Ruth Kelly, Chair
I’m delighted to write the foreword to this year’s Electoral Reform Society Annual Report, reflecting on what has been a busy, challenging but also successful year for the Society against the backdrop of an increasingly turbulent period in our politics.
The political chaos we’ve seen in Westminster has given new prominence to our work – or perhaps just shone a light on its importance that many of us already knew.
As our creaking constitution has stumbled from crisis to crisis I’m proud that the Society has been there with answers to show that there is another, better way.
This year we have seen historic votes in favour of PR from UNISON, Unite and the Labour Party Conference. These successes build on years of campaigning and relationship building across the political spectrum. It struck me that the news bulletin on the day of the Labour vote described PR not as something suspect, but as something familiar and straightforward – “the system used in the Welsh Parliament”. After more than two decades of using PR in elections in Britain, the case for fair votes at Westminster is stronger than ever.
I’d like to thank the ERS staff team who have all continued to drive this work forward over the last twelve months. The collective effort from across the organisation has strengthened our position as the leading voice of democratic reform in UK politics, helped us reach new audiences with our work and built strong foundations for our work in the months and years ahead.
I’d also like to pay tribute to the ERS Council for their work and support in the governance of the Society – their contribution and insights have been valuable and strengthened the organisation immensely.
And finally, a word on our members and supporters. The strength of the Electoral Reform Society has always been that it is just that – a society made up of thousands of committed reformers who have supported our work and helped spread our message across the UK. Without you, we couldn’t do what we do.
I look forward to working with you all in the year ahead as we continue to build new alliances for democratic reform and make a compelling case for change.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive
This year has undoubtedly been one of the most turbulent years in modern political history, but one that has given democratic reformers both the justification for the need for a new kind of politics but also much cause for hope that change is indeed possible.
At the start of the year, we had one prime minister, nobody would have predicted by the end we’d have had two more. The chaos of First Past the Post is clear for all to see. We’re ending 2022 facing a range of crises – from the rising cost of living to energy prices and climate change – each in different ways a symptom of Westminster’s broken politics.
We’ve seen what happens where our winner-takes-all electoral system, unearned one-party majorities and command and control politics lead to a culture of sleaze, and cronyism – where internal party battles take precedence over the priorities of ordinary people.
But more and more people are seeing that reform of our political system is not just a nice-to-have, but the foundation for achieving the kind of change we need to tackle the problems we face as a country. An electoral system that represents the views of every voter is a vital part of a democracy that delivers for every voter too.
This year was the first full year of our new strategic plan – A Future Built on Democracy – and with it a renewed focus on both building a case for reform and setting out the policies our politics needs. In this time, we’ve seen real success and new opportunities to deliver on our issues. From Labour’s support for proportional representation at this year’s party conference to an agreement on Senedd reforms in Wales – the green shoots of a fairer democracy are there to see.
We’re proud to have helped nurture these changes through our work throughout 2022. By using our voice in the media, developing in-depth research and policy, campaigning and influencing and making the case online we’ve led the charge for reform.
But we know we cannot achieve the change we want to see alone. This year we’ve worked alongside many others to campaign for a better politics. We’ve worked with organisations such as the IPPR, Conservative Action for Electoral Reform and many others. As part of the Labour for a New Democracy coalition alongside groups such as the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, Politics for the Many, Make Votes Matter we’ve driven PR up Labour’s agenda and secured a historic victory in support for PR within the party. As a founding member of the Democracy Defence Coalition, we’ve worked with Fair Vote, Open Britain and Unlock Democracy to campaign against the government’s dangerous plans for voter ID in the Elections Bill. As part of the new Democracy Network, chaired by our own Dr Jess Garland, we’ve come together with other organisations that share our values to put democracy at the centre of political debate.
And of course, nothing we do would be possible without the continued support of our members and supporters. Over 5,400 of you continue to support our work each month and act as cheerleaders for reform in your communities across the country. Your continued support in these difficult times is more appreciated than ever.
But we know the difficulties we face in delivering change. Honesty is one of the three values that underpin our work and it would be remiss of us not to be upfront about the challenges we face as the opportunity for reform continues to grow.
As the case for reform builds, so will its opposition as attacks from supporters of the status quo continue to build with it. That’s why we must continue to champion our cause and make the case for reform wherever and whenever we can.
The ERS’s fundamental belief that politics can be better than it is feels truer than it’s ever been.
As we look back on what we’ve achieved this year and our plans for the year ahead, we do so knowing that our vision for a democracy fit for the 21st Century is all the more important.
