Annual Report 2023: Our Year Campaigning for Change

Posted 08 Nov 2023

Introductions

Ruth Kelly, Chair

I am very pleased to write the foreword to this year’s Electoral Reform Society Annual Report, looking back on what has been another significant and turbulent year in British politics. It has been a year that has thrown into sharp relief how important the work is that the Society does making the case for electoral and democratic reform.

The chaos of 2022 showed how volatile Westminster politics has become, and the year since has been another bruising one for democracy, with the implementation of voter ID denying thousands their right to vote and the House of Lords becoming mired in yet more scandal. This has only heightened the prominence of the causes the Society advances. It is clear there are structural problems with our politics; problems that need fundamental reforms, such as a fairer more representative electoral system for Commons and a new democratic basis for the Lords.

The Society’s mission has never been more important: to show that another way is possible, a better democracy is in reach and current parlous state of our politics is a choice not an inevitability.

Yet this has also been another year of progress on those fronts. Support for proportional representation has continued to gather momentum in the Labour party. In April, USDAW became the latest union to pass a motion in favour of electoral reform, meaning that, along with Unison and Unite, more than two thirds of the affiliated unions now back PR. Then in July the policy document agreed by Labour’s National Policy Forum warned that the current electoral system is causing ‘distrust and alienation’ among voters. Taken with the historic motion passed in favour of PR at the 2022 Labour conference, the party is more institutionally pro-electoral reform that at any time since the days of Keir Hardie. This is no coincidence and is in no small part down to the hard work of the staff of the ERS as well as partners campaigning in the Labour party and trade union movement.

I would like to thank the Society’s staff for making sure it has been at the forefront of the fight to defend and improve our democracy. The ERS has been a leading voice highlighting the damage that the introduction of voter ID has wrought, as 14,000 people were denied their vote in the local elections due to lacking accepted forms of identification.

The ERS has also led the debate over reforming the House of Lords, making the case for the upper chamber to be given a sustainable democratic basis, so the people of this country – not ex-Prime Minsters – decide who shape our laws. Away from Westminster, ERS Cymru has played a prominent role in the coming reforms to the Senedd, such as expanding its size so it can meet its workload, moving to a more proportional voting system and implementing gender quotas to ensure there is always gender equality at Cardiff Bay. Meanwhile ERS Scotland has successfully focused the political debate onto improving local democracy in Scotland with its State of Democracy lecture.

This is my last AGM as a member of the Society’s governing board. I would like to thank the other members of the Society’s Council for their continued stewardship of the organisation and also their invaluable input and advice, which has strengthened its work. I want to thank in particular our vice-chair Jon Walsh, our treasurer Andrew Copson, and Council members Michael Meadowcroft and Richard Wood, who are also stepping down this year – each of them has made valuable contributions to our shared work. Congratulations to all those who have been elected or re-elected this year – thanks to your votes, we have a strong team with diverse experience and expertise to hand the baton to!

Finally, I would like to thank our members and supporters. The strength of the Society comes from the thousands of passionate reformers whose belief in democracy enables us to do the work we do. The fact that we have grown by 600 members and more than 25,000 supporters in the last year is a testament to the strength of the Society’s work and cause.

While I am stepping down from the Council, I look forward, as a member, to continuing to engage with the Society’s work in what promises to be an important year for the cause of electoral reform and the future health of our democracy.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive

​​Darren HughesLast year was one of unprecedented turbulence in British politics. Although 2023 has been relatively calmer than 2022, it is clear that our politics has been left in a weakened state. The story of this parliament is one where the chaos caused by First Past the Post has been exposed and is now writ large.

The Lords has become mired in yet more scandals and the succession of short-term prime ministers – and their resignation honours lists – has caused the second largest legislative chamber in the world to become even more bloated.

The introduction of voter ID in May saw thousands of people barred from exercising their fundamental democratic right at the local elections. There is a danger many more could be caught out at the General Election when many parts of the country will be facing the new requirements for the first time. Our democracy should be making voting more accessible and increasing turn-out, not putting up new barriers between people and the ballot box.

