Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Wednesday he would overhaul Britain’s scandal-hit parliament, giving people a vote on sweeping political reforms if his Labour Party wins the May 6 election.
Brown’s proposals could help Labour find common ground with the smaller opposition Liberal Democrats, whose support Labour may need to form a government in the event it fails to secure an outright majority.
The prime minister said voters would be given a say on constitutional reforms in a referendum before October 2011, including changing how members of parliament (MPs) were elected and the possibility of an elected upper chamber.
The proposals are in part a response to public disgust with politicians after many MPs abused their expenses by claiming public funds for items such as a duck house or dog food.
“I would … take no joy in victory if it comes without a mandate to get rid of the old discredited system of politics,” Brown said in a speech a day after setting the election date.
More than 140 legislators out of 646, some of whom were embroiled in the expenses scandal, are not standing at the election, widely expected to be won by the opposition Conservatives to end 13 years of Labour rule.
However, many polls suggest they will fall short of a majority, resulting in a “hung parliament” that financial markets fear will not act decisively to slash a gaping budget deficit.
Brown called for parliaments to be elected for a fixed term, instead of the current system where the prime minister has the power to set the election date within a certain time frame.
He said he would also reform the current first-past-the-post electoral system so that legislators would need the support of more than half of the voters in the area to win election.
This could be done through an “alternative vote” system where the lowest-polling candidates were eliminated in counting until one candidate hits 50 percent of the vote.
Members of parliament would also be banned from working for lobbying companies, said Brown, whose Labour Party is trying to win a fourth consecutive term.
Voters should also be given the right to recall MPs guilty of gross financial misconduct, where politicians would face a U.S.-style vote of confidence in their constituency.
Labour suspended three former cabinet ministers last month after they were secretly filmed saying they could influence government policy for cash.
Brown also proposed allowing members of parliament a vote on lowering the voting age to 16 from the current 18.
The public would also get their say on how the House of Lords, parliament’s upper chamber of appointed life peers and hereditary peers, is shaped in the future. A proportional representation electoral system could be used, Brown said.
The measures will be seen as an attempt to woo the Liberal Democrats, who have long argued for political reform, including a switch to proportional representation.
But the Britain’s third biggest political party dismissed Brown’s proposals.
“How on earth are we supposed to believe anything that Gordon Brown says about political reform when they’ve done nothing for 13 years?,” Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron clashed over the economy and defence in Brown’s last question and answer session in parliament before the election.
Cameron accused Brown of wrecking the economic recovery with plans to raise payroll taxes and of failing to give British troops in Afghanistan enough helicopters.
(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft and Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Matthew Jones)