Labour backs Proportional Representation at Conference
Convincing Labour to make a cultural shift and become a party that supports Electoral Reform is an integral part of our theory of change as laid out in our strategic plan. In September of this year we made historic progress towards that end. This was the culmination of many years of building a campaign for PR within the trade union movement (Politics for the Many) and of being part of the Labour for a New Democracy Coalition, the group that organised so skilfully within Labour to build support in branches and in constituencies and to position PR as a winnable option.
Over the last year we have worked closely with Labour for a New Democracy (L4ND), the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and Politics for the Many to build up support ahead of the successful vote on the pro-PR motion at the Labour conference in September. Throughout the year we worked to create a compelling communications campaign to build support for PR in and outside the Labour Party.
We worked closely with all three organisations before and during the Labour conference to build the case for PR in Labour facing media. During the conference we also worked closely with L4ND to provide comms support, briefing journalists and supporting digital comms, before and after the successful vote. After years of testing and developing messaging linking PR to wider problems of representation and lack of equality in the UK, these arguments were repeated back at Labour Conference.
The highly impressive work of L4ND at conference ensured that the composite motion remained the strongest possible including a commitment to have PR in the Labour manifesto. It was passed by an overwhelming show of hands.
Only USDAW and GMB trade unions voted against the motion. The two big unions who had recently switched policies, Unite and Unison, voted for the motion with Unite speaking in favour. This was following years of work by Politics for the Many building support from the branch levels up in the trade unions.
Unison Vote and Politics For The Many
Unison changing their policy to support PR was another historic first this year. It opened the door to victory at Labour conference and keeps us on track for further progress in the months to come. Politics for the Many was a campaign set up in 2018 by active trade unionists and supported by ERS. It has been steadily building support for our cause with Unite changing policy last year.
A programme of highly intensive work this year was aimed at the 2022 Unison national policy conference. This work included a concerted campaign to build a database of contacts within the union at branch level by phone rounds, recruiting supporters and connecting them to each other, organising over 12 branches to submit policy motions on PR, targeted communications on social media, and in blogs and opeds, and events to help solidify support.
At Conference we had a stall, leafleting campaign and held an event for delegates. The PR motion itself was placed well down the agenda but a concerted effort by the campaign meant that the vote was prioritised, voted on and passed by around 80% of the conference.
Senedd (Welsh Parliament) Reform
We have been campaigning for nearly a decade to see a reformed Senedd (Welsh Parliament) and this year saw the biggest progress yet. A deal between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru and a separate cross-party committee report finally saw proposals pass the Senedd to increase its size from 60 members to 96, change its voting system to a proportional list system and integrate measures to ensure gender equality into this new system.
This has been a long time coming. Back in 2013 we published our Size Matters report, making the case for a larger Senedd. Since then we’ve worked closely with political parties, meeting Senedd members and party leaders, working with constituency parties and giving evidence to a number of committees on the subject.
Last year we aimed to get the parties to commit to reform in their manifestos ahead of the 2021 election, and three of the four parties returned to the Senedd did so. We are now expecting the Welsh Government to publish legislation reforming the Senedd by the end of next year and these changes to come into effect for the next election in 2026.
Media and Press
ERS in the Press 2022
In many ways 2022 has been a year of unprecedented volatility in modern British politics. However, throughout the year we have worked to ensure electoral reform and democratic issues were leading headlines. Our communications and press team provided in-depth analysis, opinion pieces and interviews to journalists, pushing vital democratic issues higher up the news agenda to increase public support.
The year started with the Government passing the Elections Act mandating that voters will have to show ID when they vote. The ERS provided comment (in print and video) warning of the damaging impact this would have on democracy that was covered in the Mirror, Independent, Politics UK and National in Scotland. In January, the ERS was also covered making the case for reforming the House of Lords in the Express, when Conservative MPs flirted with the idea of abolition after peers blocked the Government’s protest bill.
In March, the ERS was covered in the Times highlighting the still “shocking lack of representation” of women in parliament for International Women’s Day. And in April a report co-produced with IPPR, was covered prominently the Observer warning of the dramatic loss of faith young people have in democracy to make their life better.
In the lead-up to and during the local elections in April and May there was coverage of ERS research highlighting the absurdly disproportionate result FPTP produces in MyLondon, the Camden New Journal and Islington Tribune. In Wales, there was also widespread coverage, including on Wales Online, of ERS research showing fewer than a third of council candidates were women.
In April our report with Prof. Sir John Curtice on how Scottish voters were using STV to express their preferences was covered widely, including by ITV, the Daily Mail, the Independent, Politics.co.uk, the Scottish Express and the Nation in Wales.
