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24th March 2014
Mar 2014
Contact Tel: 07979 696 265
The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has welcomed the Lords European Union Committee’s call for national parliaments to be given more powers over European legislation [1].
In a report on tackling Europe’s democratic deficit, due to be published next month, the ERS will come out in favour of many of the measures suggested by the Lords EU Committee, including:
  • A ‘green card’ procedure, whereby national parliaments can come together to ask for the creation of new legislation or the repeal of old legislation
  • An increase in the amount of time allowed for national parliaments to give a ‘reasoned opinion’, from eight weeks to 12 weeks
  • The European Commission committing to scrap legislation when over half of national parliaments have expressed doubts

Commenting on the Lords EU Committee’s report, Darren Hughes (Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society) said:
“Over the last few years, the European democratic deficit has reached almost epic proportions. Nearly three-quarters of the British people believe their voice doesn’t count in the European Union, and 68% don’t trust it. At the last European election only 34% turned out to vote, and it’s unlikely to be much higher this year. We desperately need to close the gap between European affairs and the British people.
“The Lords European Union Committee is clearly committed to doing just that. We strongly welcome their call to enhance the powers of national parliaments, so that the British people can properly hold the European Union to account.
“More needs to be done, but the central plank of any strategy to bring down the democratic deficit is to empower national parliaments. We urge both the UK Government and the European Commission to treat these proposals with the seriousness they deserve.”

[1] See the House of Lords European Union Committee’s full report at
5th March 2014

Three in four think political parties can be bought, new poll shows

Three-quarters (75%) of the public believe big money has too much influence on political parties, according to new research by the Electoral Reform Society.

The ERS’s research shows strong public support for reforming party funding. The survey of 1,402 respondents, conducted between 24 and 27 February by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, also found that:


  • 65% believe party donors can effectively buy knighthoods and other honours
  • 61% believe the system of party funding is corrupt and should be changed
  • 67% believe no one should be able to give more than £5,000 to a political party in any year

Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:


“The public can’t stand the way big money appears to buy influence in our democracy. People are turning away from parties and politics at an alarming rate, and while the main parties remain utterly reliant on such a small number of donors there will always be the perception that something fishy is going on.

“It’s time to banish big money from our politics once and for all. All the parties need to commit to capping the amount that individuals can donate, so that our politicians cannot be accused of selling influence to the highest bidder.”


Commenting on the results of the poll, Darren Hughes said:


“We already know that membership of political parties is plummeting [1], that fewer and fewer people are satisfied with our democracy [2] and that voter turnout – especially in local elections – is hitting new lows. Part of the reason for this spiral of discontent is the suspicion that our political system can be bought.


“When three-quarters of the public think big donors have too much influence on political parties, it’s time to act. When two-thirds believe it’s possible simply to buy knighthoods, you know something has to be done. We need a cleaner and more transparent party funding system that does not rely on a handful of sources of wealth. We want to see all the parties make a renewed commitment to party funding reform, before the public turn away from party politics for good.”


The survey also found that 41% agree a state-funded political system would be fairer than the one we currently have, compared to just 18% who disagree.





These findings present an opportunity for Labour to make the case for party funding reform, after their special conference changed the funding landscape. The reforms enacted on Saturday will mean Labour bringing in less money from large donations, creating a financial incentive for the party to seek to level the playing field by capping the maximum amount that can be donated from an individual source.


1.       For statistics on party membership falling, see

2.      For statistics on declining trust in politics, see

12th February 2014
Feb 2014
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Votes in Wythenshawe and Sale East worth just 51p each

Wythenshawe and Sale East is so safe that political parties spent just 51p per vote in the 2010 general election, according to Electoral Reform Society research. This makes the seat six times less valuable to parties than more marginal constituencies, which see upwards of £3 spent per vote.

The result of tomorrow’s by-election is a foregone conclusion owing to how safe the seat is for Labour [1]. One of the consequences of safe seats is that political parties – including the party dominating the seat – tend to all-but ignore voters when it comes to election time.