The last years have shown the size of the task of reforming democracy in front of us, and it is not one we can succeed in alone. Which is why our work with our many partners is vital to achieving the meaningful change we all want. For instance, our work with Labour for a New Democracy, the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and Politics for the Many has seen the cause of electoral reform become increasingly salient in the Labour Party and Trade Union movement. Work with Conservative Action for Electoral Reform has built the case on the centre right of politics, whereas our work with Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform has kept the standard flying in the centre ground of politics.

Meanwhile, we have worked with think tanks such as IPPR, Demos and the Institute for Government, to inform the political discourse around electoral reform. We have also worked closely with partners in the democracy sector such as Unlock Democracy, Make Votes Matter and Compass to press the case for electoral reform nationally and also highlight the damage voter ID is doing.

None of this would be possible without the help of members and supporters and their contributions each month enables the work we do. They are the passionate individual advocates who make the case for electoral and democratic reform every day in their communities.

If the last few years have shown up the structural problems with our politics, then 2024 presents a serious chance to start to fix them. The job for us now is to show that a better future is possible. We know that the task ahead is not an easy one and that change rarely happens in the way we envisage.

 

Finally, some thanks. Firstly, to the staff team at ERS who work with so much energy and commitment to our cause. They care about the state of politics right across the United Kingdom and bring creative ideas to achieve our strategic plan.

Secondly, to the board of ERS – the elected members of the Society who volunteer to take on a valuable governance role for our organisation. A special thanks to Ruth Kelly, Jon Walsh, Andrew Copson, Michael Meadowcroft and Richard Wood who are leaving.

Ruth took over as chair during Covid and was critical in guiding us through our strategic plan for this parliament and in the setting up of the ERS Fund. Jon is a previous chair who oversaw the sale of our shares in ERSL that enabled us to have a new investment fund. He dedicated a huge amount of personal time on this for the benefit of the Society. Andrew has led significant changes to the financial governance and scrutiny of the finances, including setting up our new Finance, Audit, Investment and Risk (FAIR) committee. Michael has been a leader in the electoral reform movement for decades – as a former chair of ERS, in Parliament, internationally, and as a writer and speaker. Richard stepped up with a few days notice to join the board and has made a thoughtful and diligent contribution. I know all of them will remain active members of the Society.

Major milestones on the road to reform

Major milestones on the road to reform

Thanks to the hard work of the team, we have reached some of the key milestones we identified on the way to winning electoral reform.

Labour and Unions move towards anti-First Past the Post policy

In a First Past the Post system, it’s almost impossible to win substantial change without the support of a major party. While many individual Labour members and MPs support changing our voting system, historically the Labour party as a whole has been opposed to proportional representation. As such, convincing Labour to make a cultural shift and become a party that supports electoral reform forms an integral part of our theory of change.

The ERS provides support to the ongoing campaign by Labour members in Labour for a New Democracy to win round their party to electoral reform. This year they successfully organised around Labour’s National Policy Forum process which saw the final policy document stating that First Past The Post is flawed and damaging. This position was endorsed wholeheartedly by the Labour conference in October.

This work builds on from the vote in favour of proportional representation by Labour members at Labour Conference in 2022. The vote as supported by a huge majority of the constituency parties and a majority of the affiliated Unions. In April this year USDAW, the shop workers union, came on board as their conference passed a motion against First Past the Post.

With the support of the ERS, trade unionists in Politics for the Many are working to solidify these victories, with events and articles making the case for why electoral reform is a trade union issue.

The Senedd gains the members it needs

Welsh Assembly Size Matters
Size Matters Report, 2013

ERS Cymru has long been campaigning for a reform of the Senedd/Welsh Parliament. We published our Size Matters report a decade ago, calling for the size of the Senedd to be increased and since then have seen a panel of experts and numerous committees within the Senedd agreeing that the Senedd needs more members. At just 60 members, the Senedd is dwarfed by both Stormont and the Scottish Parliament and is the same size or smaller than nearly half of Welsh Councils.