Following the Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield by-elections, when there was national media debate about the implications of co-operation between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, ERS research on what PR would have meant for previous General Elections was reported on in the Spectator and Times. The Scotsman also ran an oped from our Director of Campaigns, Willie Sullivan, on how PR could end the scourge of tactical voting.
The ERS has also led on issues such as continued expansion of the Lords and the latest honours lists, with comments on the need to reform the upper chamber in the Financial Times as well as coverage in the Guardian of research showing more than half of the public were opposed to Boris Johnson’s controversial list of new peerages.
Our chief executive, Darren Hughes was also interviewed by the Washington Post for an article explaining to American readers what the House of Lords is and the urgent case for reforming it.
Throughout the summer, the ERS highlighted the growing need for democratic renewal with coverage in the Independent on how the issue needs to be a priority for Keir Starmer in August, as well as calls on the Conservative leadership candidates to restore trust in politics, covered in the Mirror.
Over the Summer, the ERS was also focused on supporting colleagues in the trade union movement and Labour to successfully pass pro-PR motions in the union Unison in June and then at the Labour Party in September. We worked with partner organisations such as Politics for the Many and Labour for a New Democracy (L4ND) to coordinate a series of op-eds ahead of the respective conferences to powerfully make the case for electoral reform, such as in Labour List and in the Observer.
More recently, the ERS has researched and commented on the prospect of Liz Truss issuing a resignation honours list after just six weeks in office. Our comments that peerages cannot be “rewards for failure” were covered by the Mirror, Sunday Times, Daily Mail, i News, as well a wide range of regional titles. The ERS has also been at the forefront of keeping the debate going on the incoming voter ID requirement as part of the Elections Act. In October our comments on the need for mirrors and screens to be bought into polling stations were carried in the Mirror and i paper.
In Wales, ERS Cymru has also featured prominently in coverage of democratic issues, such as the Welsh Government’s plans to expand the Senedd, replace AMS with a more proportional voting list system and introduce statutory gender quotas, which was announced earlier this year. ERS Cymru’s director Jess Blair has featured on Wales Online as well as the BBC’s Walescast podcast and ITV’s Sharp End debate programme discussing the proposals.
Elsewhere, ERS Cymru has led on wider democratic reforms in the country, including pilots to increase voter turnout covered by the BBC and improving the teaching of democratic issues in schools.
Meanwhile, in Scotland the ERS has been raising the salience of democratic issues. This has included being quoted on the need to clean up ‘dark’ political money in Scottish politics, covered in the Times, and also on how to improve Scottish local democracy, which has been covered in the Herald and the Times.
Number of media hits Nov 2021 – October 2022
Almost 2,000 news and comment pieces mentioned the ERS’s work in 2022, this was driven by our work furthering the cause of electoral reform in the UK as well as campaigning for a more democratic House of Lords.
This compares to roughly 1,000 mentions in the previous year. The main drivers of hits was coverage of ERS work at three main points in the year. The highest was news Liz Truss was planning a ‘rewards for failure’ resignation honours list after fewer than 50 days in power (which generated more than 400 mentions), followed by news Boris Johnson was due to inflate the size of the Lords further with his own resignation list (generating more than 200 mentions) and the news Labour had passed a pro-PR motion at its conference (generating just under 200 mentions).
Our Research and Publications
Our Research and Publications
Across this year, our research team has continued to conduct independent, in-depth and timely research into the state of our political system. Conducting high-quality research is key to achieving our strategic goals as it provides the evidence base for our policy and campaigns. Findings are fed into government consultations, presented to select committees and quoted in parliament as well as shaping and driving our commentary in the media.
In March, we published Democracy Made in England: Where Next for English Local Government?. In this report, we made the case that it is not for Westminster to decide how local communities should see themselves and how they should be governed, but to set out how those communities can choose their own governance, how citizens can themselves reinvigorate local democracy.
We set out a series of concrete reforms calling for a clear framework for devolving power to local authorities, reforming English local government elections with proportional representation and the creation of an elected House of Lords with representation from all nations, regions and local areas of the UK.
With devolution on the agenda for all political parties, this piece of work allowed us to show how electoral reform plays a crucial role in sharing power and should be a central part of the Government’s and other parties’ devolution proposals. As part of our research we surveyed all local councillors in England on their views about local power and electoral reform. This was also a great opportunity to connect with local representatives about these issues. The report was well received and we will be using it as the framework for our continuing work on rebalancing power.
As the leading campaign for your democratic rights, the ERS works closely with top academics from across the UK and internationally, and this year we commissioned elections expert Professor Sir John Curtice to conduct analysis of the 2017 Scottish Local Election results.
