Annual Report 2021: Our Year Campaigning for Change

Posted 26 Nov 2021

Introductions

Ruth Kelly, Chair

I’m delighted to write the foreword to this year’s Electoral Reform Society Annual Report, as I come to the end of my first year as Chair of the Society.

It has been, as too often in recent years, a turbulent year for our democracy. As some degree of normality began to resume, the stresses and strains of our broken system began to display themselves once again for all to see.

But I’m proud that our strong staff team and committed Council members were able to face the challenges that a turbulent 2021 would bring and face down whatever was thrown at us by our creaking constitution.

Despite the continued difficulties the Coronavirus pandemic has presented, the Society’s research and campaigns work has continued to bring the focus back to the problems of Westminster’s unjust, winner-takes-all politics.

Throughout this difficult twelve months we’ve continued to call for a fairer, more democratic politics with our work for a fairer voting system at the centre of that.

We advanced the cause of electoral reform through our research. We published a new report celebrating two decades of PR in the UK, looking at the benefits of proportional representation in Scotland, Wales and the London Assembly, as well as our campaigning work with Labour for a New Democracy.

The campaign for Labour to back changing Westminster’s electoral system has brought the party’s membership behind the call for reform – with 80% of party members supporting the policy at conference. This was, unfortunately, not enough to change the party’s position on our electoral system. The block vote of Labour’s affiliates caused the motion to fall – but represented a big step forward in securing a commitment to reform from one of our two main political parties.

In Wales, our campaign for a stronger Welsh Parliament took major strides with commitments with three out of four of the parties returned to the Senedd in May backing reform. This has culminated in a new deal between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru, which includes agreement on the size and diversity of the Senedd and leaves the door open for reform of the voting system.

As well as pushing for positive change in our democratic system, I’m proud the Society has been there to push back on some of the more harmful ideas that we’ve seen for how our elections are run.

The ERS has worked collaboratively with campaigners, academics, and politicians to resist the damaging proposals in the Government’s Elections Bill. From exclusionary plans to require voter ID, and the imposition of more First Past the Post voting on our elections, to the threat posed to our independent Electoral Commission – we’ve led the way in calling for ministers to stop and re-think this legislation.

This year the Society also published its new strategic plan – A Future Built on Democracy. The plan brought together months of engagement with members, Council, politicians, staff and other stakeholders as we sought to re-fresh our purpose for the changing political times we find ourselves in. The result will guide our work through to 2024 setting out our five new strategic objectives, as well as how we’ll reach them as we seek to achieve our vision of a democracy fit for the 21st century.

It’s been an honour to chair the Society through this period. I want to particularly thank our departing Council members for all their hard work over the past two years. Justina Cruickshank, Lisa French, Andrea Marcelli, Esther Roberton and Victor Chamberlain did not seek re-election to the board. It has been a pleasure working with you, in what has been a particularly turbulent time for us and our politics more broadly.

I also want to also welcome our new Council members – some returning and some just beginning their roles overseeing the Society – I look forward to working with you to shape the Society’s work in the months and years ahead. This year’s elections saw the highest number of votes ever cast in an ERS Council election – showing the interest in and support of our work across our expanding membership. We now have the largest number of members we’ve had in the two decades on record. We will continue to strengthen the democratic foundations of our own governance, and bring that energy and passion to our work to deepen public involvement in democracy.

We all know that the need for reform of our politics is more important than ever, but as we go into 2022 together, I know the Society is more than ready for the challenge.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive

​​Darren HughesWe’re now almost halfway through this parliament and the effect of our winner-takes-all politics is clear for all to see.

We’re ending 2021 with Westminster engulfed in scandal. MPs’ second jobs, lobbying, the fallout from the handling of Covid contracts and cash for peerages stories are all in the news.

Each one of them a symptom of a broken system where artificial single party majorities and command and control politics reign supreme – leaving the views of voters as a mere afterthought.

The response we’ve heard – that if voters are unhappy with MPs and their behaviour, they can just vote them out – just isn’t good enough. We know that for the millions of voters trapped in safe seats that just isn’t an option, it makes a system where the punishments are different for an MP in a safe seat and an MP in a marginal. At least voters in theory can kick out their MPs, not an option in the unelected House of Lords.