Finally this is being addressed with the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill introduced in the Senedd in September. This Bill, if passed, would see the Senedd increased to 96 members and will introduce a closed list PR system for Senedd elections.

We have responded to the Bill in the press raising concerns around the voting system chosen but welcoming the moves to address capacity issues within the Senedd. We have also submitted written evidence to the Senedd Committee scrutinising the legislation and have also appeared before the committee to share our views and research.

We anticipate a further piece of legislation will be introduced by the end of the year introducing gender quotas to Senedd elections. This is something we have campaigned for as part of the Diverse 50:50 coalition.

Building a coalition for reform

To win a reform as fundamental as changing our electoral system, we will need a broad coalition of organisations, beyond the ‘usual voices’ of democratic reform.

We are building an effective network of groups and organisations who are supportive of democratic reform. This year most of our major projects have been in collaboration or partnership with other organisations helping to maximise our impact and encourage more groups and organisations to get involved in democratic reform.

From PR to voter ID, we have formed a range of new connections across our sector, both in the UK and beyond to other Westminster-style democracies globally, to ensure that we are working as collaboratively and effectively as possible to create change.

Media and Press

ERS in the Press 2023

It has been busy year for the ERS, as we’ve won a lot of media attention on our issues across 2023. Our team have worked with journalists across national and local media to provide in-depth analysis, opinion pieces and interviews, to make the case for electoral reform and push vital democratic issues higher up the news agenda to increase public support.

Our Chief Executive Darren Hughes featured in The Times

The year started with our Director of Research and Policy Dr Jess Garland appearing as the solo guest for a 30 min podcast with the New Statesman in January, to discuss the growing support for proportional representation in the Labour party. That month we also provided a quote from Jess for a Guardian front page story on how one in 10 Tory peers have donated more than £100,000 to the Lords. The latter started a year with growing media interest in the Lords in part due to the honours lists of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

That interest continued as Jess’ comments were picked up in a Sky News investigation into a peer’s undisclosed financial interests. In March, we pitched our Chief Executive Darren Hughes for an op-ed on how the Lords has become a ‘drag anchor’ on our democracy in the Times Red Box and in April the Sunday Mirror ran ERS commissioned polling showing that the majority of the public are against Liz Truss getting a resignation honours list.

Director of Policy and Research, Jess Garland was featured in the Guardian discussing voter ID

From early in the year, the media interest in the potential impacts of voter ID on the May local elections grew, and the ERS appeared on leading outlets to sound the alarm over the damaging policy. We put forward ERS spokespeople and won coverage in numerous print pieces, from the Mirror, to the Financial Times, BBC and Telegraph. Jess Garland also featured in the Guardian with an opinion piece highlighting how the new rules were a threat to our democracy. Alongside this, ERS spokespeople appeared on flagship news programmes, with Darren appearing on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and Kay Burley’s sofa on Sky News. Meanwhile, we organised for Jess Garland to appear on a marathon session in a BBC studio for various local news stations, all of which managed to lift the issue to the top of the news agenda.

The ERS continued to raise the issue after the local elections to highlight the damage voter ID wrought, with Jess Garland quoted in a BBC investigation into the number of people turned away and the Director of ERS Scotland, Willie Sullivan sounding the warning on Good Morning Scotland as to the impact it could have on the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election as well as the General Election. The Director of ERS Cymru, Jess Blair also discussed the potential impact of voter ID in Wales on the BBC’s Radio Breakfast Wales.

During the summer, interest reforming the House of Lords continued with the i newspaper doing a long read on the options for reform, in which Jess Garland was quoted. In August, we secured a slot for Darren to appear as the sole guest on the Bunker podcast to discuss in-depth the case for reform and making the Lords an elected chamber.

Out Director (ERS Cymru), Jess Blair discusses the size of the Senedd with ITV’s Sharp End

In Wales, ERS Cymru has led the discussion on reform to the Senedd, with Jess Blair appearing on Sky News, the BBC and Nation Cymru, among others, to make the case for the expanded Senedd as well as automatic voter registration. Jess also appeared on ITV’s Sharp End in September to discuss the Senedd reforms.