The Power of Preferences: STV in Scottish Local Elections explores how, after several elections under their belts, the voters of Scotland have utilised the power of the Single Transferable Vote. The results show an electorate that has embraced this new form of voting – ranking their preferences instead of being forced by a winner-takes-all system to take a gamble on one option, which they often view as the least worst.
Scottish local elections are an opportunity to show how STV works in practice. We have produced reports on these elections since the first STV election in 2007. This series allows us to see how voters have used the system over successive elections. These reports also help us explain and demonstrate how STV works for those who are unfamiliar with it.
After this year’s Scottish local elections, the ERS research team continued to build an extensive and unique dataset of the results, and we are again working with Professor Sir John Curtice to produce a new report that will be published in the near future.
Relative to the rest of the UK, Scotland has made progress when it comes to electoral reform. Yet much more can, and must, be achieved when it comes to building a Scottish democracy fit for the challenges of the 21st Century. Our team at ERS Scotland have been working hard to put local democracy reform at the heart of this discussion, so to coincide with the local elections we co-authored a pamphlet By Us and for Us: How Scottish local democracy can build and strengthen community.
Informed by over a decade of testing out innovative forms of citizen-led decision-making, this pamphlet sets out a vision of how we can revive local democracy in Scotland. We hope for this to be a provocation to all who are interested in local democracy, stimulating the creativity and imagination required to think that something different might be possible.
In November, ERS Cymru published Time for Change: The 2022 Welsh Local Elections and the case for STV, an analysis of the local elections in Wales, which highlighted the problems of a First Past the Post election. With councils in Wales now able to vote to move to STV this report made the case for councillors to grasp the nettle, highlighting the benefits of Scotland’s move to STV and showing how this compared to a more disproportionate election under FPTP.
Another important aspect of our research is understanding how people think about democracy and the types of reforms that we campaign on. This helps us to understand our campaign environment better and to persuade political parties of the importance of these issues for voters.
Earlier in the year, we collaborated with IPPR to produce Road to Renewal – a joint research project that sets out the case for democratic reform highlighting how far away from our politics ordinary voters feel.
We have held a number of meetings and events this year sharing our findings. We also completed a piece of research looking at attitudes to democracy, politics and democratic reform. This research is aimed at raising salience of democracy issues and encouraging more members of the public to engage in democracy campaigning. We have shared these findings with our fellow democracy campaigners across the sector so they can also use this learning.
Behind the Scenes
Behind the Scenes
To change the electoral system for Westminster we need legislation to go through parliament. Building connections with politicians is incredibly important because this allows us to better understand their existing priorities, the shifting party dynamics in which they operate, to become a source of trusted information by providing evidence-based research on a variety of democratic issues which enables politicians to feel confident when approaching us with concerns regarding upcoming legislation or wider constitutional issues.
Our work behind the scenes consists of promoting our reports and events, meeting with MPs and their staff to better understand their democratic concerns, gathering information to identify politicians who might share our goals, working closely with other organisations in the democracy sector, supporting MPs to highlight democratic concerns to the government and organising events to facilitate conversations amongst politicians around our policy issues.
A key area of work for us this year was our campaign against the Elections Bill which reached its final stages in parliament in the early part of the year. The bill was set to introduce voter identification laws for all non-devolved elections, change the voting system for mayoral and PPC elections to First Past the Post, put new restrictions on campaigners and give the government powers over our independent elections regulator, the Electoral Commission. We continued to highlight concerns and press for change during the latter stages of the bill.
Work we carried out while campaigning against the Elections Bill included drafting amendments to the bill for parliamentarians to table, providing tailored briefings for MPs and Peers both in person and written, liaising with front bench MPs and key groups within all the political parties, and supporting a rally at parliament. We used our research and understanding of the technical details of the policies in the bill to help shape the campaign to change the legislation – including moves to repeal the introduction of FPTP for mayoral elections.
Thanks to our work behind the scenes working closely with MPs, civil society organisations and those across the democracy sector, we won an amendment to the Elections Bill which would have ensured fewer people were disenfranchised by the introduction of Voter ID. Sadly in the final stages of the bill, with the Government pressing for prorogation and whipping strongly, these amendments were overturned.
Another aspect of our Parliamentary work is engaging with All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs). APPGs bring together MPs and Peers from across different political parties who have a shared interest in a particular topic. This year we have continued our work with APPG for Electoral Reform. Launched in February 2021, the APPG is a group of MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum working towards a more proportional voting system for all UK elections, while pushing for other reforms to boost democracy at Westminster and empower voters.
Alongside Make Votes Matter we provide the secretariat for the Electoral Reform APPG. This means planning a yearly agenda that the APPG will follow, organising invitations, guest speakers and facilitating APPG meetings on a regular basis to share important research, academic opinions and political experience concerning democratic issues.