ERS research shows that:

• Just £15,657 was spent on campaigns in Wythenshawe and Sale East in the 2010 election, equating to 51p per vote
• No money whatsoever was spent on public meetings in Wythenshawe and Sale East in 2010
• A mere £616 was spent on advertising
• Only £189 was spent on staff and agents fees, suggesting a light campaign infrastructure

Commenting on the degree to which Wythenshawe and Sale East voters have historically been ignored by the parties, Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“Thanks to our broken electoral system, Wythenshawe and Sale East voters will never receive as much attention from the parties as they are getting at the moment. In a by-election, the might of parties’ national infrastructure can be concentrated on a single constituency. But as soon as the caravan moves on, voters here will be ritually ignored – just as they usually are.”

“The difference between places like Wythenshawe and Sale East and more marginal constituencies is striking. In Luton South, for instance, parties spent around six times more in 2010 than they did here.”

“Our broken electoral system encourages parties to ignore voters in constituencies where they either cannot lose or cannot win. For Labour, voters in Wythenshawe and Sale East are taken for granted. For the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, they are ignored as lost causes. Our winner-takes-all system is a rotten deal for voters in safe seats.”

Wythenshawe and Sale East had the 11th-lowest turnout in the country at the 2010 general election, with just 54.3% casting a ballot. Even this was an improvement from 2001 which saw just 48.6% of the electorate turning out to vote. The Electoral Reform Society’s 2013 publication Penny for your Vote? showed that the amount of money spent by candidates on campaigning in elections is directly related to voter turnout – the more money spent, the higher the turnout.


Figures are drawn from Electoral Reform Society analysis of the Electoral Commission data, available at:

For a full analysis of UK-wide spending by candidates, see the ERS’s 2013 publication Penny for your Vote?, available at:

1. In 2010, Labour won with 44.1% of the vote, down from 52.2% in 2005 and 60% in 2001

5th February 2014

Almost one in four (24%) people aged 18-21 have never registered to vote, according to a new ComRes poll commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society. [1]


The shocking figure comes on the day of a nationwide campaign by pressure group Bite the Ballot to get as many people as possible on the electoral register. The inaugural National Voter Registration Day, on 5 February, sees schools, businesses and associations come together in an attempt to get 250,000 new names on the electoral register. A number of celebrities including Tinie Tempah and Eliza Doolittle are also backing the initiative. [2]


Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:


“Registering to vote is the first step towards participating in our democracy. With one in four young people not taking this step, that’s a lot of voices not being heard in our democratic process. Young people are less likely to register, and less likely to vote – and that has real consequences for the shape of our politics and the strength of our system.


“That’s why it is so important to get behind fantastic initiatives like Bite the Ballot’s National Voter Registration Day. The problem of under-registration, particularly among young people, needs the energy and focus of as many groups as possible if it is going to be solved. We urge all organisations and individuals who care about the future of our democracy to take part in getting as many young people as possible registered to vote.”


The survey also shows that less than half (46%) of the population registered themselves when they were first eligible to vote, with others either relying on someone else – such as a family member – to get them on the electoral register or not registering at all. Changes being introduced this year will mean that it will be everyone’s personal responsibility to get on the register. The new figures suggest that when these changes come in, millions will be at risk of going un-registered.


Darren Hughes added:


“For many people, getting on the register was something which their family did for them. But for young people who are about to become eligible to vote, that option will no longer be available and it will be up to them to register. The introduction of Individual Electoral Registration is an important and much-needed reform, but if it is not managed carefully then millions are at risk of going un-registered.”




For more information, full poll results and interviews contact Will Brett on 07979 696 265 /




1.       A table showing the key poll results is here:


Q. Thinking back to when you were first eligible to register to vote in an election in the UK, who registered you to vote?


Registered by

Total % selected

18-21 year olds

22-25 year olds

26-29 year olds







Parent / Guardian





School / College / University halls





Other family member





Housemate / Flatmate






Someone else





Never registered





Don’t know










Bases: All GB Adults aged 18-29 (n=904); aged 18-21 (n=206); aged 22-25 (n=371); aged 26-29 (n=327).


2.       To find out more about Bite the Ballot’s National Voter Registration Day initiative, visit




ComRes interviewed 904 GB adults aged 18-29 between 22nd and 30th January 2014. Data were weighted to be representative of all GB adults aged 18-29. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

30th January 2014
Contact Tel: 07979 696 265
Labour should embrace a fairer voting system for local elections if it wants to live up to its ‘One Nation’ ambitions, according to a new report by the Electoral Reform Society.