To solve the crises of Westminster we need a new kind of politics – where every vote matters and cooperation lies at the heart of government.

These crises show the realities of our broken political system are never far from the spotlight and that the importance of making a strong and robust case for reform has never been more important.

This year, the Society’s work has done just that. From leading the charge for positive reforms of our electoral system to standing up for voters in the face of proposals for an ever more centralised politics. First Past the Post gives the government of the day the power to shape the very system through which they are elected.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. This year we celebrated two decades of the use of proportional representation in UK devolved elections with the delayed votes for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senedd and London Assembly. Each, in different ways showing the benefits of a system that reflects voters’ choices and fosters collaboration between the parties taking part.

But instead of celebrating the successes of these elections, the government is intent on turning the clock back on our voting system. The Elections Bill will strip away what little power voters have in electing Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) by imposing the broken First Past the Post system on them.

We’ve worked collaboratively with academics, campaigners and experts to lead the charge against these proposals and the government’s power grab Elections Bill. We’ve assembled a broad coalition to call on the government to stop and put the interests and needs of voters at the heart of any legislation they bring forward to change how our democracy works.

But alongside the threats to the fairer parts of our politics, there have been successes too.

ERS Cymru and ERS Scotland have been leading the way in showing that politics can be done differently.

 In Wales, we’ve seen progress towards Senedd reform with a deal between Labour and Plaid, and the passing of local government electoral reform. This is an exciting step forward for elections in Wales, which has seen the franchise extended to 16- and 17-year-olds and, for the first time, given councils the power to adopt the Single Transferable Vote for local elections. Our whole team will be working hard to convince as many councils as we can to make this positive change.

 In Scotland, we’ve continued to make the case for community power in our local government reform campaigns and saw the government-backed citizens’ assembly – on which we have led the debate as a civil society supporter – conclude, showing that there is a place for a more deliberative approach in our politics.

I’d like to thank the outgoing ERS Council for their support in the governance of the Society and offer a warm welcome to our new and returning Councillors – I look forward to working with you for the good of the Society.

I’d also like to thank the ERS staff team who have continued this year to push the organisation forward and cement our place as the leading voice of democratic reform in UK politics.

Together we’ll keep fighting for a politics fit for the 21st Century.

Strategic Plan

Our strategic review process, which had been paused due to Covid, was resumed this year and concluded in May with our new strategic plan. The process sought to understand the environment we are operating in – the political and cultural drivers, and the opportunities and threats, to understand the resources and strengths of the society, where we should be heading, and what the milestones are on the way. We also developed a system of reporting that enables us to adjust and reset our strategy if needed. 

As part of this process we wanted to engage with a broad range of stakeholders. We ran an online survey of our membership and then held a workshop with a diverse group of members. We also did a series of semi-structured interviews with stakeholders including politicians of all parties, other campaign organisations, academics and media commentators. We supported this work with detailed public opinion research and brought together these insights in a series of workshops with council members and staff. 

The resulting strategy can be viewed here: The ERS’ new strategy for 2021-2024: Alliances, agreements and action for real reform

Our Campaigns

Defending the Right to Vote

This year has seen the introduction of a significant piece of government legislation changing the way elections are run, election oversight and how groups are able to campaign. The Elections Bill was introduced in early July and has moved swiftly through the parliamentary process with little time for parliamentary scrutiny.

ERS has been leading the way on many of the concerning aspects of the bill including the introduction of voter ID and attacks on the independence of the Electoral Commission. We have been working closely with fellow democracy organisations to pull together a broad coalition of groups to campaign against these changes.

Thanks to our members and supporters we were able to deliver a petition of nearly 60,000 signatures to Downing Street as part of a coalition of organisations against voter ID. In total 300,000 signatures were presented as part of this campaign against restrictions on our vote.