This year we have organised several meetings around the theme of ‘The Democratic State of the Nations’ in which we have heard first hand experience from politicians and research from academics on a range of topics. We covered the Elections Bill and the impact of Voter ID hearing evidence from Kyle Taylor of Fair Vote UK and Pakou Hang of Vote Run Lead discussing the issue of voter suppression in the United States and Dr Nik Johnson, Peterborough and Cambridgeshire’s metro mayor, on how the Government’s instruction to impose First Past the Post for mayoral elections represents democratic backsliding. We presented our Democracy Made in England report and heard from Chris Clarkson MP and former Secretary of State, John Denham.
For the APPG meeting on Scotland’s experience with deliberative democracy we heard from Scottish Government Minister George Adam MSP and Dr Oliver Escobar. Our final meeting of the calendar year will be looking at the package of electoral reforms in the Welsh Senedd highlighting the variations of democratic initiatives and policies across the UK nations.
In Cardiff Bay
The ERS Cymru team have had another busy year working on two major areas, Senedd reform and local government reform, and have seen significant progress within both areas.
The ERS Cymru team have been instrumental in providing Senedd Members and political parties in Wales with salient and vital information on all aspects of potential PR electoral systems as part of the campaign to reform the Senedd. While every Senedd Member has received a written briefing on the pros and cons of different electoral systems, face to face meetings and presentations also took place, including with Ministers, party leaders and other senior Senedd members.
The Welsh team were also focused on Local Government reform. In January 2021 the Local Government and Elections Wales Act 2021 was passed – and one of the standout parts was that it enables a council to choose between STV and First Past the Post to elect their council chambers.
This part of the Act came into force following the local elections in May of this year, however, work was already underway by ERS Cymru. In the years prior, a survey to find out where support lay for PR was sent out to all councillors. During this time the team also met with sixty-nine councillors, from all parties and at least one from every local authority in Wales trying to build up a strong network of supporters. Since the election the ERS Cymru team has built on its work during the 2017-22 term, whilst adapting to the new political landscape.
Target local authorities have been identified and there has been an increase in work in those areas including face-to-face meetings with councillors in their wards. Circulation of another survey, this time directly asking councillors their views on changing their electoral system, has seen an improved return with more than a third of local representatives giving their views. We have met with 17 councillors so far including the leaders of two target local authorities.
We were instrumental in establishing the group ‘Plaid councillors for STV’ which brings together Plaid Cymru councillors who support STV and continue to provide secretariat and recruitment support for the group.
Our work on local government reform in Wales led to members of the ERS Cymru team visiting East Ayrshire in Scotland in April of this year. Colleagues from our Welsh and Scottish offices spent a week observing the campaigns of different parties, learning directly from the experiences of voters, party members, councillors and candidates. By talking to people with different experiences of an STV election we have a more comprehensive understanding of some of the practicalities which in turn allows us to speak to councillors in Wales and better answer their questions.
We have produced four short films that will hopefully give our supporters and elected representatives an insight into the Scottish experience of STV.
When the Scottish local elections came around in May of this year, the ERS Cymru team returned to East Ayrshire to witness an election count under STV. Again, the insight gained was invaluable. Not only did it allow us to see the end point of the election, the differences and nuance of a count under STV, but it also meant we were able to strengthen the connections between ourselves and the candidates we had campaigned with in April. ERS Cymru now has links with councillors in East Ayrshire that could be an asset to the campaign in Wales.
This year the team at ERS Scotland have continued their campaign for a truly local democracy in Scotland researching the effectiveness of representative democracy in Scotland, campaigning for improvements in the processes of government, and seeking to promote discussion about Scotland’s democratic future.
At ERS Scotland we are constantly monitoring the political seas and updating our course to make sure we have the proper heading. Following this year’s local elections and the elections to the Scottish Parliament in 2021, we set out our goals for the coming years.
ERS Scotland took further steps with their project to pilot citizen-led decision making at a local level, beginning to draw more partners into the project and looking into potential sources of funding for it. In March the Ministerial Working Group which ERS Scotland’s director Willie Sullivan was a member of, published a comprehensive report which advises how and why deliberative and participative processes should be embedded within Scotland’s democratic system.
The Scottish Parliament’s lobbying register is currently under review, and in collaboration with the Scottish Alliance on Lobbying Transparency we engaged with the Minister and committee responsible to argue that we urgently need more transparency over who influences policy.
We also began work with Sortition Foundation and others to help flesh out the Scottish Green Party’s policy on participation, looking to bring some of our local democracy expertise to bear on how citizens’ assemblies and participatory methods can be institutionalised at all levels of government. This potential amendment to their policy will be debated as a motion at an emergency meeting soon.
