Labour leadership candidates set out their stalls on political reform for the ERS

Josiah Mortimer
Author:
Josiah Mortimer

Posted on the 28th February 2020

Labour members have received their ballot papers and are voting in the leadership and deputy leadership contests – with polls open until the 2nd April.

The Electoral Reform Society aims to ensure that Britain’s ‘democratic crisis’ and the need for political reform is part of party leadership debates, and this one is no different.

This week the ERS asked candidates to set out their platforms on political reform – including the need for proportional representation. The Society received answers from two of the three leadership candidates, and four of the five deputy leadership candidates.

They include some major new commitments from candidates. Read them in full below.

The ERS did not receive a response from the teams of Lisa Nandy, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan in time for publication. However, some of their views on political reform were discussed at the Open Labour/ERS hustings in January.

Leadership candidates

Rebecca Long-Bailey

“People have little trust in the political system and its capacity to represent them or deliver change, and for many Westminster seems as distant as Brussels. We need a democratic revolution to break the hold of Westminster and the City over our politics, delivering a seismic shock to British politics, and prising it open at all levels to the people – their knowledge, their skills, and their demands.

“I have committed to abolishing the House of Lords, and replacing it with an elected Senate outside London. The Senate would represent our regions and nations, be elected with a proportional voting system, and have a codified mandate to scrutinise the impact of legislation on collective wealth, wellbeing and environmental sustainability.

“But we cannot stop there in seeking to overhaul the deeply undemocratic makeup of the British state. We should also empower a constitutional convention to explore more proportional representation, and really meaningful devolution of power to our local communities, regions and nations.

Rebecca Long-Bailey: 'We should also empower a constitutional convention to explore more proportional representation, and really meaningful devolution of power to our local communities, regions and nations.' Click To Tweet

“Facing the spiralling crises of climate change and inequality, deep social and economic change has never been more urgent. But these changes are impossible to achieve if people don’t have faith in our political system to deliver. That’s why ending the gentleman’s club of Westminster and opening up our democracy to the people at all levels must be our starting point.

“Labour’s path back to power lies in empowering the people and a commitment to democratic renewal.”

Keir Starmer

“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.

“I would consult the Party membership on electoral reform and include it within the constitutional convention that looks at wider democratic renewal–including abolishing the Lords and furthering devolution on the principles of federalism.”

Keir Starmer: 'I would consult the Party membership on electoral reform and include it within the constitutional convention that looks at wider democratic renewal' Click To Tweet

Deputy leadership candidates

Richard Burgon

“I am standing as a Deputy Leader who will extend Labour Party democracy. That means if elected I will campaign to ensure all policy motions made by members and affiliates at Labour Conference have a place in our Manifesto. 

“So if Labour members support a change in the electoral system then this is something I will push for as Deputy Leader and defend being in the next manifesto. 

“My own personal position on the question of voting reform is that I have always been concerned about how any proportional system would maintain the link between constituents and Members of Parliament. I believe very strongly in the ability of members of the public to hold their elected representatives to account and for this reason I’m on record as defending that aspect of the current system. 

Richard Burgon: 'If Labour members support a change in the electoral system then this is something I will push for as Deputy Leader and defend being in the next manifesto.' Click To Tweet

“My views on the House of Lords are very clear. It should be abolished and replaced with an elected chamber. As there is no such constituency element for the Second Chamber then I would support this being elected on a proportional basis

“I am of course in favour of votes for 16-year-olds and win or lose, will continue to support the campaign to lower the voting age.

“Under this right wing populist Government we are of course very unlikely to make democratic gains. An increase in democratic participation would be bad news for Boris Johnson. Instead  his Government will seek to use its majority to block voting reform legislation and instead will use undemocratic measures to suppress democracy. As a movement we need to resist the imported Republican gerrymandering tactics such as Voter ID, which blocks disproportionately BAME people and other already disenfranchised communities from voting.”

Dawn Butler

“I fully support voting reform as I believe there are real grievances with First Past the Post that need to be addressed. Everyone must feel as though their vote really counts and makes a difference at election time and we need a voting system which truly does just that.