Over the summer and autumn, we have been analysing the details of the bill, briefing MPs and Peers, giving evidence to parliamentary select committees, and working on amendments to improve the bill, as well as raising awareness of the issues in the press.In Scotland and Wales, the legislation will apply only to elections which are not devolved, potentially creating confusion for voters. We have convened civil society groups in Wales around the issue and have had a significant amount of coverage in the Scottish media. In September, both the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) and Scottish Parliament refused legislative consent for the bill – a rare move for those parliaments to make.

The bill is expected to finish its Commons stages before the end of the year. We will continue to fight this bill to defend the right to vote as it moves to the Lords.

Celebrating Two Decades of Proportional Representation

In July 2021, we published a report, Here to Stay: Two Decades of Proportional Representation in Britain, celebrating the fact that Proportional Representation (PR) has been used for over twenty years, in elections to devolved bodies across the three nations of Britain.

The report included an in-depth analysis of the results of the 2021 elections to each of these bodies, particularly in relation to proportionality of outcomes. The data revealed how election outcomes for each of the devolved bodies has been far more representative of voters’ choices than the outcomes of UK general elections. For example, over the last seven UK general elections in Scotland, the largest party has, on average, been overrepresented by 32.2 percentage points, when comparing seat share versus vote share. For Scottish Parliament elections, the equivalent figure is a much lower 8.4 percentage points.

While celebrating the success of PR over the last two decades, the report also touched on areas where further reform might improve outcomes still further. We highlighted the recommendations from two separate committees that the Senedd should have more members and switch to using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral system.

To get a sense of what it means to voters to be able to vote in PR elections, we sought the views of ERS members and supporters who have voted in these devolved elections over the years. Alongside interviews with pro-PR politicians from Scotland, Wales and London, the voices of our members gave a genuine  insight into what better representation and having your vote count means to people, beyond the statistics.

Local Elections

A large number of English local elections also took place in 2021. We used the English local elections to showcase the shortcomings of FPTP, highlighting highly disproportional results. We spent the day after the elections highlighting these results on social media and creating local campaigns on Facebook for areas with particularly disproportional results. 

Following the Home Secretary’s announcement, in March 2021, that FPTP would be introduced for combined authority mayoral elections and Police and Crime Commissioners, we highlighted how a move to FPTP would be a step backwards for democracy and analysed all elections held to date under the Supplementary Vote, in order to show how this system, while far from perfect, allows voters greater choice and gives the winning candidate a somewhat larger democratic mandate. Now that a move to FPTP for all mayoral and PCC elections has been included in the Elections Bill, we will continue to fight this change and are working with other democracy organisations to challenge this late addition to the Bill as it progresses through parliament.  

Winning Labour Party Support for PR

In September, over 150 Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) submitted resolutions on PR to Labour Party Conference. These were discussed and then, after coming second in the priority ballot, were debated and voted on. The debate was excellent with only one delegate speaking against PR. The resulting vote from CLPs was 80 percent in favour of PR. Unfortunately the Trade Union vote which is cast as a block prevented it from passing, but several of the unions did vote for it and some large Unions abstained. The levels of attention on PR at Labour Conference was greater than we have ever known with a huge programme of rallies, fringe debates and media attention, as well as informal conversations happening around the conference. Eighty percent is a huge vote for any policy at Conference and it gives the campaign a great platform to build from. 

Whilst there is more work to be done with the Unions, just a few weeks after the Labour Conference vote, Unite, the UK’s largest union and a long-term opponent of PR, voted to change its policy. This is testament to both the long-term campaigning of our Politics for the Many campaign and the impact of the debate at conference. 

We will continue to work through Politics for the Many and with Labour for a New Democracy and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform to build on this success over the coming year. We have several research programmes looking at building the Labour case for PR highlighting the benefits of change politically, culturally and electorally. In March, the Politics for the Many campaign published in conjunction with Open Labour, ‘The New Foundations: A future built on democracy’ which brings together a diverse range of authors exploring how democratic reform is the foundation of a better society.

Constitutional Futures and the House of Lords

The past year has seen debates intensify around the future of the Union and devolution to the UK’s nations and regions, and parties themselves have been engaging more closely with constitutional issues. In December 2020, the Labour Party launched a Commission on the UK’s Future, chaired by Gordon Brown. We have been engaging with the Commission, highlighting in our research how the issues of the Union relate to other democratic reforms. 