Likewise, in Scotland, the ERS team has been influencing the media to broaden Scotland’s political debate with its on Beyond the Binary work. This year we held the second State of Democracy lecture, now an annual event in the Scottish political calendar. This year Lesley Riddoch delivered a lecture on local democracy, with an op-ed on the lecture in the Scotsman. Willie was also quoted in April in a Ferret investigation into the number of lobbying meetings not being recorded in the transparency register at Holyrood.

Media Hits

The ERS was mentioned in just over 1,000 news and comment pieces over 2023 to date. This is a good result, although not as high as 2022 – a year that saw a couple of high-volume events, such as comment on Liz Truss’s honours list being picked up by the PA news wire and coverage of Boris Johnson’s Lords appointments. The majority of our mentions this year came in the April and May period when interest in voters ID was at its most intense.

Our Research makes the case for reform

Our Research

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.

As we move towards a General Election, it has become increasingly important to understand the attitude of the public towards proportional representation, what the public understand about the term and how best we as a campaigning organisation can speak to the public, and other stakeholders, about PR. This year the research team engaged in qualitative and quantitative work to inform the ERS and sector-wide communications strategies; developing a fresh approach and new language to talk about proportional representation in the lead up to the next general election.

We have also undertaken a research project to explore the most effective ways to increase diversity via changes to the electoral system. Our latest research explores the relationship between electoral systems and gender parity in elected bodies in different countries around the world. This piece of research found that elected bodies which use proportional representation are more likely to have larger numbers of women in their elected bodies than countries which use majoritarian systems.

At the end of last year, the Labour Party’s Commission on the UK’s Future, chaired by Gordon Brown, published its long-awaited proposals for constitutional reform. Having engaged with the process we were very pleased to see a range of ERS policies contained within the final proposals on issues such House of Lords reform, devolution, local decision-making, and mechanisms for cross-nation working. The proposals commit to a smaller elected House of Lords which would take on an additional constitutional role. We have been researching how that chamber could be elected and composed to meet these ambitions and our report on these issues will be published at the end of this year.

In May 2023, English local elections took place with over 8,000 council seats up for election across district, metropolitan and unitary authorities – all of which were elected using FPTP. We took this opportunity to highlight the problems caused by First Past the Post voting, including identifying 34 council wards where 46 councillors were elected without a vote being cast, and highlighting councils where particularly disproportional results had occurred. We continue to make the case that local elections in England should be conducted using STV.

Throughout the year we have also been undertaking a piece of research that will be crucial for our pre- and post-general election output. The constituency boundaries for UK general elections have, after many years of delay, been updated to take account of changes in the size of electorates. As the 650 constituencies are the building blocks of the FPTP system, it is vital that we have an accurate understanding of this new set of constituencies and how they relate to previous ones. Over the year, we have conducted a detailed analysis of the 650 proposed new constituencies, down to ward level, so we fully understand how the new seats relate to the previous ones. This will enable us to conduct a range of new research pieces for the General Election, and gives us a good understanding of which seats are likely to be electorally significant under the new boundaries.

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 and the shifting party dynamics in which they operate. We are building our reputation as a trusted source of information by providing evidence-based research on a variety of democratic issues. This work ensures politicians feel confident when approaching us with concerns regarding upcoming legislation or wider constitutional issues.

Our work behind the scenes consists of meeting with MPs and their staff to better understand their democratic concerns, gathering information to identify politicians who might share our goals and promoting our reports and events. We work closely with other organisations in the democracy sector to support MPs in highlighting democratic issues to the government and organising events to facilitate conversations amongst politicians around our policy issues.

In Westminster

The Elections Act introduced voter ID for local elections for the first time this year. We fought the worst aspects of the bill with Unlock Democracy, Fair Vote and Open Britain, raising awareness of the change and highlight our concerns to parliamentarians.

