ERS in the Press – August 2020

Josiah Mortimer
Author:
Josiah Mortimer

Posted on the 4th September 2020

As governments respond to the global pandemic, the issue of how voters are represented has not gone away. In fact, in many ways, it has become more salient.

PR in the public eye

In August, the Mirror used our research on last year’s General Election to make the case for a fairer voting system.

Following Labour’s move to use the proportional Single Transferable Vote system for its National Executive elections, there are growing calls for Labour to endorse PR for Westminster, including in OpenDemocracy, the Morning Star, the Fabians (by Darren), and more. These often point to ERS analysis on the gaping political inequalities that exist under the current one-person-takes-all system.

Yet more Lords

Just before Parliament went into recess, the government snuck out the news that the PM was appointing 36 new unelected Lords.

The day after the announcement, we got our views across in 14 newspapers, including nearly all the national papers, and even the Daily Star – a front page in a newspaper which rarely covers politics! Our views were also picked up widely by the international press, while Darren wrote for Politics.co.ukabout why it was such an outrageous move. We’re calling for a proportionally-elected second chamber, to help democratise Westminster.

Meanwhile, the FT revealed that at least 22 former donors to political parties have been given peerages in the past 13 years – giving £50.4m to the main three parties either personally or through related companies. Darren sounded the alarm about the brewing ‘cash for peerages’ scandal.

Lords reform is a rare issue that unites left and right – as demonstrated by the united anger across the press. The Express produced several Lords reform pieces featuring us in the space of a week, speaking to Darren multiple times, and polling their readers – the overwhelming majority want a total overhaul.

In mid-August the New Statesman also made Lords reform its cover story, with new analysis of Lords expenses that built. On the other side, The Spectator had called for restraint from the PM – a call which sadly went unheeded – while the Tatler quoted Darren. Our message that the second chamber is a ‘private member’s club’ really cut through.

Shockingly, the government had the cheek to say the size of the Lords ‘needs addressing’ – after packing it with cronies. Pundits were not impressed.

It’s even more disappointing to hear rumours of a second ‘donor list’ being prepared for later in the year. Nearly 400,000 people have now signed our Change.org petition calling for an overhaul – more than doubling in size in just a few days at the start of August.

Democracy in the spotlight

During the Lib Dem leadership debate, we commissioned and published pieces from the candidates, urging them to set out their stalls on political reform. These were also jointly published on Lib Dem Voice, and other Lib Dem sites, helping to make PR commitments a key part of the conversation.

Following growing anger at government inaction, August saw a positive step forward
in campaign regulation, as the government finally published proposals for online
imprints, as reported by the BBC. We were among the first to learn of this, and got our views out. This got high billing, from the Times, Independent, the FT, Mirror, the BBC Today programme bulletins and more. The ERS’ Michela Palese outlined how there is more to be done, in a piece for Prospect.

We will continue to pursue the need for wider campaign law reform, through our submission to the Committee on Standards in Public Life inquiry, and as part of the campaign group FairVote’s coalition.

The ERS also led the media for the Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency’s Holyrood submission, urging ministers to bolster the lobbying register. Willie Sullivan went on BBC Scotland’s morning drivetime interview, alongside an excellent Herald feature, and an op-ed from us in Source News.

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