The report, Towards One Nation, shows that introducing the ‘Scottish system’[1] for local elections would put Labour on the map across the country – especially in the ‘electoral deserts’ of the South – and ensure Labour voters get their fair share of Labour councillors.

Local electoral reform:


·         Would put Labour councillors in 27 of the 69 local authorities which were ‘Labour-free’ in 2011

·         Would strengthen, rather than weaken, Labour’s super-majorities in urban areas

·         Has seen Labour retain power in Scotland since its introduction in 2007, despite the Scottish National Party’s improved performance in recent years. Labour is now in government in four more Scottish councils than it was in 1999.

Towards One Nation demonstrates how local electoral reform is both good for voters (it gives Labour voters in the party’s weaker regions, such as rural areas and the south of England, genuine representation) and good for the party (by making campaigning worthwhile in every part of the country).


The table below shows ten examples of how Labour would benefit from proportional representation in local elections in the south of England.


Fig.1 Ten southern English councils and the effect of local electoral reform


Last election

2012 Seats

Seats under PR[2]

Bracknell Forest




Castle Point




East Hertfordshire
















North Norfolk








Tunbridge Wells




Windsor and Maidenhead




See a graphic representation of this table


Phil Collins, columnist for The Times, writes in a foreword to the report:


The 69 district and unitary councils which had no Labour representation at all in 2011 is chastening. Some of these are the contemporary equivalents of the rotten borough… Starting with Keir Hardie himself, electoral reform has always had its Labour supporters but it has never been a majority pursuit in a party which benefited from an unfair system. It is time it was. It is good for the health of the Labour party and it is good for the health of politics more widely.”


Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:


“For all its ambition to represent people from across the country, Labour is practically non-existent in parts of the south of England and rural areas. Thousands of people vote Labour in these places, yet simply don’t get the representation they deserve.


“This isn’t just a problem for Labour – it’s a problem for the health of our democracy. Over a quarter of the electorate in Castle Point, Essex, voted Labour in 2012, yet this didn’t yield a single councillor. That makes a mockery of the idea of democratic representation. ‘No-go’ areas for parties have no place in a modern democracy.


“Local electoral reform would allow Labour to represent its voters in the south of England, giving the party a crucial toehold in areas where they need to rebuild their activist base. Labour has made much of being a One Nation party and renewing its structures to reach out to a wider pool of supporters and voters. Local electoral reform would help the party do exactly that.”


Andrew Burns, Labour leader of Edinburgh City Council, said:


“Labour in Scotland are doing as well in terms of leaders and better in terms of influence than they ever did under the old non-PR system. The labour councillors who were so heavily concentrated in certain parts of the country are now spread more thinly but more widely across the whole country, doing away with ‘them and us‘ areas and creating a real ‘One Nation’ Labour party. If Ed Miliband is to address the English north-south divide in terms of representation then introducing the Scottish system for local elections would be an important step.”




For more information contact Will Brett at 07979 696 265 /

Read the full report here:




1.       Scotland’s local elections are conducted under the Single Transferable Vote. For more about this voting system visit

2.       Based on proportion of the vote at the last local election

[1] Scotland’s local elections are conducted under the Single Transferable Vote. For more about this voting system visit

[2] Based on proportion of the vote at the last local election

21st January 2014
Responding to David Blunkett’s speech to the Centre for Social Justice on political disengagement[1], Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“David Blunkett is absolutely right to be concerned about the way young people are turning away from politics. Fewer than one in eight people under the age of 25 intend to vote[2], making our democracy increasingly illegitimate and skewed against those who don’t turn up.

“He is also right to call for political awareness to be ‘part of the natural development of young people’. Democratic politics is a crucial part of what it means to live in our society, and we shouldn’t be afraid to bring young people into contact with it. That means not being squeamish about bringing politics into the classroom, and recognising that explicitly political activism can be just as valuable as charitable volunteering.

“Schools could be places where both young people and adults start to build a new relationship with the idea of politics. If we combined an increased acceptance of politics at school with a stronger commitment to civic education and lowering the voting age to 16, then perhaps we can start to reverse some of these damaging trends. We need to change our culture so that politics is seen as a part of everyone’s lives, rather than something done by remote, alien people in faraway places.”