ERS research was also used this year to create briefings for each stage of the Election Bill’s progress, and in March, create a giant map outside Parliament demonstrating the potential number of voters without ID. This intervention provided an opportunity to meet with parliamentarians to share our concerns ahead of the local elections.

voter ID means that 2068745 UK citizens could be turned away from polling stations

In April, we joined together with Unlock Democracy and Open Britain to hand in nearly 119,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street. The majority of the 118,759 signatures came from the ERS’ own petition which has seen thousands of you call on the Government to scrap these new ID laws.

Voter ID petition hand in

Our campaign was supported by the writer Armando Iannucci, who gave us the message:

Armando-IannucciI share with the many thousands who’ve signed the petition the desire to see these measures scrapped.” 

“This is an expensive, unnecessary and democratically damaging move. How can the Government on one hand say they want more people to take part in the democratic process and then put this additional barrier in the way?”.

Over the course of the year the research team has also responded to a number of parliamentary calls for evidence and consultations on topics such as the House of Lords Appointments Committee, improving electoral registration and the impact of the Elections Act 2022. With a General Election around the corner, we have also been focused on influencing party manifestos and have been meeting with politicians and responding to calls for policy submissions to ensure democratic reform stays on the agenda (and goes in manifestos).appg electoral reform

The ERS Cymru team came to Westminster at the end of November 2022 for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Reform’s meeting on Senedd reform. The ERS is the joint secretary for the group, where we help to organise the meetings. Members of the Welsh Senedd spoke about the changes they were making in Wales enlarging and changing the voting system for the Senedd. This gave us an opportunity to talk about electoral system reform with parliamentarians at a UK level.

Attendees of Sort the System take selfies in the queue
Attendees of Sort the System take selfies in the queue

We were also part of a coalition of democracy organisations that ran a mass lobby of parliament in May calling for proportional representation. The ‘Sort the System’ lobby saw hundreds of activists descend on Westminster demanding MPs of all parties take action in support of proportional representation.

The lobby, which saw hundreds of voters from across the country from constituencies as far afield as Suffolk Coastal, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Blyth Valley and South East Cornwall met with MPs from every region of the country and every party in Parliament.

Supporters of electoral reform also attended a rally in the Emmanuel Centre to hear from a cross-party platform of speakers about the need to reform Westminster to deliver a system in which all votes count equally. Speakers included Clive Lewis MP (Labour), Cllr Hina Bokhari AM (Liberal Democrats) and Zack Polanski AM, Deputy leader of Green Party (England & Wales).

Leading politicians
Speakers at the Sort the System rally

In Scotland

Local Democracy Reform

After being curtailed due to the pandemic, the Scottish Government’s innovative Local Governance Review – Democracy Matters – restarted this summer. This was a welcome development and follows on from regular meetings we have been having with the Bill team as well as lobbying MSPs. The fact that ERS Scotland were the only external organisation asked to provide a quote for the government press release for the launch gives an idea of our position within the long-established campaign for a renewed local democracy in Scotland.

Scottish Democracy Conversations

This year saw us give a name to a strand of work that we have been progressing alongside other projects – Beyond the Constitutional Binary. We are creating a process that allows debate on how to evolve the government of Scotland beyond the Constitutional Question. It has seen us build good relationships with the well-regarded think tanks Our Scottish Future and Reform Scotland, figures in Scottish Labour and the SNP, and academics and thinkers on both sides of the constitutional debate. Our next step is to convene a roundtable of these potential partners in the early months of 2024.

Institutionalising Citizens’ Assemblies

ERS Scotland continues to lead the lobbying for the outcomes of the Institutionalising Participatory and Deliberative Democracy report, which we formed part of the Ministerial Working Group on. We are also progressing our proposals for local standing citizens’ assemblies by looking to set up a pilot project that would test-drive these ideas, to give us something concrete to point to in our meetings with decision makers.

In Wales

In addition to the major changes taking place through reform of the Senedd, there have been other significant developments this year within Welsh democracy.

Changes to Electoral administration

We kicked off the year responding to the Welsh Government’s White Paper on Electoral Administration and Reform, which suggested a series of interventions to remove barriers to voters and improve engagement in Welsh elections.