We also continued our engagement with Scottish unions, including ERS Scotland staffing a Politics for the Many stall at STUC Congress in April.
We were invited to make a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Citizen Participation and Public Petition Committee as part of their inquiry into Public Participation and will sit on the stewarding board of the ‘mini public’ which will review the evidence.
Conferences and Events
Conferences and Events
Having a presence at the major party conferences is a key activity in our campaigning work. Party conferences provide us with plenty of opportunities to get our issues in front of people that can make a difference. Across a typical conference we host fringe events to generate top level discussions on our issues, meet with key stakeholders in the party and MPs, and come together with our allies from across the movement to make the case for fair votes.
With Labour voting on a motion to support proportional representation, this year’s conference was a historic opportunity.
At Labour conference we hosted two key partnership events. Working with partners means we can talk to party members who aren’t already convinced about the need for PR. With DEMOS and the Democracy Network we had a brilliant discussion on how we can build a better democracy. It was great to hear contributions from David Lammy MP, ERS’ Director of Policy and Research, Dr Jess Garland, Unlock Democracy’s Tom Brake and Jessie Joe Jacobs from the Democracy Network. The social nature of the event meant that the ERS team could spread out and talk to Labour members, councillors and prospective parliamentary candidates directly.
For the second event we were joined by a packed room of attendees for a panel that we hosted alongside IPPR, where we heard from David Lammy MP, Thangham Debbonaire MP and Dr Hannah White from the Institute for Government on discussions around how we can renew democracy in an age of authoritarians. Panels like this allow us to discuss how proportional representation can help solve problems in the real world.
We also supported events hosted by Labour for a New Democracy and Politics for the Many including a fringe event and a rally on PR. In between these events we squeezed in as many meetings with Labour figures as we could, and grabbed every opportunity to talk to those who were not yet convinced. You can read even more about our activities at this year’s Labour conference in our blog post: Darren’s Diary: The ERS team at a historic Labour Conference.
At Conservative Conference in Birmingham, we hosted an event together with the campaign group Conservative Action for Electoral Reform (CAER). In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland proportional representation has ensured that Conservative voters get Conservative representatives, when First Past the Post would have seen them ignored. It was a great turnout and a packed panel with Chris Clarkson MP and Cllr Emma Best making a serious case for Conservative members to better understand the clear benefits of PR and the positive impact it can have on voter confidence and the future of their political party. Panels like this facilitate discussion around democratic reform that would otherwise not take place, including addressing misconceptions with evidenced based information.
Due to Liberal Democrat conference being cancelled our event did not go ahead but we did attend Scottish Liberal Democrat conference and hosted an ‘In Conversation’ event with Alistair Carmichael MP to a packed room.
We also held a successful fringe event at SNP conference looking a how citizens in Scotland can be part of building a democracy fit for the 21st Century with Angela Constance MSP and Dr Malcolm Harvey, Aberdeen University lecturer and Centre on Constitutional Change fellow.
While the ERS focuses resources on the major parties, the team seeks to attend every conference to hold meetings, talk to activists and build support for reform.
Earlier in the year, we joined forces with fellow campaign groups Labour for a New Democracy and Politics for the Many at UNISON conference. This conference also saw a historic vote in which the union went on to support the adoption of PR for UK general elections. Ahead of the vote, we made sure we seized all opportunities to drum up support for proportional representation by talking to delegates and running popular fringe events.
We also had a presence at COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow at the tail end of 2021. Here, we made key connections with the environmental movement and started to link the environmental and democratic projects with a clear message: we cannot tackle climate change without changing the ways we are governed. This campaign culminated in us running three separate events in Glasgow on the middle Saturday of the conference, termed the Day of Action.
On this global Day of Action we took our message to the streets of Glasgow and London. We talked to hundreds of people, distributed (eco-printed) leaflets and hosted an event in the heart of Glasgow, spreading the message that to solve the climate crisis we must change our democracy from the ground up. The response from the people we spoke to was that they’re fed up with political inaction on climate change, losing faith in the democratic system and want reforms that hold politicians to account and deliver a sustainable and just change for people and the planet. You can watch the film from our Transforming Democracy to Save the Planet workshop here.
Coalition Building and Working with Other Organisations
Coalition Building and Working with Other Organisations
Working in coalition with fellow campaigners in the democracy sector is a key strategic aim for us. By teaming up with other organisations in the sector, we can bring different strengths and campaigning strategies ensuring that our impact is greater than the sum of our parts.
