ERS in the Press – July 2020

Josiah Mortimer
Author:
Josiah Mortimer

Posted on the 10th August 2020

Another Lords scandal, fighting for fair votes, and a spotlight on foreign interference: here’s some highlights from the ERS’ campaigning in July…

Lords cronyism continues

At the end of July, just as Parliament closed up for recess, the government packed the House of Lords with 36 new unelected appointees.

We knew some appointments were coming, as we told the Mirror in the days before. The PM’s allies had urged him not to ‘stuff’ the second chamber with ‘cronies’. The Spectator noted in an editorial: “The Electoral Reform Society found that in the 2016/17 session, 115 peers failed to speak in a single debate — and yet they claimed £1.3 million in expenses between them.”

Sadly, the eventual Lords list itself was pretty brazen: packed with party loyalists, donors and ex-MPs.

Within hours, ERS Chief Executive Darren Hughes was on BBC News and Sky, as well as Times Radio, LBC and regional radio over the weekend – with a clear message: the unelected House of Lords needs an overhaul, through real democracy and proportional representation.

Our reaction to the appointments dominated much of the coverage, including FT analysis of party donors entering the Lords, allegations of cronyism, and reactions to the new Lords. We also learnt that Lords had spent thousands on robes and wigs in recent years. Did someone say ‘out of touch’?…

Our calls for a proportionally-elected second chamber hit ‘the wires’ through the Press Association and the international AFP agency, meaning we were featured across Europe –from Romania to Switzerland, Italy to Czechia and more.

The day after the announcement we got our views across in 14 newspapers, including nearly all the nationals and even the Daily Star – a front page in a newspaper which rarely covers politics!

We also published new research on the dramatic under-representation of the UK’s nations and regions in the House of Lords. And we revealed that the new appointees would cost over £1m a year in tax-free expenses – courtesy of the rest of us.

Lords reform is a rare issue that unites left and right – as demonstrated by the united anger across the press.

Fighting for fair votes

We kept up our push for parties to get behind proportional representation – amid growing calls for Labour in particular to shift on the issue. In a letter to the Guardian, we urged Keir Starmer to back proportional representation – arguing that it’s time for political equality for all.

The end of June had seen a fair votes victory, as Labour’s ruling body introduced the Single Transferable Vote for internal elections. This followed campaigning from the ERS, Open Labour, MPs and grassroots activists across the party. It’s great news – and a stepping stone towards Labour backing real democracy at Westminster, as we wrote on Politics.co.uk

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

Democracy in the spotlight

It looks like legislation is on the way to force voters to show ID at the polling station – or get turned away. Yet Freedom of Information requests show that the government doesn’t know who this policy will hit hardest – an extremely worrying omission. We sounded the alarm in the press (as picked up by leading MPs) and will continue to oppose this unnecessary and undemocratic barrier to participation.

As legislation passed to change how constituency boundaries are drawn up, we remain concerned that new boundaries will exclude millions of voters – given that nine million people are currently not on the electoral roll. Here’s the Mirror’s write-up of our take.

The Times revealed that a minister was being bankrolled by firms linked to tax havens. Darren told the paper: “Too often gifts are viewed as a route to influencing parties, rather than a valued form of civic engagement. Funding for UK parties should come from within the UK.”

Finally, Darren spoke to Bloomberg about the threats to democracy in a digital age, as fears over Russian interference hit the headlines again. As Phillip Collins warned in the Times, citing the ERS, our party system is wide open to foreign meddling. Let’s get on with a much-needed update.

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