Those suggestions have now made their way into legislation with the Counsel General introducing the Elections and Elected Bodies Bill in October. The Bill proposes a series of changes we have campaigned for including automatic voter registration, pilots on voting in different places and on different days, and a new online voter information portal. We have worked closely with the Welsh Government as this has developed and have responded with both written and oral evidence to a Senedd committee scrutinising the legislation.

Local Government reform

Members may remember that councils in Wales can now vote to move to STV. This is on an individual basis for each council and requires a two thirds majority, with a vote only being able to be held once per term. As such we have continued to work with councillors across Wales to build support for this change.

We have identified priority areas with a survey of all councillors in Wales which now has over a 66% response rate, meaning that two thirds of councillors in Wales have shared their views with us. We’ve been going to these priority areas, meeting with councillors and council leaders, holding information sessions and doing presentations making the case for the move to STV. We have also been learning from how STV in Scotland works with the ERS Cymru team meeting with Scottish councillors and MSPs to hear their experiences.

The deadline for councils to vote to move to STV ahead of the next local elections in 2027 is November 2024 and we are working closely with councils across Wales to share information and build support.

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.

Rob Richie and Darren Hughes at Lib Dem Conference
Rob Richie and Darren Hughes at Lib Dem Conference

At the Liberal Democrat conference, we held a packed event on how electoral reform has been achieved around the globe, with our Chief Executive Darren in conversation with Fair Vote US’s Rob Richie. We also spoke on the panel in a fringe event held by Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform (LDER), on how reforming the electoral system can been couched in the wider need for democratic reform, which is a theme gaining traction in the national political debate. The latter event also had speakers from Unlock Democracy, Make Votes Matter and Compass, as well as MP Christine Jardine.

Read more about our team’s work at Liberal Democrat conference.

Conservative Action for Electoral Reform
Conservative Action for Electoral Reform

For the Conservative conference in Manchester, we supported and worked closely with Conservative Action for Electoral Reform (CAER) to raise the profile of electoral reform in the party. To this end, we co-hosted a fringe event on reforming the House of Lords, which was well attended and lead to discussion about different forms of electoral systems that could be used in both houses of Parliament. We also supported a second fringe held by CAER with speakers from Unlock Democracy and Make Votes Matter, as well as Emma Best AM from the London Assembly.

Read more about our team’s work at Conservative conference.

Darren Hughes and Mick Antoniw at Labour Conference
Darren Hughes and Mick Antoniw at Labour Conference

At Labour Party conference we teamed up with Demos for a fringe featuring Professor Sir John Curtice who gave an overview of the current political climate with ERS on the panel responding with what this means for electoral reform. We also held a fringe event jointly with the Institute for Government focused on the constitutional issues of PR with Mick Antoniw, Counsel General for Wales and Minister for the Constitution, discussing the benefits of PR in Wales and Darren describing the change in New Zealand. You can listen to this panel discussion in full here. These highly popular events were standing-room only and gave us a great opportunity to talk about the benefits of PR and democratic reform. We also continued to support the work of Labour for a New Democracy at Labour conference, contributing to events and rallies for PR.

Read more about our team’s work at Labour party conference.

We continue to have a strong presence at Scottish party conferences too, this year running a number of well-received fringes at SNP, Scottish Labour, Scottish Lib Dems and Scottish Greens as well as working with CAER to network at Scottish Conservatives. To pick just two of the highlights, at SNP we could have filled a room twice the size with our event on reforming local democracy, while at Scottish Lib Dems we held an ‘in conversation’ between our colleague Jonathon Shafi and their leader Alex Cole-Hamilton.

Read more about our team’s work at SNP conference.

Read more about our team’s work at Scottish Greens’ conference.

We held the second annual State of Scottish Democracy lecture, which we hope will become a fixture in the Scottish political calendar, providing a much-needed health check of Scottish democracy and institutions at a local and national level. This year’s lecture was delivered by Lesley Riddoch, who trailed the lecture with a piece in the Scotsman, and had a particular focus on local democracy and innovative uses of citizen-based decision-making.

