ERS in the Press – August 2019

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 3rd September 2019

August saw talk of a constitutional crisis come to the fore – and it was a long time coming.

The confusion is what happens when a centralised Westminster system and winner-takes-all mentality clashes with the awkward fact that the government have only a wafer-thin majority.

At the ERS we tried to take the debate from simply Parliamentary manoeuvrings and ask: What about the voters?

Brexit ‘alliances’ and the need for fair votes

As talk grew of a General Election, so too did discussions of ‘electoral pacts’ – which could potentially deprive voters of a real choice of parties. We described it as ‘the latest desperate attempt to game a broken first-past-the-post system’. Under a fair, proportional way of electing MPs, they simply wouldn’t be necessary.

Polling for the Society – published by Politico – showed that voters agreed: they want real choice, not party stitch-ups. This work was picked up by the Sun, the Times and more. We also went on LBC to discuss the need for PR as well as the scourge of ‘tactical voting’ likely at the next election. Several outlets highlighted our calls for a genuinely democratic voting system, while we continued to argue that putting up barriers through mandatory voter ID was a dangerously misguided policy.

Elections Audit

We were proud to publish our audit of the 2019 elections (so far!) in August. It contained heaps of new analysis on the local and European elections. We pointed out that the UK’s ‘warped’ first-past-the-post system gave ‘wrong winners’ in 17 local authority elections – in other words, an absolute disaster for voters. This was picked up by the Independent and local government press.

House of Lords

In August it emerged that Theresa May was planning on appointing some of her former staff to the House of Lords, in her resignation honours. In HuffPost, we highlighted that it made a mockery of ‘voluntary’ attempts to reduce the size of the second chamber.

As if it couldn’t become any more of shambles, Boris Johnson was considering appointing huge numbers of new Lords to push through his policies.

Responding, we wrote in the Guardian:

“Seats in parliament should not be used as a handout for big political donors and campaign apparatchiks. The fact that Johnson would have to appoint a huge number to significantly “rebalance” the Lords shows the absurdity of the current set-up: each new PM tries to pack it with cronies in order to tip the scales in their favour. Let’s not forget that long after Brexit is over, these peers will be claiming expenses and deciding on our laws for the rest of their lives, if they choose to. This feudal relic needs to be scrapped and replaced with a democratic second chamber.

“It’s time to end the scandal of unelected power in modern Britain and give us a genuinely accountable upper house.”

A Mirror investigation also revealed that £4m has been claimed in expenses by the 92 hereditary peers in the last two years alone. It’s time to end the scandal of unelected privilege in our Parliament.

In similar news, Politico reported that defeated MPs were (in some cases) getting very large pay-outs for losing elections. We called for some common sense

Politics for the Many and Peterloo

August marked the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, which saw many killed in the fight for the vote. The best way to honour the legacy of the pro-democracy protesters? Fighting for real reform today.  Politics for the Many – the trade union campaign – made the case in articles in the run-up to the ‘This is What Democracy Looks Like’ conference.

And I wrote about the growing constitutional crisis early in August, arguing on LabourList that it was time for the Labour party to think seriously about long-term solutions to the current democratic discontent.

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