A major new project has been launched to encourage the Labour party to back proportional representation.
Labour for a New Democracy (LfND) is a collaboration between Labour-linked groupings, campaign organisations and prominent MPs, aiming to secure a commitment to changing the voting system by the time of Labour’s 2021 annual conference.
Former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark addressed the launch this Monday as the keynote speaker. Helen Clark was Labour Prime Minister shortly after the country introduced proportional representation in the 1990s.
She told the attendees of the virtual event: “When New Zealand voters were asked if they wanted to switch back to First Past the Post after it was introduced, the majority for proportional representation actually increased to nearly 60%.”
She added: “Voters like to keep a check on the big parties – proportional representation boosts their power to do that.” While PR helped voters reshape the party system, parties adapted and many have thrived with a closer relationship to voters.
LfND is backed by the Electoral Reform Society, the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, Make Votes Matter, Compass, Unlock Democracy, Open Labour, Another Europe is Possible, Politics for the Many and Labour for a European Future.
During the Labour Leadership election, Keir Starmer told the Electoral Reform Society: “We’ve got to address the fact that millions of people vote in safe seats and they feel their voice doesn’t count. That’s got to be addressed by electoral reform. We will never get full participation in our electoral system until we do that at every level.”
Campaigners are now pushing for that belief to be put into practice. The project will aim to turn this “overwhelming support among local Labour and trade union branches into demands for policy change”, its organisers say.
Three-quarters of Labour members believe the party should commit to introducing a form of Proportional Representation, meaning the share of seats a party wins matches the share of the votes they receive, according to polling.
Clive Lewis MP, who spoke at the event, said: “A progressive future will not be dictated by the Labour party alone – we should embrace collaboration and negotiation – something First Past the Post seeks to prevent.
“PR isn’t a silver bullet, but it’s a strong base to build a better political culture among progressives. Let’s lead by example in a spirit of pluralism and engagement, and get round a fairer voting system,” he said.
Debbie Abrahams MP told attendees: “Trust and confidence in politicians and our systems are at an all time low. Our electoral system is contributing to this. Westminster’s voting system makes people feel their vote is wasted, and leaves them unheard.”
Local Labour branches covering 85 parliamentary constituencies have already called for electoral reform in the last few years. Organisers plan to rapidly increase this number in a bid to persuade the party leadership to embrace reform, before taking the policy to the 2021 party conference.
Backing the project, Willie Sullivan, Senior Director at the Electoral Reform Society said: “The UK remains the only democracy in Europe to use First Past the Post. Any Labour government serious about redistributing power must make tackling the democratic crisis a priority. Only serious structural reform can begin to repair this lack of faith in our democracy. A proportional voting system for the Commons and a fairly elected second chamber representing all nations and regions of the UK will give people a voice.”
At the event, Alex Sobel MP pointed to ERS analysis of the 2019 election, adding: “We already have PR in the devolved nations. It’s unfinished business in a lot of the UK.”
Commenting on the launch, Caroline Osborne from co-ordinating group Make Votes Matter said: “We’re delighted to have brought together such a formidable lineup of Labour and democracy organisations to pursue this common goal. We all lose out from First Past the Post, but without Labour’s support there’s little prospect of it changing. That’s why members everywhere need to stand up for equal votes.”
Sandy Martin, Chair of Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, added: “More Labour members than ever understand that the system we use to vote determines the governments we get. With PR and a succession of progressive governments, we can tackle the climate emergency, austerity, and global insecurity. Labour for a New Democracy puts that understanding into action. We call on Labour members everywhere to table a simple motion putting their support for PR on the record.”
Find out more about Labour for a New Democracy