19 May 2022
Diary of a Corbynista
Will Labour back PR?
by Don Urquhart
September’s Labour Party Conference could be a significant event for our democracy.
A couple of weeks ago, John McDonnell, in a Labour List article urged conference delegates to commit to Proportional Representation. In 2021 a similar motion failed narrowly.
Let’s finish what we started last autumn, and ensure the Labour Party backs PR
It is clear that across the labour movement, the tide is turning. And so we must keep up the momentum on this issue. 83% of Labour members want the party to back PR. This autumn, we need to build on last year’s result and ensure the debate is taken back to the conference floor and that, with the support of more trade unions, we win a mandate to include electoral reform in the next manifesto.
Our political system is visibly failing to deliver the basic necessities to which people have a right. No majority voted for a spiralling cost-of-living crisis, for the next generation to be poorer than the last, for the privatisation of our remaining public assets or for a fatalistic slide towards climate catastrophe. Yet that is what our system is delivering. We cannot miss the opportunity, as we go into the next general election, to make democratic renewal a core part of Labour’s programme.
Historically the two big parties have set their faces against PR because it threatens their duopoly. But now the Labour Party might see it as their way of removing the Tories from government for a long time. We will find out whether the current Labour leadership cares about this.
In 2011 there was a referendum on the AV (Alternative Vote) method being used for Westminster elections. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, told us that the vast majority of liberal democracies used the FPTP method. This was spectacularly untrue and yet his view was amplified by the media whose owners were quite happy with the compliant duopoly that kept their nests feathered.
A very bright and successful friend insisted to me that AV was unfair because some people would get two votes. I suspected and hoped that he was taking the Mick (he had a long history) but it was a view I also found popping up in the media. This, for example, from David Cameron:
It won’t make every vote count. The reality is it will make some votes count more than others. There’s an inherent unfairness under AV.
Supporters of unpopular parties end up having their votes counted a number of times … potentially deciding the outcome of an election … while people who back more popular parties only get one vote.
He omitted to mention the Conservative Party Leadership election in 2005, won by David Davis on a FPTP basis. Cameron came through on the 2nd ballot with votes transferred from other contenders.
There are a number of pressure groups that have been around for some time.
Sir John Lubbock, one of the early leaders published this mission statement at the founding of the Proportional Representation Society in 1884:
I trust that Great Britain, the mother of Parliaments, may once more take the lead among the great nations of the world by securing for herself a House of Commons which shall really represent the nation.
The ERS is the place to go to find out why and how the Westminster system is so unfair, but they are light on strategies for reforming it.
Compass started out as a left-wing think tank but has morphed into a quasi political party called Progressive Alliance (PA) which draws support from traditional parties wanting rid of the Tories.
I think it has the problem that its leading lights are pulled in two directions; are they PA candidates or are they campaigning for the party that goes against their name on the voting slip?
Make Votes Matter calls itself an Alliance.
Here’s how it describes its plan:
We need to bring together an unprecedented Alliance of political parties, organisations and public figures that includes the Labour Party, backed by a powerful Grassroots Movement, to campaign together in a coherent, growing and sustainable drive to make Proportional Representation a reality in the next Parliament.
While I am sure they do lots of fine work this mission statement is quite vague and it runs the risk of being a jolly club of like-minded people who can companionably cry into their beer and Prosecco about the impossibility of their mission.
The PR advocates might achieve more by targeting parliamentary candidates and asking each of them to commit to PR as a condition of obtaining the votes of social democrats.
It might say something like:
I, Joe Bloggs, commit to promoting and voting for a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system for electing MP’s and will campaign to achieve passage of the bill within 6 months of the General Election. At that point I will promote and vote for the immediate dissolution of parliament and a new General Election based on STV.
This has the advantage of being concrete and targeted.
The Labour Party committing to PR would be a game changer for all PR activists, regardless of their political parties.
They should get behind John McDonnell’s motion which would have every Labour candidate committing to PR.