Labour leadership candidates challenged to back overhaul of ‘bankrupt’ Westminster system

Posted on the 25th January 2020

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society and Open Labour for immediate release, 25th January 2020. The event will be live streamed – follow Open Labour’s Twitter for the link. 

Open Labour and the UK’s leading democracy campaigners have joined forces to call on Labour leadership candidates to back an overhaul of Westminster’s ‘bankrupt’ political system.

The challenge comes ahead of a joint Open Labour/Electoral Reform Society hustings this Sunday in Nottingham [1], which will see all candidates outline their position on Britain’s ‘crumbling constitution’ [Keir Starmer will be providing a video statement].

The candidates are being urged to embrace Proportional Representation for the Commons, and a fairly-elected second chamber – making democratic reform a priority in their first term. Trust in politics is at ‘rock bottom’ according to recent polling [2].

Previous candidates Clive Lewis and Jess Phillips both embraced a fairer electoral system for choosing MPs – making seats match votes – but the other candidates are yet to take up the mantle.

The ERS’ post-election briefing revealed the ‘rotten’ state of winner-takes-all voting, with millions of unrepresented votes, a high rate of tactical voting and voters denied choice through pacts.

In Scotland, a whopping 95% of Labour votes went unrepresented. Voters in Scotland and Wales are used to voting under Proportional Representation for Holyrood and Senedd elections, but are forced to use winner-takes-all voting for Westminster.

Three quarters of Labour members back moving to a proportional voting system, according to a recent poll. The Labour party in Wales are legislating to allow councils to use PR.

Leading figures across the party back proportional representation, including John McDonnell, Cat Smith, former Momentum coordinator Laura Parker, alongside soft left figures like Alex Sobel and Jonathan Reynolds.

Letter to Labour leadership candidates from Open Labour and the Electoral Reform Society

December’s warped election saw a government once again handed a majority on a minority of the vote. Millions of votes went to waste, while the public were cheated out of choice by pacts and tactical voting on both the left and right. In short, it was another sign that Westminster’s electoral system isn’t just broken: it’s bankrupt.

The UK remains the only country in Europe to use First Past the Post. A Labour leader serious about redistributing power must make tackling the democratic crisis a priority.

Candidates have a chance to garner support from the majority of Labour voters and members who want to end zero-sum politics and build a fairer political system – through proportional representation in the Commons and a fairly-elected second chamber. They must be bold in working towards a new settlement: one which recognises we have more in common than that which divides us.

Just 16 percent of the public believe politics is working well in the UK – and only two percent feel they have a significant influence over decision-making, according to BMG polling for the Electoral Reform Society. It’s no wonder why. 
We challenge Labour leadership candidates to seize the chance for a new Chartism: a democratic movement for the 21st century. Overhauling our crumbling constitution must be at the core of any progressive platform.

This Sunday sees Open Labour and the Electoral Reform Society’s hustings in Nottingham. We call on all candidates to use the opportunity to set out their plans for real democracy. It’s time for political equality.


Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, Electoral Reform Society 

Tom Miller, Co-Chair, Open Labour

Notes to Editors

The Open Labour/ERS hustings is backed by the Social Review as a media partner. Unlock Democracy and Make Votes Matter are supporting the event.

Open Labour represent the Labour party’s soft left.



Hustings information

Open Labour and the Electoral Reform Society will host Labour leadership and deputy leadership hustings in Nottingham this Sunday (26th January).

The hustings will be hosted by New Statesman’s Stephen Bush and columnist Rachel Shabi.

All Labour leadership and deputy hopefuls [except Keir Starmer due to family reasons] will descend on Nottingham Trent University on January 26th to make their case to party members and democracy campaigners.

Grassroots members will have the opportunity to put their own questions to national figures at the event, which takes place during Open Labour’s winter conference.

Tickets for the event are available via Open Labour‘s website ( and on Eventbrite here. Press accreditation is available (details above).

Open Labour are partnering with Electoral Reform Society and the Social Review to deliver the event.

Pressure is growing on Labour leadership candidates to back ‘real democracy’ – including proportional representation for the Commons.

There are few non-party run hustings during this election, and this will be among the first to see journalists and civil society question the candidates together.

The Electoral Reform Society is the UK’s leading democracy group, campaigning for proportional representation and reform to Britain’s political system. The ERS is a pressure group and think tank, working with all parties and none to stand up for voters and make the case for positive political reform.

Programme Open Labour Winter Conference and Hustings. Sunday 26th – Nottingham Trent University.

  • 12:00 Registration
  • 12:20 Welcome – Nadia Whittome MP and Alex Sobel MP, Open Labour Parliamentary Group
  • 12:30 Discussion – Priorities for Open Labour after the 2019 General Election led by Rachael Ward and Tom Miller, Co-Chairs Open Labour
  • 1:30 Break
  • 1:40 Deputy Leadership Hustings
  • 3:00 Break
  • 3:15-4:45 Leadership Hustings

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