Some of the partnership work we have been involved in this year includes:
Working closely with Labour for a New Democracy on changing Labour’s policy on PR. We have been supporting the campaign, including holding joint events and stalls with the Politics for the Many campaign at party and trade union conferences. We have also been working with Labour for a New Democracy to get Labour support in Scotland, including chairing their excellent meeting at Scottish Labour spring party conference.
We have helped in the initiation of the new Democracy Network with ERS staff members taking roles as Chair of the steering group and on the reference group. The Democracy Network is a network for people and organisations working on issues of power and democracy across the UK and enables organisations to collaborate and connect to increase our campaign strength.
We teamed up with a range of organisations from the democracy sector and beyond who were campaigning on the Elections Bill to form the Democracy Defence Coalition. Organisations including Unlock Democracy, Fair Vote and Hands Off Our Vote joined together in raising concerns about the bill and lobbying for changes to the legislation.
We joined with Compass, Sortition Foundation, Unlock Democracy and Make Votes Matter at COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow for the Democratise to Decarbonise campaign.
In Wales we worked with Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales, Race Council Cymru and the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team (EYST) Wales to establish the Diverse 50:50 campaign, which made the case for measures to increase diversity being a part of any deal to reform the Senedd. This campaign won Campaign of the Year at the Wales Online Diversity and Inclusion Awards.
We have also continued to run the Democracy Group Cymru, a coalition we established in light of the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds in Wales. This coalition now has over 60 organisational members, including big organisations like Welsh Government and the Electoral Commission, and key charities who work with under registered groups such as RNIB, Llamau and Diverse Cymru. We hold regular meetings and worked together to plan engagement activities around the local elections back in May, which included hustings and resources being sent out to young people.
Our Members and Supporters
Our Members and Supporters
We are incredibly thankful to the over 5,400 members of the Society that support our work.
With each year, we continue to see our membership grow and we are of course, incredibly appreciative of the thousands of members who have continued to support us over the years. By surpassing 5,000 members we have now reached the highest number of members in the last two decades we have records for.
Being an ERS member means that you’re joining our campaign at its heart. Members’ contributions support our work in parliament, in the press and online – making the case, and backing it up – for how we can fix Westminster’s broken system. In short, our members are helping us win the fight for electoral reform.
Support our work, become a member.
We are also grateful to the 90,000 supporters who follow our work by subscribing to our emails.
Keeping our Members Informed
It’s very important to us that we keep our members and supporters informed on how we are campaigning for change. Over the last 12 months, our membership team has continued to work on improving our communication with our members – giving our members the best opportunity to keep themselves informed on the work they are supporting.
Each quarter we send out a ‘Members’ Quarterly’ email – an exclusive members-only newsletter which gives an update on our behind the scenes campaigning work across all three ERS offices in London, Wales and Scotland.
This year we have also continued our series of ‘Members’ Insights’ emails, in which various members of the ERS staff team explain how their work within the organisation fits into our wider campaign goals.
Here are some of the insights given by the team:
“Online campaigning means we can tailor the level of detail to the audience, but give them the tools to find out more, if they want.
For many people, highlighting the failures of first past the post is enough, for a sub group we need to explain proportional representation, for some of them we need to promote STV as the best system and for the really engaged we need to talk about the difference between the Hare and Droop quotas.
Rather than trying to answer everything in one pamphlet and end up alienating half the audience and patronise the other half, we can get the right info to the right people when they want it, and hopefully take them on a journey with us.”
Doug Cowan, Digital Officer, on why our online presence is so important in supporting our campaign for a better democracy
“Every day is different in ERS Cymru and that’s part of the reason my job is so great. I could be meeting with politicians or people working in the third sector, writing briefings or press releases, attending events or even doing TV or radio to communicate our messages. We are really lucky to be based very close to the Senedd so we’re often there meeting with MSs or even watching important debates on our issues.”
Jess Blair explaining her typical day as Director of ERS Cymru
#ERSlive Members’ Talks
Following last year’s successful events, this year we continued to host a series of online talks and webinars – exclusively for members of the Society. Our events included:
What can we expect from the Scottish Local Elections? with Sir John Curtice
In the lead up to the Scottish Local Elections this year, we were delighted to be joined by elections expert Professor Sir John Curtice for an evening of insight and analysis on what we were to expect in the upcoming polls.
Prof Curtice discussed the findings of his new report, The Power of Preferences: STV in Scottish Local Elections – taking an in-depth look at the results from 2017 and how voters make use of the Single Transferable Vote system used for Scottish local elections.
Where next for English local governance?
Following the publication of our research report Democracy Made in England, we hosted an event in which an expert panel discussed the question, ‘where next for English local government?’ for an inquisitive audience of ERS members.
