Labour MPs call on party in Westminster to back electoral reform after Wales’ Senedd backs change

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 20th December 2020

Labour MPs from across the party have called on the leadership to back reform to Westminster’s ‘broken voting system’ after the Labour-led administration in Cardiff passed legislation introducing STV for local government elections across Wales.

The Local Government and Elections (Wales) bill – passed last month – included a range of reforms which could ‘revolutionise’ democracy in Wales including, extending the franchise to 16- and 17-year olds and allowing local authorities to scrap First Past the Post.

UK-wide, Labour leader Keir Starmer faces growing pressure from within his party to back electoral reform with over 100 constituency parties passing motions in favour of proportional representation in recent months.

The party’s National Policy Forum recently published a report noting prominent calls for proportional representation from members and democracy groups – and quoting the ERS.

Support among CLPs has rapidly increased since the September launch of ‘Labour for a New Democracy’ – a coalition of organisations and Labour MPs backing electoral reform.

More than 25,000 people have now signed the ERS’ petition calling for local proportional representation in England.

Clive Lewis MP said: “Across the UK, Labour is turning away from the divisive winner-takes-all mentality that has warped our politics for too long. With Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland having rejected First Past the Post, England and Westminster must follow suit. People feel powerless, with millions silenced each election by an electoral system that leaves swathes of the country ignored. It’s time for that to stop.  
“We can’t have political equality while some votes are worth far more than others. Labour must create a vision that brings Britain’s hyper-centralised political system into the 21st century. Voters and Labour members alike want to see fair representation and a democratic overhaul to drag our politics into the 21st century. This is an issue that can unite the party. Keir Starmer can and should lead on this, committing to proportional representation as part of a charter for democratic change that this country needs.” 

Alex Sobel MP welcomed the recent reform in Wales, adding: Winner-takes-all results throw millions of votes on the electoral scrapheap – which is why Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have moved to more proportional voting systems already.  
“England now looks isolated, with the other nations rejecting one-party-takes-all politics. Keir Starmer has rightly pledged to consult members on reforming our 19th Century electoral system and has noted how millions of voters go ignored under the current broken system. Westminster-as-usual isn’t working, and there’s a growing consensus in favour of fairer elections. Labour can and must build a political system that ensures everyone is heard.”  

And Rachel Maskell MP was recently among four MPs to sign a piece in the Independent arguing: “We must, as a Party, embrace radical constitutional and electoral reform…Deepening our democracy, expanding it, extending power, is the best way to challenge its erosion these past 40 years.” 

Commenting on the calls for change, Sandy Martin, Chair, Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform said: “Three quarters of Labour party members want proportional representation, and the decisions taken in Wales show that this is a matter of principle, not political expediency. We believe that everyone’s voice should be heard, and we want to make their votes effective.

He added: “Giving councils the opportunity to use a more proportional electoral system will enable those councils to reflect the views and aspirations of their residents. We need to see these initiatives reflected in England and the Westminster Parliament not only local councils and the devolved administrations.” 

Left-wing activists are also calling for Labour to back proportional representation across the UK. A new Compass report called for cross-party cooperation among left-of-centre parties, with a commitment to proportional representation.

There were thousands of calls for PR from members in the recent Labour National Policy Forum consultation on democracy policy, while demands for electoral reform also topped a recent PACAC Parliamentary inquiry survey, with nearly 80% of respondents calling for it to be a priority for the government.

Recent YouGov polling has highlighted severely levels of discontent with the state of democracy in the UK. It’s time for all parties to step up to tackle this and revitalise democracy.

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