ERS in the Press – March 2020

Jon Narcross
Author:
Jon Narcross

Posted on the 6th April 2020

These are difficult and uncertain times, with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down most normal activity in politics and across the country this month.

Despite the disruption, we’ve been campaigning the most democratic and safe Parliamentary response: allowing representatives to speak up for voter remotely. In this time of crisis, it is more important than ever that these life-changing decisions and legislation is held to account.

Coronavirus and Parliament

In the last few weeks, we’ve led the call for parliament to respond to the pandemic not by shutting down, but by joining the 21st century. Westminster must allow MPs to vote remotely from isolation, and use video technology so representatives can continue their work during the coronavirus crisis.

With MPs urged to stay away from Westminster we’ve argued that ‘the current crisis should not be used to “entrench” the centralisation of the UK’s democracy’.

As Willie Sullivan noted in the Independent: “At times of national crisis, the need for scrutiny increases, not decreases”. Our research officer Ian Simpson delved into the findings for Democratic Audit, noting the election was a ‘postcode lottery’ for voters.

Our calls for change were picked up widely, including by the BBC, the Metro, Mirror and the Evening Standard, as well as in Wales where the Senedd is now leading the way through digital meetings. Our proposals for digital Select Committees were heeded: the Commons’ rules were changed after we wrote to the Speaker, meaning ministers will still be held to account during recess. It marked a real win in ensuring MPs and their staff are protected and able to engage in scrutiny remotely during the crisis.

Following calls from 100 MPs to establish a ‘virtual Commons’ we again pushed the government to ensure proper legislative scrutiny during coronavirus. As ERS Chief Executive Darren Hughes argued in the Guardian: “Ministers and public officials must be held to account by those with a full suite of powers to call evidence, witnesses and use the full clout of parliament.”

General Election report

March saw the launch of our report on the 2019 General Election: ‘Voters Left Voiceless’. It found that 22.6 million voters’ ballots had no impact on the election result – an absolute negation of democracy.

Dr Jess Garland appeared on Sky News, with host Adam Boulton highlighting the disproportionate nature of the election results – and Jess noting the need for proportional representation in Westminster to ensure voters are finally heard in Parliament.

Willie Sullivan wrote a powerful piece for politics.co.uk, calling for real reform. The report and its findings were covered in the Independent as well as prominently in Scotland and Wales – where voters are used to being heard through PR – in the Evening Express, Holyrood magazine and the National.

Following the launch of our general election report we released new exclusive polling that highlighted the extent of tactical voting in December’s poll. The polling found that 32% of people voted tactically was again picked up in the Independent, PoliticsHome and in the Yorkshire Post, with Dr Jess Garland calling arguing that it’s time Westminster caught up with the rest of the UK, and ‘ensures seats in parliament reflect how people actually want to vote.’

Boundary changes scrapped

In March month the government quietly scrapped long held plans to cut the number of MPs in Westminster from 650 to 600 as part of a review into constituency boundaries. We led the charge against these plans when they were first proposed back in 2010 and welcomed the move this month.

This welcome u-turn by the government should be followed by a comprehensive overhaul of the bloated and unelected House of Lords. We were featured in on the BBCpolitics homepage, as well as ITV Wales, the Mirror, the New European, and across regional press such as the Express and Star.

Wider political reform

In Wales, ERS Cymru Director Jess Blair was quoted on the BBC calling for political education for young voters, ahead of the expansion of the franchise next year in Wales to allow 16- and 17-year olds to vote in Senedd elections.

We also kept up the pressure on overhauling the House of Lords. Hereditary peer ‘by-elections’ – which guarantee aristocrats seats for life in our Parliament – have now been rightly delayed for six months. Why not make it permanent?  The government can shelve their dangerous and undemocratic mandatory voter ID plans while they’re at it, as we noted in the Independent.

The pandemic means we will be shifting our focus in the coming months. But we’ll continue to stand up for voters – during the crisis and beyond.

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