Why do we go to party conferences, and what do we do there?
Having a presence at the major party conferences is a key activity in our campaigning work. Party conferences provide us with plenty of opportunities to get our issues in front of people that can make a difference. Across a typical conference we host fringe events to generate top level discussions on our issues, meet with key stakeholders in the party and MPs, and come together with our allies from across the movement to make the case for fair votes.
With Labour voting on a motion to support proportional representation, this year’s conference was a historic opportunity.
At Labour conference we hosted two key partnership events. Working with partners means we can talk to party members who aren’t already convinced about the need for PR. With DEMOS and the Democracy Network we had a brilliant discussion on how we can build a better democracy. It was great to hear contributions from David Lammy MP, ERS’ Director of Policy and Research, Dr Jess Garland, Unlock Democracy’s Tom Brake and Jessie Joe Jacobs from the Democracy Network. The social nature of the event meant that the ERS team could spread out and talk to Labour members, councillors and prospective parliamentary candidates directly.
For the second event we were joined by a packed room of attendees for a panel that we hosted alongside IPPR, where we heard from David Lammy MP, Thangham Debbonaire MP and Dr Hannah White from the Institute for Government on discussions around how we can renew democracy in an age of authoritarians. Panels like this allow us to discuss how proportional representation can help solve problems in the real world.
We also supported events hosted by Labour for a New Democracy and Politics for the Many including a fringe event and a rally on PR. In between these events we squeezed in as many meetings with Labour figures as we could, and grabbed every opportunity to talk to those who were not yet convinced. You can read even more about our activities at this year’s Labour conference in our blog post: Darren’s Diary: The ERS team at a historic Labour Conference.
At Conservative Conference in Birmingham, we hosted an event together with the campaign group Conservative Action for Electoral Reform (CAER). In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland proportional representation has ensured that Conservative voters get Conservative representatives, when First Past the Post would have seen them ignored. It was a great turnout and a packed panel with Chris Clarkson MP and Cllr Emma Best making a serious case for Conservative members to better understand the clear benefits of PR and the positive impact it can have on voter confidence and the future of their political party. Panels like this facilitate discussion around democratic reform that would otherwise not take place, including addressing misconceptions with evidenced based information.
Due to Liberal Democrat conference being cancelled our event did not go ahead but we did attend Scottish Liberal Democrat conference and hosted an ‘In Conversation’ event with Alistair Carmichael MP to a packed room.
We also held a successful fringe event at SNP conference looking a how citizens in Scotland can be part of building a democracy fit for the 21st Century with Angela Constance MSP and Dr Malcolm Harvey, Aberdeen University lecturer and Centre on Constitutional Change fellow.
While the ERS focuses resources on the major parties, the team seeks to attend every conference to hold meetings, talk to activists and build support for reform.
Earlier in the year, we joined forces with fellow campaign groups Labour for a New Democracy and Politics for the Many at UNISON conference. This conference also saw a historic vote in which the union went on to support the adoption of PR for UK general elections. Ahead of the vote, we made sure we seized all opportunities to drum up support for proportional representation by talking to delegates and running popular fringe events.
We also had a presence at COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow at the tail end of 2021. Here, we made key connections with the environmental movement and started to link the environmental and democratic projects with a clear message: we cannot tackle climate change without changing the ways we are governed. This campaign culminated in us running three separate events in Glasgow on the middle Saturday of the conference, termed the Day of Action.
On this global Day of Action we took our message to the streets of Glasgow and London. We talked to hundreds of people, distributed (eco-printed) leaflets and hosted an event in the heart of Glasgow, spreading the message that to solve the climate crisis we must change our democracy from the ground up. The response from the people we spoke to was that they’re fed up with political inaction on climate change, losing faith in the democratic system and want reforms that hold politicians to account and deliver a sustainable and just change for people and the planet. You can watch the film from our Transforming Democracy to Save the Planet workshop here.