Labour manifesto launch: Electoral Reform Society respond to stronger pledge for overhaul of ‘rotten’ Lords 

Posted on the 21st November 2019

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release. Contact [email protected] / 07717211630

Responding to Labour’s manifesto commitments on political reform [1], Willie Sullivan, Senior Director of the Electoral Reform Society said:

“Labour’s pledge to ‘work to abolish’ and replace the House of Lords [2] with an elected second chamber is a step forward from their 2017 manifesto, where reform was merely a ‘belief’. No party can claim to build a politics ‘for the many’ without ensuring all our legislators are accountable.

“It’s a scandal that 200 years since people fought for the right to vote at Peterloo, the unelected House of Lords means that most of our representatives are unelected. No one should be able to vote on our laws for life without the light of democratic scrutiny.

“Westminster needs an ambitious programme of democratic reform to bring it into the 21st century. The unelected Lords sits at the heart of the out-dated ‘Westminster model’ of politics – centralised and distant from voters.

“Replacing the House of Lords with a proportionally-elected second chamber is part of a package of reforms that can create a better, less centralised more cooperative politics that speaks to voters across the country – not just London and the South East. We call on Labour to commit to a timeline for real reform.

Constitutional convention

“The party’s planned ‘constitutional convention’ is a positive acceptance that democracy goes beyond the ballot box and that the current Westminster set-up is bust. Almost no one believes politics is working for ordinary people – with trust in politics at rock bottom.

“We need a constitutional convention to move power outside of the dusty corridors of Parliament and into communities.  From the unelected Lords to ‘hold your nose’ elections, citizens want and need an overhaul of Westminster.

“Citizens’ must be involved in shaping constitutional change. However, this cannot be used as a way of kicking real reform down the road. Any convention must have a clear timeline, concrete aims and commitment from government to act on the recommendations.”

No commitment to fair votes

“It is disappointing that Labour have not used this opportunity to reform Westminster’s broken electoral system [3]. First Past the Post politics played a huge role getting us in the current political rut: encouraging tribalism and vilifying cooperation. It leads to woefully skewed results, with millions of voters disenfranchised by stale safe seats and disproportionate outcomes.

“It’s time all parties including Labour committed to making seats match votes – and bring Westminster into line with Scotland, Wales and the rest of the advanced world in giving voters a strong voice and real choice every election.”

Other pledges

“Labour’s renewed commitment to votes at 16/17, as well as moves towards automatic voter registration will help drag our broken politics into the 21st century, with a fairer franchise and greater political equality. We urge parties to make this a priority after the election to bring in the ‘missing millions’ from the cold.”

The manifesto commits the party to “change how politics is funded, banning donations from tax avoiders and tax evaders, and closing loopholes that allow the use of shell companies to funnel dark money into politics” – calls the ERS has long backed.

Earlier this year Corbyn adviser Baroness Pauline Bryan published ‘Creating a Constitutional Moment’ with the ERS-backed Politics for the Many campaign, which has proved influential [4].

Leading trade unionists wrote to the Labour leader earlier this month calling for a firm commitment to Lords reform [5].

The House of Lords is the largest second chamber in the world and retains 92 hereditary peers, and has seen ‘scandal after scandal’ in recent years due to a lack of scrutiny, the ERS say [6].

ENDS

The ERS have warmly welcomed commitments from the Liberal Democrats and Green Party to replace First Past the Post with proportional representation for Westminster and local elections, alongside votes at 16, Lords reform, opposition to voter ID, and updates to ‘dangerously out-dated’ election campaign rules in the digital age.

Notes to Editors

[1] https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Real-Change-Labour-Manifesto-2019.pdf

[2] Labour’s 2017 manifesto said:

Our fundamental belief is that the Second Chamber should be democratically elected. In the interim period, we will seek to end the hereditary principle and reduce the size of the current House of Lords as part of a wider package of constitutional reform to address the growing democratic deficit across Britain.

Labour’s 2019 manifesto states:

We will act immediately to end the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, and work to abolish the House of Lords in favour of Labour’s preferred option of an elected Senate of the Nations and Regions, but we also believe that the people must be central to historic political changes.

[3] Proportional representation is already used across the UK – Westminster just needs to catch up https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/where-is-proportional-representation-used-in-the-uk/

Wales is pushing ahead with political reform: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/westminster-looking-ludicrously-outdated-as-wales-pushes-ahead-with-pro-democracy-reforms/

The ERS is part of a new campaigning coalition for an overhaul of the electoral system: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/new-campaign-coalition-calls-for-overhaul-of-westminster-and-broken-electoral-system/

[4] https://politicsforthemany.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Creating-a-Constitutional-Moment-Baroness-Pauline-Bryan-1.pdf

Conclusions of Baroness Bryan’s report included:
▪ The UK’s Constitution has developed in an ad hoc way resulting in a patchwork
of different institutions and powers covering different parts of the UK.
▪ The House of Lords must be totally reformed. One option is to replace it with a
Chamber of the Nations and Regions which is elected and accountable.
▪ The future relationship between the nations of the UK and Westminster should be
based on partnership and not hierarchy.

[5] The letter said:

As trade unionists and progressives, we urge Labour to give a clear manifesto commitment to building a politics for the many, including overhauling the undemocratic House of Lords.
Two hundred years since people died for the right to vote at Peterloo, it is an ongoing scandal that so many of our parliamentarians remain unelected. Few could deny that Westminster is broken. Just 4% of people feel fully able to influence decisions in parliament, according to a BMG poll. It’s no wonder: politics remains undemocratic and hugely centralised, hoarding power for the few when we need to be sharing it.
Labour’s slogan “for the many, not the few” can only be realised by committing to replacing the unelected House of Lords with a PR-elected scrutiny chamber, representing all the nations and regions of the UK.
With a general election mandate from the public, this can be done in the first five years after winning power. Polling for the Electoral Reform Society shows what a vote-winner overhauling this private members’ club could be. With overwhelming cross-party support for change, this is a powerful coalition which Labour must lead. Committing to real reform would show that Labour stands for all voters, not just a privileged elite.

Pauline Bryan Labour peer, Lynn Henderson PCS national officer, former TUC Scotland president, Shavanah Taj vice president of Wales TUC, Sam Tarry TSSA national political officer and PPC for Ilford South, Alexandra Runswick director of Unlock Democracy, Holly Rigby journalist

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/nov/07/labour-must-embrace-radical-electoral-reform

[6] Briefing here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/parliamentary-briefings/locked-out-of-the-lords-the-state-of-the-second-chamber/ 

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