In November 2020, we responded to an inquiry by the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs (PACAC) select committee – the group of MPs charged with looking into constitutional issues – into the evolution of English devolution, calling for power to be dispersed in a meaningful way to and within English regions and localities. We also highlighted how the First Past the Post electoral system, and the dominance of two-party politics at all levels of English governance, lead to a range of voices effectively being excluded from political representation. We also submitted evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Devolution’s inquiry into the role that central government has in making a success of devolution in England, and to the House of Lords Constitution Committee inquiry into the future governance of the UK, where we also raised the issue of reform of the House of Lords.

This year, we have continued to highlight the unrepresentative nature of the House of Lords, including geographical and professional unrepresentativeness – especially relevant given the upcoming parliamentary constituency boundary changes, which will see a reduction in the number of MPs in specific regions. We continued speaking out against the ever-increasing size of the Lords and hereditary peer by-elections, which resumed this summer, calling on the new Lord Speaker to abolish this absurd practice.

Citizen Democracy

This year we have collaborated with the Social Liberal Forum on a project to promote the concept of a ‘Citizens’ Britain’. The programme has involved a number of events with Liberal Democrat parliamentarians, councillors, the wider membership and with thinkers from inside and outside the party. This culminated in a collection of essays, ‘Citizens’ Britain: Towards the Renewal of Liberal Democracy’, which was launched at the Liberal Democrat conference in September. This project has allowed us to help promote ideas in support of citizen engagement in democracy and also build relationships with key politicians and thinkers within the Liberal Democrats. 

Understanding how citizens think about democracy is key to knowing how we can motivate and inspire people to join the campaign for democratic reform. This year, to help us develop the compelling messages that will help build support for democratic reform, we have been working with fellow democracy campaigns to dig deeper into what messages work. We have been researching what people think about democracy, politics and government and what messages about reform are the most effective. In order to win PR, we need to know exactly how we can convince those who are not already with us, and this research programme will help us to do just that.

In Scotland

Citizens' Assemblies

The Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland, which ERS Scotland were on the steering group of and seconded a member of staff to the secretariat, concluded last December with a final meeting to decide on their shared vision for the country’s future. In January, this vision was published in a report Doing Politics Differently. This echoed many of ERS’s aims, particularly the institutionalisation of deliberative and citizen-led forms of decision-making at both local and national levels. The combined pressure to upgrade Scotland’s democracy has led to the SNP committing to hold a national citizens’ assembly each year they are in government. 

We used the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland recommendation to let people decide how they are governed locally as an ask in our election campaign ahead of the Scottish Parliament Election. ERS Scotland heads up the Our Democracy coalition, and we called for new powers for local communities to set up citizens’ assemblies, to regularly hold their councils to account.

Local Democracy Campaigning

In May, voters in Scotland went to the polls at the same time as those in Wales and London. One-third of those elected are new to Holyrood and couldn’t have failed to notice our local democracy campaigning in the run up to the election. We linked the pandemic to community power and called for local democracy to be at the heart of Scotland’s recovery. This brought many new supporters on board with our asks, particularly to let communities set up local citizens’ assemblies to plan their area’s future. And our comparison tool helped highlight how out of step our local democracy is in Scotland when compared to other nations. 

We are in regular contact with the Local Democracy Bill team to ensure our work will be influential in the writing of the forthcoming bill, and in September we co-hosted a workshop with them at the Community Development Alliance Scotland conference. We continue to conduct high-level lobbying to ensure that local governance reform is high up the agenda of the new Parliament. As part of a series of articles on ‘who runs Scotland?’ that we were involved in researching, we welcomed the commitment a Scottish Government spokesperson made to change how power and resources are shared locally. This summer saw us begin what will become one of ERS Scotland’s main projects over the next few years – a long term pilot in conjunction with Coalfields Regeneration Trust, testing out many of the ideas for renewing local governance that we set out in our Democracy Matters pamphlet.

Lobbying Transparency

ERS research, as part of the Scottish Alliance on Lobbying Transparency, led to a series of articles looking at who influences our politicians. This was timely given the recent publication of the committee report into the Lobbying Act and the forthcoming impact assessment which we have been given assurances will close loopholes in the Act such as phone calls not having to be registered.

