2023 at the ERS: Our year campaigning for change

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 24th November 2023

Each year we write an Annual Report which looks back at our achievements across the last 12 months, and explains how our team have campaigned towards securing our vision for a democracy fit for the 21st Century.

By using our voice in the media, developing in-depth research and policy, campaigning and influencing and making the case online we’ve led the charge for reform in 2023.

Read the full Annual Report for 2023: Our Year Campaigning for Change

Ruth Kelly, Chair

I am very pleased to write the foreword to this year’s Electoral Reform Society Annual Report, looking back on what has been another significant and turbulent year in British politics. It has been a year that has thrown into sharp relief how important the work is that the Society does making the case for electoral and democratic reform.

The chaos of 2022 showed how volatile Westminster politics has become, and the year since has been another bruising one for democracy, with the implementation of voter ID denying thousands their right to vote and the House of Lords becoming mired in yet more scandal. This has only heightened the prominence of the causes the Society advances. It is clear there are structural problems with our politics; problems that need fundamental reforms, such as a fairer more representative electoral system for Commons and a new democratic basis for the Lords.

The Society’s mission has never been more important: to show that another way is possible, a better democracy is in reach and current parlous state of our politics is a choice not an inevitability.

Yet this has also been another year of progress on those fronts. Support for proportional representation has continued to gather momentum in the Labour party. In April, USDAW became the latest union to pass a motion in favour of electoral reform, meaning that, along with Unison and Unite, more than two thirds of the affiliated unions now back PR. Then in July the policy document agreed by Labour’s National Policy Forum warned that the current electoral system is causing ‘distrust and alienation’ among voters. Taken with the historic motion passed in favour of PR at the 2022 Labour conference, the party is more institutionally pro-electoral reform that at any time since the days of Keir Hardie. This is no coincidence and is in no small part down to the hard work of the staff of the ERS as well as partners campaigning in the Labour party and trade union movement.

I would like to thank the Society’s staff for making sure it has been at the forefront of the fight to defend and improve our democracy. The ERS has been a leading voice highlighting the damage that the introduction of voter ID has wrought, as 14,000 people were denied their vote in the local elections due to lacking accepted forms of identification.

The ERS has also led the debate over reforming the House of Lords, making the case for the upper chamber to be given a sustainable democratic basis, so the people of this country – not ex-Prime Minsters – decide who shape our laws. Away from Westminster, ERS Cymru has played a prominent role in the coming reforms to the Senedd, such as expanding its size so it can meet its workload, moving to a more proportional voting system and implementing gender quotas to ensure there is always gender equality at Cardiff Bay. Meanwhile ERS Scotland has successfully focused the political debate onto improving local democracy in Scotland with its State of Democracy lecture.

This is my last AGM as a member of the Society’s governing board. I would like to thank the other members of the Society’s Council for their continued stewardship of the organisation and also their invaluable input and advice, which has strengthened its work. I want to thank in particular our vice-chair Jon Walsh, our treasurer Andrew Copson, and Council members Michael Meadowcroft and Richard Wood, who are also stepping down this year – each of them has made valuable contributions to our shared work. Congratulations to all those who have been elected or re-elected this year – thanks to your votes, we have a strong team with diverse experience and expertise to hand the baton to!

Finally, I would like to thank our members and supporters. The strength of the Society comes from the thousands of passionate reformers whose belief in democracy enables us to do the work we do. The fact that we have grown by 600 members and more than 25,000 supporters in the last year is a testament to the strength of the Society’s work and cause.

While I am stepping down from the Council, I look forward, as a member, to continuing to engage with the Society’s work in what promises to be an important year for the cause of electoral reform and the future health of our democracy.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive​​

Darren HughesLast year was one of unprecedented turbulence in British politics. Although 2023 has been relatively calmer than 2022, it is clear that our politics has been left in a weakened state. The story of this parliament is one where the chaos caused by First Past the Post has been exposed and is now writ large.

The Lords has become mired in yet more scandals and the succession of short-term prime ministers – and their resignation honours lists – has caused the second largest legislative chamber in the world to become even more bloated.

The introduction of voter ID in May saw thousands of people barred from exercising their fundamental democratic right at the local elections. There is a danger many more could be caught out at the General Election when many parts of the country will be facing the new requirements for the first time. Our democracy should be making voting more accessible and increasing turn-out, not putting up new barriers between people and the ballot box.

The last years have shown the size of the task of reforming democracy in front of us, and it is not one we can succeed in alone. Which is why our work with our many partners is vital to achieving the meaningful change we all want. For instance, our work with Labour for a New Democracy, the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and Politics for the Many has seen the cause of electoral reform become increasingly salient in the Labour Party and Trade Union movement. Work with Conservative Action for Electoral Reform has built the case on the centre right of politics, whereas our work with Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform has kept the standard flying in the centre ground of politics.

Meanwhile, we have worked with think tanks such as IPPR, Demos and the Institute for Government, to inform the political discourse around electoral reform. We have also worked closely with partners in the democracy sector such as Unlock Democracy, Make Votes Matter and Compass to press the case for electoral reform nationally and also highlight the damage voter ID is doing.

None of this would be possible without the help of members and supporters and their contributions each month enables the work we do. They are the passionate individual advocates who make the case for electoral and democratic reform every day in their communities.

If the last few years have shown up the structural problems with our politics, then 2024 presents a serious chance to start to fix them. The job for us now is to show that a better future is possible. We know that the task ahead is not an easy one and that change rarely happens in the way we envisage.

Finally, some thanks. Firstly, to the staff team at ERS who work with so much energy and commitment to our cause. They care about the state of politics right across the United Kingdom and bring creative ideas to achieve our strategic plan.

Secondly, to the board of ERS – the elected members of the Society who volunteer to take on a valuable governance role for our organisation. A special thanks to Ruth Kelly, Jon Walsh, Andrew Copson, Michael Meadowcroft and Richard Wood who are leaving.

Ruth took over as chair during Covid and was critical in guiding us through our strategic plan for this parliament and in the setting up of the ERS Fund. Jon is a previous chair who oversaw the sale of our shares in ERSL that enabled us to have a new investment fund. He dedicated a huge amount of personal time on this for the benefit of the Society. Andrew has led significant changes to the financial governance and scrutiny of the finances, including setting up our new Finance, Audit, Investment and Risk (FAIR) committee. Michael has been a leader in the electoral reform movement for decades – as a former chair of ERS, in Parliament, internationally, and as a writer and speaker. Richard stepped up with a few days notice to join the board and has made a thoughtful and diligent contribution. I know all of them will remain active members of the Society.

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