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 part of how we will win change. By teaming up we can bring different strengths and campaigning strategies, ensuring that our impact is greater than the sum of our parts.

We are working in collaboration across all our campaigns including pushing for House of Lords reform, automatic voter registration, changes to campaign finance, transparency, women in politics and devolution.

Convening fellow organisations working on achieving PR for the Commons has been a major focus for us this year. We have brought together PR campaigners to understand how we can work effectively together in our campaigning and to share insights and research.

We continue to support the work of the Democracy Network which was established two years ago to provide a place for organisations working on democracy issues to come together collaborate, share and network to increase our campaign’s strength. We are involved in many of the Network’s activities and currently co-chair the steering group.

We also continue to work with the organisations that came together to form the Democracy Defence Coalition in response to the Elections Bill. This year we focused on raising awareness of voter ID in advance of the local elections in England with major events at parliament and in the news.

ERS Scotland has had hugely positive one-to-one meetings with over 25 different community groups as we strive to make our New City Assembly project in Dunfermline (a proposed standing assembly of Dunfermline citizens that would help govern and plan the future of the city) truly community-led.

We were pleased to develop our long-term relationships and support of electoral reformers in North America. We hosted a successful visit by Fair Vote USA founder and president Rob Richie in September. Darren Hughes and Dr Jess Garland have worked on the challenge to First Past the Post using the framework of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Our Members and Supporters

Our Members and Supporters

We are incredibly thankful to the 6,100 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. Reaching these numbers, we are now at 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.

Building our movement of supporters

As well as a thriving paying membership, our wider movement is also growing, with 120,000 supporters receiving regular updates on our work via their email inboxes. Our weekly ERS News email of articles from our website and across the media sees, on average, 50,000 people a week being directed to the stories that matter, that they might otherwise miss.

This year we have been putting extra work into diversifying the geographical make-up of our support. As an organisation committed to ending First Past the Post, we are aware of the dangers of building up high levels of support in safe seats. With this in mind, we worked with agencies to ran campaigns around voter ID and resignation honours appointments in the House of Lords.

Now that we can contact them, we will begin introducing them to the wider problems of our democracy and the root cause that is First Past the Post.

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:

Doug Cowan“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

 

Jessica Garland“What we are trying to achieve is so important to so many people, but it is also a huge task. Working with others enables us to amplify what we are doing but it also means we can bring together different skills and have more impact.

It’s also important for us to continue to reach out and bring new voices into the debate. Elections touch everyone’s lives, whether they vote or not, and the more people who are involved in our cause, the stronger and more impactful we are.”

Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, on our collaborative work with other organisations in the democracy sector

 

Mat Mathias“There is no typical day and long may that continue! One day I could be talking to a Senedd Member about improving political education (because trust me, it needs improving), writing a briefing extolling the merits of backing STV before meeting with local councillors to discuss it or speaking to members of civil society to find ways to make sure people get out and vote. The next day it could be, and often is, completely different.”

 

Mat Mathias explains a typical day as a Projects and Campaigns Officer in our ERS Cymru team

 

Ian Simpson“My favourite piece of work was Democracy Denied: The 2019 Election Audit, which focused on the 2019 English local elections. This work was a culmination of months of preparation and data analysis. The report included data on uncontested seats, where voters were denied a say because only one candidate put themselves forward in their area.

As a result of these findings, the ERS communications team were able to win coverage in the i newspaper, ITV and Financial Times, as well as features in the in the Economist and the Times.”

Ian Simpson, Research Officer, tells us about his proudest piece of work

 

Staff, Governance and Finance

Our Team

The Society’s staff are based in our offices in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

During 2023, we said goodbye to our Communications Officer, Jon Narcross. Jon had been with us for 4 years and made a vital contribution to the smooth and effective running of our communications team in that time. We were sorry to see him go but wish him all the best in his new role. In August, we welcomed Hannah Camilleri as our new Communications Officer. Hannah joined us from Tim Farron MP’s office, where she worked as Communications and Campaigns Assistant.