Democracy Network

Following on from Scotland’s Climate Assembly report and with COP26 being held in Glasgow, we have worked as part of a network of democratic organisations to link climate issues to failings of democracy and also to experiment with collaborative absorption of new supporters. This stems from a year of close working with the Sortition Foundation; including joint fringe events at SNP and Scottish Green Party conferences and targeted lobbying on our joint House of Citizens report.

In Wales

Progress on Democratic Reform in Wales

There has been a huge amount of progress on democratic reform in Wales in the last few years but this has culminated with the biggest developments yet in 2021. Our focus at the beginning of the year was on the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) elections, where we worked with parties to encourage manifesto commitments on electoral reform. Three out of the four parties returned to the Senedd made commitments to Senedd reform and wider democratic renewal. Since then we’ve seen solid commitments made on Senedd reform, where we have long campaigned for a larger Senedd, elected via STV with integrated measures to promote diversity.

Senedd Reform

Just weeks after the election, First Minister Mark Drakeford indicated he was open to talks with other parties on progressing the issue of the size of the Senedd. In October, the Senedd unanimously backed a new Special Purpose Committee, which will develop policy for a bill on Senedd Reform. Yet, the recent announcement made by Labour and Plaid Cymru is the most significant yet in making a stronger Senedd a reality.

In November Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru announced a three year cooperation deal, which includes a commitment to a Senedd of between 80 and 100 members (an increase from the current 60, a voting system “which is as proportional- or more- than the current one” and to introduce gender quotas in law. This is a hugely welcome announcement on issues we have been campaigning on for nearly a decade, but there is more to be done on ensuring the system chosen is STV.

We’ll be continuing to work to influence a number of processes currently ongoing to decide on a voting system for Senedd elections. The deal includes a commitment to legislate on this reform package in 12 to 18 months meaning a larger, more proportional and more diverse Senedd could be a reality for the next Senedd elections in 2026.

Local Government Reform

On local government, we also saw significant change with the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 receiving Royal Assent on 20th January 2021. We had worked closely with the Welsh Government on this legislation, sitting on advisory groups and giving evidence numerous times to the scrutiny process in the Senedd. The legislation progresses many of our asks on local government reform, including extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds and foreign citizens legally resident in Wales. It also enables Councils to choose between ‘first past the post’ or the ‘single transferable vote’ voting systems, the first example of STV being in legislation in Wales. 

The STV provisions do not come into force until after the May 2022 local elections in Wales, so our current focus is on building up intelligence on where support does and does not lie for STV amongst current councillors in Wales. We have engaged councillors in a survey,which nearly a third across Wales have completed to date, and we have also been undertaking both virtual and face to face meetings, with a focus on areas with the possibility of voting to move to STV.

Election Engagement

We have also been working to address the wider political challenges Wales faces. The Senedd elections in May were the first in which 16 and 17 year olds could vote, one of our key campaigns over the years. We established a working group of over 60 organisations working to engage newly enfranchised eligible voters and those traditionally less likely to engage in politics. This enabled us to work on coordinated campaigns, share best practice and provide a forum for information to be shared ahead of the election. This working group will now focus on collaborating to boost engagement for the 2022 local elections next May.

Deliberative Democracy

In addition, we have been building up capacity in Wales on deliberative processes. In March this year, we worked with housing associations, local authorities and other third sector organisations to help deliver Wales’ first climate assembly. The Blaenau Gwent Climate Assembly brought together 50 residents of Blaenau Gwent in the south Wales valleys to discuss how to address climate change in their area. Our focus on this has been to encourage the use of deliberative tools in the policy making process and we have also been working with the Welsh Government on how they can use these tools to involve people in the decisions they make on the future of Wales.

Our Members and Supporters

Our Membership

We are incredibly thankful to the over 5,000 members of the Society that support our work. 

Despite living through unprecedented times, we are continuing 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 fully paid-up 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 77,000 supporters who follow our work by subscribing to our emails, the 48,100 people in our Facebook audience and the 57,430 people who follow us on Twitter.