8th January 2014
Press Release File: Statement on voter ID proposal
Contact Tel: 07979696265
The Electoral Commission today recommended that voters should be required to produce ID at the polling station as a measure to tackle electoral fraud. Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said in response:
“At a time when people are increasingly turning away from politics, it’s important that we do not put up new barriers to participation. Of course it is vital to tackle electoral fraud, but we have to be sure that by doing so we are not inadvertently contributing to the problem of voter disengagement.
“This year sees the biggest change to the way we vote since the universal franchise was established in 1928. Moving from household to individual electoral registration is hugely complex and needs to be executed to perfection if it is to avoid disenfranchising whole sections of the population.
“Meanwhile, more and more people are turning away from politics. With nearly half ‘angry’ at politicians and only 41% saying they’re certain to vote, you have to wonder whether this is the right time to be talking about making it harder to cast a ballot.
“At a time like this, we should be doing everything we can to get people on the register and into the polling station. We need to be thinking about how to make it easier for people to register to vote: for instance, we could offer the opportunity to register when people have other dealings with their local authority, or even at the polling station itself. And we need to be tackling voter disengagement by introducing much-needed reforms like local proportional representation and votes at 16.
“We should think very carefully before adding an extra hurdle for voters to negotiate before they are allowed to vote. The devil will be in the detail, of course, and we will await the Electoral Commission’s report on this issue later this year. What kind of ID will be required? Will it be a type of ID that automatically makes it harder for less well-off people to participate? And how much resource would be set aside to ensure that the public is made fully aware of this change? The last thing anyone wants to see is people being turned away from the polling station for administrative reasons.
“In short, let’s wait and see. But first of all, let’s concentrate on ushering in a registration revolution that gets more, not less, people on to the register. Let’s also focus our efforts on bringing people closer to politics, not turning them away.”
17th December 2013
Dec 2013
Contact Tel: 07979 696 265


Statement on Lord Hanningfield investigation

Commenting on the Daily Mirror’s investigation of Lord Hanningfield, Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“When people look at the House of Lords, they see an outdated institution which bears no relation to their own experiences. It’s no wonder people feel alienated from politics when they see peers clocking on for £300 a day and clocking off shortly after. After all, who’d be able to get away with that in normal life?

“The convention in Westminster is that Lords reform is dead for the foreseeable future. But that overlooks the fact there are now so many peers that it’s become completely unsustainable. As the second chamber swells beyond its capacity to do its job properly, reform is coming back on the agenda whether the party leaders like it or not.

"There are currently Lords reform proposals doing the rounds which at least end the absurd anachronism that convicted criminals are allowed to keep their peerages. But most members of the public are shocked when they find out that criminals can still be Lords, and dealing with this one aspect of the out of date second chamber is just tinkering at the edges. We need a complete overhaul of the House of Lords - we need to drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

“In an era when more and more people are turning away from politics, it’s vital that we refresh our institutions so that they’re fit for purpose in the 21st century. The House of Lords is an anachronism which gives people lucrative and comfortable jobs for life. An elected House of Lords would allow the public to hold their lawmakers to account – and that’s what democracy is all about.”

25th November 2013
Nov 2013
Tomorrow's Party: where next for Britain's ailing political tribes?

The Electoral Reform Society is this week launching a major new programme of work on the future of the political party. An event in Parliament this evening (details below) will be followed later this week by a consultation document asking for contributions on what can be done to make parties relevant to the 21st century.

Event hosts: Electoral Reform Society, Centre Forum, IPPR, Policy Exchange
Date: Monday 25th November 2013
Time: 6.30pm-8.00pm
Place: Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, Westminster
Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow
Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland & Lonsdale and President of the Liberal Democrats
Richard Harrington, MP for Watford
Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes
Matthew Taylor (chief executive of the RSA)
Chair: Katie Ghose (chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society)

Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“As people drift away from politics, many increasingly see political parties as part of the problem rather than the solution. In the 1950s, one in ten people were members of parties but these days party members are a rare breed.

“But at their best, political parties can straddle the divide between people and politics. They are the building blocks of governments or governments in waiting, and at the same time they are groups of like-minded people working together to pursue their visions of what society should look like. If parties didn’t exist, we would have to invent them.

