Train drivers’ union becomes latest to join the movement for proportional representation

Guest Author, the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Electoral Reform Society.

Posted on the 28th May 2021

Julian Vaughan is a member of train drivers’ union ASLEF, and sits on the Politics for the Many steering committee, the ERS-backed union campaign for political reform.

I am proud to have written the motion on a fairer voting system that was recently adopted by ASLEF at their Annual Assembly of Delegates (AAD). However, in a democratic union like ASLEF, success is only achieved with the support of branch delegates from across the railway network. I am particularly grateful to my colleague who put the motion to the floor and spoke so well on the importance of Proportional Representation, enabling the motion to get over the line.

ASLEF now joins the growing number of unions who have put their support behind PR. I believe it is time for a fairer voting system which will result in the whole of the UK having an equal say on who governs, rather than a few thousand people in swing seats. The current adversarial system of politics doesn’t work well for the UK. We need to end the tribalism and let go of the culture of the ‘winner takes all’ approach. Good politics needs a fairer voting system that doesn’t leave large numbers of people feeling that they don’t have a voice. Further, a fairer voting system as a flagship policy of Labour’s next manifesto will put clear water between us and a Tory government who are rapidly dismantling the checks and balances of our democracy. Proportional Representation won’t fix all the issues in our society, but it’s a good start!

The full text of the motion is below:

“This AAD [Annual Assembly of Delegates] notes that the ‘First Past the Post’ system means that for many people in parliamentary constituencies across the UK the act of voting is just a ritual, with little prospect of unseating the incumbent MP. This results in just a handful of ‘swing seats’ deciding the outcome of a General Election.

In the 2015 General Election only 12% of seats changed hands. In 2017, despite voters switching allegiance in numbers greater than in any General Election since 1931, only 11% of seats changed hands.

The ‘winner takes all’ scenario created by the ‘First Past the Post’ system risks governments taking office with large majorities, while voted into power by a minority of the electorate, as is the case with the current government. Governments elected in this way are in essence ‘elective dictatorships’ with few checks and balances to their power.

Many votes are essentially wasted, either by being surplus to requirements in safe Labour seats, or pointless in a safe Tory seat. This leads to apathy and effectively disenfranchises millions of voters across the UK.

This AAD believes that it is time for a fairer voting system where every vote counts.

This AAD adopts a position of support for electoral reform in the form of proportional representation and instructs the EC to lobby the ASLEF parliamentary group to press for proportional representation to be included as a flagship
policy in the next Labour manifesto.”

Many thanks to ASLEF ‘Waterloo Nine Elms’ branch for an amendment to the original motion (an addition to the last paragraph) which improved it significantly!

Amendment in full, which was carried by the AAD: Amendment A Waterloo Nine Elms (222) Delete “we instruct” and replace with “This AAD adopts a position of support for electoral reform in the form of proportional representation and instructs.”

This article originally appeared on Julian’s blog, which you can find here.

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