Keeping Our Members Informed

Over the last 12 months, our membership team has been working 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’ Bulletin – an exclusive members-only newsletter which gives an update on our campaign work across all three ERS offices in London, Wales and Scotland. 

This year we also launched a 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. So far we have heard from our Research Officer, our Public Affairs and Campaigns Officer and our Head of Communications. 

Here are some of the insights given by the team:

“Research plays a very important role, as it provides the evidence on which we base our case for reform relating to different aspects of our democracy. Our research helps us to develop ERS policy positions, promote our work to members and the wider public, as well as generating media coverage for the Society. Producing reliable and rigorous research gives us credibility with politicians, journalists and the public and improves our chances of changing minds and building support for our goals.”
Ian Simpson, Research Officer, on why research is so important in the campaign for a better democracy

“As the Public Affairs Officer my role is to carry out this essential engagement and relationship building to promote the work we do and explain why that work is important. On a day-to-day basis I work closely with the research and press teams and communicate with parliamentarians to promote our report launches, campaign issues, committee submissions and policy analysis.”
Natasha Fox explaining her role as Public Affairs and Campaigns Officer

“I really enjoy my role because it offers the chance to put really important issues on the agenda.  Waking up and hearing our messages quoted on Radio 4’s Today programme, seeing front pages making waves following our work with journalists – it all shows the importance of the ERS being heard, to shine a light on Britain’s creaking constitution.”
Josiah Mortimer, Head of Communications, explains the highlights of his role

2020 Members and Supporters Conference & AGM

At the end of 2020, we ran our annual Conference online through the Zoom platform for the very first time. Running the conference online provided us with a new and exciting opportunity to reach far more people than our in-person events have in the past. As a result, the Conference was the best attended in our history.

We were pleased to be joined by David Runciman, who gave a keynote speech entitled ‘How do we fix British Democracy?’. The speech in full is available to watch on our YouTube channel.

#ERSlive Members’ Talks

Following the success of holding our annual conference via Zoom, this year we hosted a series of online talks and webinars exclusively for members of the Society. Our events included:

We hope to continue hosting these kinds of events into 2022.

A Series of Thank Yous

We’d first like to thank the members and supporters who got involved and helped support our report, Here to Stay: Two Decades of Proportional Representation in Britain. We raised over £3,200 from members and supporters in donations towards the report. It was also great to have the involvement of our supporters from Wales, Scotland and London in the project as many sent in their experiences of what it means to them to be able to vote under a proportional system. 

We would also like to thank all the members who kindly contributed to our strategic review earlier in the year, and fed their ideas into our survey on how we might campaign over the next few years (see Chapter 1 for Strategic Plan.) We’d particularly like to thank everyone who gave their time and came along to the zoom workshop for a further discussion on this. Following the workshop some of the ERS members who attended kindly took the time to give us an insight into their experiences.

ERS in the Press

The Year in Review

The year began with the UK back in lockdown but despite the political instability we worked to ensure that political and electoral reform were leading the headlines in 2021.

January saw the continuing fallout following the government’s Christmas surprise of a raft of new appointments to the bloated House of Lords, with the Mirror and the Express using our response in their piece on the new peers. We also provided comment on the Mirror’s investigation into non-voting peers and the research team’s analysis of the regional under-representation in the Lords also gained coverage in the Herald and the Birmingham Mail.

In March, news broke that the government planned to impose First Past the Post for elections for Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners – a regressive move as we made clear in the Independent, the Mirror, CityAm and Nation Cymru

The proposals, which were then included in the Elections Bill that is making its way through parliament, went on to be a key plank of our work in opposition to the bill throughout the year.

Our response to the other key part of the Elections Bill – mandatory voter ID, also hit the headlines in May, as the government launched the legislation in the Queen’s Speech. It is the issue that generated the most coverage for us in 2021 through a number of interventions covered by the Guardian, the Mirror, the National, the Daily Record and LabourList.

May’s bumper crop of local elections presented an opportunity to highlight the warping effects of First Past the Post on local government, in the press. Our pre-election Labour facing analysis of progressive ‘vote splitting’ put out through Politics for the Many gained positive coverage in the Guardian adding pressure on the Labour Party to back electoral reform.