Dawn Butler: 'I fully support voting reform as I believe there are real grievances with First Past the Post that need to be addressed.' Click To Tweet

“That is why I believe we need to have a Constitutional Convention, where we can all come together and examine the issue, making an informed decision about the type of electoral reform we need in this country. I am of the view however that any electoral reform must retain the very best of our current system, such as the constituency link and strong representation.

“It is also vitally important that we resist attempts by the Conservatives to rig our democratic system in their favour. That is why we need to stop the implementation of unfair boundary changes for parliamentary constituencies which I believe to be a stitch-up. We must also fight any attempt to introduce voter identification which could have a devastating effect in disenfranchising many people, especially those from our Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities as well as vulnerable people in society. 

“More specifically within the Labour Party I have also backed calls for a switch to STV for internal elections which I believe would be a significant positive step forward.

“Furthermore, I believe that as a democratic and member-led political party, our members should always be consulted on issues of importance such as this. That’s why I believe our members, for example through party conference, should consider this issue of electoral reform and have their say in deciding our policy for the next election.

“As Deputy Leader I will always ensure that the voices of our members are heard.”

Angela Rayner

[This statement has been trimmed]

“Whatever [voting] system we ultimately go for, it must be rooted in our communities. Ultimately, Conference decides our rules but I have expressed my personal support for moving to STV or preferential voting systems in our internal party elections. If we’re serious about democratic reforms for the country as a whole, we must show we can make it work in our own party first.

“For the House of Commons, I would want to keep a system in which I represent a constituency. It helps keep me grounded and in touch with constituents’ everyday lives.

“I would also want to ensure that any system change did not lead to any backward steps on the representation of women, ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups. As Deputy Leader, I won’t decide what electoral system we advocate but I would facilitate the debate.

“My top constitutional priority for any Labour government is scrapping the House of Lords and replacing it with an elected House; it is ridiculous that we still have inherited seats in our Parliament. It is clear that this would be elected through a new electoral system.

“In Opposition, I believe we can also show we live our values by doing things differently as a party. That’s why I’ve called for us to introduce ‘People’s Peerages’, where Labour’s nominations to the Lords are decided through our democratic structures rather than simply appointed by the Leader.

Angela Rayner: 'My top constitutional priority for any Labour government is scrapping the House of Lords and replacing it with an elected House' Click To Tweet

“I’m serious about the need to devolve more power to all our nations of the UK, as well as within English regions too. Local people must have more of a say over what that will look like. A serious transformation of power in our country cannot be led by politicians alone, and there is a lot to learn from the constitutional convention that shaped Scottish devolution.”

Ian Murray

“I have been a long-standing supporter of a Constitutional Convention to answer crucial questions about how power is distributed in the UK today; how nations and regions can best relate to each other; and how power can most effectively be put in the hands of the people. In post-Brexit Britain we should be taking power at Westminster, then giving it away.

“I have proposed a Labour Campaign for Britain’s Future, which would make the case for the closest possible relationship with Europe and for Scotland to remain in the UK, in line with our principles of internationalism and solidarity. In the long-term, Labour must never rule out campaigning to be part of the EU again in the future.

“The Constitutional Convention should also examine House of Lords reform. I am a strong supporter of replacing the chamber with an elected senate of the nations and regions.

“As a former councillor in Edinburgh, I campaigned for the introduction of STV for local council elections in Scotland and would strongly support this being introduced in other parts of the UK.

“When it comes to General Elections, FPTP is well-established and understood in the UK. I would support reform as long as it retains the constituency link between MPs and their constituents, as I believe that a geographical link must always be preserved.

Ian Murray: 'I am a strong supporter of replacing the chamber with an elected senate of the nations and regions.' Click To Tweet

“I will always welcome debate about the best way to ensure that people are engaged with our political system. However, we must also accept that changing the voting system alone will not fix the disconnect that some voters feel about our political process. For many people, they believe that politics does not work. I will therefore continue to support efforts to increase democratic engagement, and to build a vibrant and active democracy in which all eligible voters have their say.”

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