“For all of us who care about the future of our democracy we have a responsibility to make parties work better. We need to reinvent the political party for the 21st century. The Electoral Reform Society is providing a platform for parties to look into a crystal ball, imagine what a modern, dynamic political party would look like and work out the best route to get there.”


For more information about Tomorrow’s Party, or to get on the guest list for this evening’s event, contact Will Brett on 07979 696 265;
Background notes

Decline of parties

Political parties have been in decline for a long time. Today less than 1% of the electorate is a member of a party, whereas as recently as 1983, it was as high as 3.8%. In the 1950s and early 1960s as many as one in ten people were party members*.

Just since 1997, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat membership have all fallen dramatically. Conservative Party membership has gone from 400,000 to 134,000. Labour Party membership has gone from 405,000 to 193,000 and the Liberal Democrats have gone from 87,000 members to 49,000.

The smaller parties are faring better than the big three, but their gains are not big enough to buck the trend away from party membership. Green Party membership stood at 16,000 in 2012, up from 7,500 in 2008 and 12,800 in 2010. According to UKIP they had 30,000 members in July 2013, a rise of 8,500 since March. The SNP has 25,000 members, making it the largest party in Scotland.

Britain has the lowest recorded party membership rates in Western Europe.

What is Tomorrow’s Party?

The ERS is asking all the parties to recognise the urgency of the task to rebuild people’s faith in parties, but also to see that the problem needs some visionary, long-term thinking.

We are asking what the party of 2040 or 2050 should look like. What kind of political party is possible and desirable in the 21st century?

Of course the parties are in competition and will not necessarily want to share ideas for reform, but they also have a common interest in ensuring the health of our democracy, and that means they ought to come together to imagine what their futures might look like. At the most immediate and practical level, it also means reaching a deal – at last – on party funding so we can banish big money from politics once and for all.

Parties are innovating – they are experimenting with different ways of organising, communicating and campaigning with members, supporters and voters. Look at the Conservatives and their experiments with primaries, or Labour and community organising.

We want to give them a platform to go further – to imagine what the future party could be and work towards it.

The era of mass membership is clearly over. So what replaces mass membership? How do parties ensure they remain rooted among the people they represent when member numbers have dwindled? That is the sort of question we want the parties to be asking themselves.


*These and all subsequent figures are drawn from “Membership of political parties”, House of Commons library note 3 Dec 2012, available at:
11th November 2013
Nov 2013
Contact Tel: 07979 696 265

New report gives Conservatives good reason to switch to a fairer voting system for local elections

Contrary to received wisdom, the Conservative Party has a surprising amount of support in the north of England. However, the party is unable to translate this support into council or parliamentary seats. The Electoral Reform Society today launches a report, Northern Blues, which shows how a switch to the Scottish system for local elections would give the Conservatives much greater representation in councils across the north, reflecting their actual share of the vote.

Key findings of the report are:

  • Across nine northern councils, the Conservatives have just ten seats; yet they have enough public support to get seven times that number of seats under a fairer electoral system
  • Under the proportional system used for Scottish local elections, Conservatives are in power in nine out of 32 councils, despite Scotland being habitually referred to as a Tory ‘no go’ zone
  • Wigan has just one Conservative councillor despite almost 10,000 people voting Conservative there in the last local election

The report includes a foreword from Daily Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne, who writes:

"It would be terrible were the Conservatives to collapse into a political party which speaks only for southern England and parts of the Midlands. Reading this report has persuaded me that proportional representation in local elections may be part of the answer."

Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“There has been a great deal of soul-searching in Conservative circles recently about how to do better in the north of England. But a lot of this discussion ignores the fact that significant numbers of people in the north already vote Conservative. It’s just that their votes are not being reflected in who represents them at the local level.

“Our broken voting system is denying political representation to thousands of Conservative voters across the north.

“That injustice alone should be enough to change minds about electoral reform, at least for local government. But if further proof is needed, Conservatives need only look at Scotland. It’s supposed to be a ‘no-go zone’ for Conservatives, yet nearly a third of Scottish councils have Conservatives in power. And that’s thanks to a fair, proportional voting system that gives expression to the political choices of Scottish Conservative supporters.

"Perhaps the time has come for Conservatives to break the taboo on electoral reform, at least at the local level. A proportional voting system would give people real choice and fair representation at local election time. It would also support Conservative claims to represent the whole nation and not just the party’s heartlands.”
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