects, perhaps she might like to hop out and join in.

Fair votes now, ma’am!

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