At the event, chaired by our Chief Executive Darren Hughes, we heard from the report’s author Michela Palese and we were delighted to be joined by academic Arianna Giovannini (De Montfort University/IPPR North) and the Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz.
The event gave ERS members the opportunity to learn more about the report and its findings, plus the chance to hear the perspectives and valuable insights from the expert panel on how a policy of devolution in England could be developed and the principles which should underpin such a move.
Staff, Governance and Finance
The Society’s staff are based in our offices in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
During the year, we said goodbye to two members of the team. Stuart Thomas, our Operations and Fundraising Officer, left the Society in mid-June 2022, after almost 10 years working at the ERS. Stuart worked hard to support staff and Council members over the years. We were sorry to see him go after such a long service to ERS and wish him the best of luck for the future. We also said goodbye to Michela Palese, our Policy and Research Officer, who left us at the end of March 2022 after 4 years working at the ERS. We were sorry to see her go and wish her luck in her new role.
In early January, we were delighted to welcome our new Lakeman Fellow, Peter Smart to the team. The Lakeman Fellowship for Diversity in Politics is a unique work and training opportunity for those under-represented in UK politics. It’s a year-long paid placement which aims to provide tailored support to someone who has a passion for politics, particularly those from ethnic minority and working-class backgrounds.
In March, we also welcomed Mike Wright to the team as Head of Communications. Mike joined us from the Telegraph where he worked as their Social Media Correspondent. We were delighted to welcome Mike to the team.
Thank you to all our staff for their hard work and dedication.
See the current staff team.
The Council is the Electoral Reform Society’s governing body. It consists of up to 15 members, of which 12 are elected by our membership every other year and serve for a two-year term. The last set of elections took place last year, and the next set are due to take place next year.
See the current ERS Council.
Figures are for the 2021 calendar year.
Expenditure in further detail
|Staff Expenditure Breakdown
|England campaigns and research gross staff costs
|Governance and operations gross staff costs
|Scotland gross staff costs
|Wales gross staff costs
|STAFF COSTS TOTAL
|Finance & Investments Detail
|Investment management fees
|Audit, accountancy and bookkeeping
|FINANCE & INVESTMENTS TOTAL
|Campaigns, Communications, Members and Events Detail
|England campaigns, conferences & events
|Members and supporters
|Scotland campaigns, conferences & events
|Wales campaigns, conferences & events
|CAMPAIGNS, COMMUNICATIONS, MEMBERS & EVENTS TOTAL
|Premises (3 sites)
|IT & phone (3 sites)
|Printing, stationery and office supplies (3 sites)
|Governance and HR Detail
|Governance, legal and professional fees
|Strategic planning, internal meetings, awayday
|Council (meetings, elections, induction, training)
|HR, recruitment, staff training & development
|GOVERNANCE & HR TOTAL
|Other Costs Details
|Sundry expenses / contingency
|OTHER COSTS TOTAL
ERS Investment Fund
The ERS Fund is now fully operational and provides the main source of funding for the Society to operate. In 2021 we received £1.3 million from the Fund.
A significant development has been the establishment of a new Finance, Audit, Investment and Risk (FAIR) committee. One of its tasks is to provide governance and oversight for the Fund. The membership is made up members of the ERS Council (four members), the management team (two members) and it has the ability to co-opt outside expertise. The Council co-opted one member in 2022. We are grateful to Stephen Sadler for volunteering his time and skills to the Society and he is already providing invaluable insight and analysis to help us manage our investments.
The FAIR committee is now implementing the investment policy that the Council approved earlier this year.
Our investment manager is Rathbone Brothers plc and we operate a medium risk strategy for the fund, enabling us to use a ‘total return’ model that supports the Society’s operating needs and seeks to protect the value of the remaining capital over time. The FAIR committee and ERS management meet with our investment manager over the year to maintain knowledge of the fund, which has been particularly helpful in the set up phase. We have talked to Rathbones about the Society’s values, particularly around democracy issues, so that investments made for us reflect our values. Rathbones have done considerable work on ESG (environment, social & governance) issues and were recently recognised by the Financial Times/Investors Chronicle awards as “ESG Champion of the Year”. Their annual Responsible Investment Report can be found on their website.
The history of the ERS Fund dates back to 2018, when the Society sold its shares in the former Electoral Reform Services Limited (ERSL), which itself grew out of the ERS. In 2019 we set up an investment fund to produce a regular income for the Society. An investment manager was selected after a competitive tendering process and £41 million was invested in the fund. ERS members voted in 2019 to “entrench” £39 million as an effective, permanent endowment, providing sustainable support for the UK’s oldest democracy organisation for decades to come.