59 years since Enid Lakeman defended fair votes in Ireland

Lizzie Lawless, Membership and Digital Officer

Posted on the 18th June 2018

Last weekend marked the 59th anniversary of a major event in the Society’s history and the history of the campaign for fair votes.

In June 1959, Ireland held a referendum that would determine the very nature of their democracy. Envious of the power that their Westminster counterparts could wield, the Fianna Fáil government tried to move Ireland away from the Single Transferable Vote and revert back to Westminster’s electoral system.

Determined to protect the rights of Irish voters, the Electoral Reform Society – with Director Enid Lakeman at the forefront – played a crucial role in defending Ireland’s traditional system of proportional representation. Alongside her fellow campaigners in Ireland, Enid Lakeman helped lead the campaign to defend fair votes and successfully secured a victory to ensure that the power was kept safe in the hands of the public.

Enid Lakeman, OBE, dedicated her life to the cause of fair votes. A legendary Research Secretary and later Director of the Electoral Reform Society, her efforts came to dominate the history of the Society in the twentieth century.

Politics and electoral reform were in Lakeman’s genes. Her great-grandfather campaigned for the Reform Bill in the 1830s, and her maternal grandmother was a London School Board election candidate in 1879 and was also a member of the Electoral Reform Society (then-named the Proportional Representation Society).

Enid Lakeman stood as a candidate in St. Albans at the 1945 general election, one of only two women service personnel standing as parliamentary candidates at the time. She stood again in 1950, this time in the Brixton division of Lambeth.

[bctt tweet=”Enid Lakeman stood as a candidate in St. Albans at the 1945 general election, one of only two women service personnel standing as parliamentary candidates at the time. ” username=”E_LakemanFellow”]

She worked tirelessly for democratic reform, promoting the Society’s case for fair votes whenever an opportunity presented itself. Her unwavering commitment to the cause is well demonstrated by her success.

Unfortunately, the Irish government couldn’t take no for an answer. Less than 10 years later in 1968, Enid had to return, this time delivering an even larger majority for fair votes. Once voters have experienced a fair voting system, they do not want to go back. She grasped every opportunity that presented itself, writing countless letters and articles, attending meetings, and producing the detailed book, How Democracies Vote.

Even after she retired from the Electoral Reform Society in 1980, Enid continued to display her dedication to the cause by working in the office two or three days a week and participating in international conferences.

The Lakeman Fellowship

At the Electoral Reform Society, we have a lot to owe to Enid Lakeman.

As Enid’s work demonstrates, having excellent research makes all the difference to our campaigns. Enid worked tirelessly for democratic reform across the UK, and it’s very important that we continue to carry on her legacy.

By introducing the Enid Lakeman Fellowship, we hope to create an even stronger case for political reform in the UK. This new Fellowship will allow us to increase our capacity for exciting new research at the Society and ensure that we can build a stronger-than-ever case for fair votes and reform.

Reflecting on the anniversary of her achievement in Ireland truly highlights how important her work was. By continuing her work, we hope to keep her memory alive.

Find out more the Lakeman Fellowship

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