In early January, we said goodbye to our Lakeman Fellow, Peter Smart who completed his year-long placement with us. Peter contributed to numerous reports, events and blogs during his placement and made a fantastic contribution to our work. 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.

Thank you to all our staff for their hard work and dedication.

See the current staff team.

The Council

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. Elections took place earlier this year, with the polls closing on the 20th of October The newly elected Council will take office after the AGM on the 2nd of December.

Elected Council members serving between the 4th of December 2021 and 2nd of December 2023 are:

  • Ruth Kelly, Chair
  • Jon Walsh, Vice Chair (Management)
  • Lynn Henderson, Deputy Chair (Campaigns & Research)
  • Andrew Copson (Treasurer)
  • Cien Crawley (until May 2022)
  • Kirsten de Keyser
  • Amy Dodd
  • Christopher Graham
  • David Green
  • Pablo John
  • Sandy Martin
  • Michael Meadowcroft
  • Richard Wood (from May 2022)

Co-opted Council members serving from 19th May 2023, for a two-year term are:

  • Kezia Dugdale
  • Stephen Sadler
  • Shavanah Taj

Thank you to all our Council members for their invaluable contribution and commitment to ERS, particularly to those Council members retiring this year – Ruth Kelly, Jon Walsh, Andrew Copson and Richard Wood.

See the current ERS Council.

Finance

In 2021, the Council decided to alter the Society’s financial year so that it aligns with the tax year (1st April – 31st March). To implement this change, the Society adopted a longer reporting period of 15 months between 1st January 2022 and 31st March 2023. These figures should therefore be read with this longer reporting period in mind.

Income (2022-23)

£1,656,683

Expenditure (2022-3)

£2,328,481

The difference between income and expenditure was met by the carry-over of the previous year’s surplus and a drawdown from the ERS Fund under our “Total Return” investment policy model.

Expenditure in further detail

Staff Expenditure Breakdown Total
England campaigns and research gross staff costs £783,462
Governance and operations gross staff costs £165,786
Scotland gross staff costs £167,538
Wales gross staff costs £191,153
STAFF COSTS TOTAL £1,307,940
Finance & Investments Detail Total
Investment management fees £189,911
Audit, accountancy and bookkeeping £17,820
FINANCE & INVESTMENTS TOTAL £207,731
Campaigns, Communications, Members and Events Detail Total
England campaigns, conferences & events £206,002
Members and supporters £39,275
External communications £20,469
Party conferences £70,163
Scotland campaigns, conferences & events £23,138
Wales campaigns, conferences & events £37,537
CAMPAIGNS, COMMUNICATIONS, MEMBERS & EVENTS TOTAL £369,585
Overheads Detail Total
Premises (3 sites) £137,076
IT & phone (3 sites) £43,127
Printing, stationery and office supplies (3 sites) £1,422
OVERHEADS TOTAL £181,625
Governance and HR Detail Total
Governance, legal and professional fees £55,488
Strategic planning, internal meetings, awayday £23,600
Council (meetings, elections, induction, training) £32,583
HR, recruitment, staff training & development £59,631
GOVERNANCE & HR TOTAL £171,303
Other Costs Details Total
Depreciation £53,355
Sundry expenses / contingency £111
Other £9,832
OTHER COSTS TOTAL £63,298

2022-23 was a good financial year for the Society. Our sources of income were strong, with our investments generating more income than expected and our total membership steadily increasing. Following a difficult few years due to Covid, our property income has picked up again and remains stable. Regarding expenditure, we ended the period on budget. The majority of our spend is on our staff, with most of our campaigning, research and policy work being carried out in-house.

ERS Investment Fund

The ERS Fund provides the main source of funding for the Society to operate. In 2022-23 we received £1.34 million from the Fund.

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 Finance, Audit, Investments and Risk (FAIR) committee and ERS management meet with our investment managers throughout the year to maintain oversight of the fund. We have talked to Rathbones about the Society’s values, particularly around democracy issues, so that investments made for us reflect these. Rathbones has a well-established focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues as part of its strategy to lead the field in responsible investing.

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