In Scotland new stats from our local democracy campaign highlighted just how remote Scottish councils are and allowed us to continue our pre-election calls for local government reform in the Herald, while our work on reform at the other end of Scottish politics with calls for a House of Citizens was covered by the National.

Our local election results analysis also gained coverage as results came in, with multiple local outlets covering our ‘Rotten Boroughs’ on election night liveblogs, highlighting the difference between seat share and vote share in councils across the country in real time.

In Wales, the Senedd election and what that means for Wales resulted in a wide range of coverage for ERS Cymru. Pre-election we were the go-to voice on voter registration and votes at 16 – an issue covered extensively by the BBC and internationally by Global News in Canada. Following the results, we provided comment on issues such as diversity in the BBC and the National, as well as some Welsh language coverage in Golwg.

Following the elections, Jess Blair appeared on ITV’s SharpEnd discussing what the results mean for Senedd reform.

In July we released our latest report Here to Stay: Two Decades of PR highlighting the success of twenty years of proportional elections in Scotland, Wales and London, which was covered widely in print across the UK, with particularly strong coverage in Scotland in the Scotsman, the Herald and the National. The report will continue to be a useful resource for the society, providing  academic evidence for our campaigns for fairer votes.

The debate at Labour’s conference on PR also attracted significant coverage, both for the Labour for a New Democracy campaign of which we play a key role, in the I, the Guardian and the Independent but also for the ERS with our comment on the debate appearing in the Mirror, LabourList and politics.co.uk.  

The ERS continues to be a go-to commentator on electoral systems, the House of Lords, and creating a democracy fit for the modern day – all with one message: it’s time to drag UK politics into the 21st century so all voters can be fairly heard.

Coverage Stats

Almost 1000 news and comment pieces mentioned the ERS’ work in 2020, driven by our work on local elections, voter ID and the elections bill, alongside our core issues of electoral reform.

This compares to roughly 1,100 in the same reporting period last year (which includes December 2019 and the General Election, which was not covered in the 2019 report due to publication timings).

Number of print/online ERS media hits Dec 2020 – October 2021

Number of print/online ERS media hits Dec 2020 – October 2021

May 2021 spike: Local elections and announcement of Voter ID proposals in the Queen’s speech.

ERS coverage by keywords

ERS coverage by keywords

This word cloud of keywords in ERS coverage shows the extent of our reach on our key issues – with key phrases from our Voter ID campaign such as ‘photo identification’ and terms highlighting the risk of disenfranchisement posed by the proposals sitting particularly prominent alongside discussion of electoral systems and voting reform.

Advertising Value Equivalence

Advertising Value Equivalence

This gives a clearer indication of the nature of the publications which cover the ERS – with major outlets including the Daily Mail, Guardian, BBC and Express covering our voter ID and local election analysis.

Our Staff Team

The ERS Staff Team

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

Josiah Mortimer, our Head of Communications, left us in October 2021 after six and a half years working for the ERS. Josiah has worked tirelessly for the Society over the years and achieved a huge amount, raising our profile in the media and professionalising our communications and media. We will certainly miss him. 

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

See the current staff team.

Our Governance and Finance

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 5 November and the newly elected Council taking office after the AGM on 4 December 2021.

Council members serving between 30 November 2019 and 4 December 2021:

  • Ruth Kelly, Chair (from 3 December 2020)
  • Justina Cruickshank, Vice Chair (Management)
  • Lisa French, Deputy Chair (Campaigns & Research)
  • Andrew Copson (Treasurer)
  • Victor Chamberlain
  • Cien-Maria Crawley
  • Kirsten de Keyser
  • Christopher Graham
  • David Green
  • Andrea Marcelli
  • Esther Roberton
  • Jon Walsh (Chair until 3 December 2020)

Finance

Figures are for the 2020 calendar year.

Income (2020)

£1,136,587

Expenditure (2020)

£1,531,875

Expenditure in further detail

Staff Expenditure Detail Total
England campaigns and research gross staff costs £616,466
Governance and operations gross staff costs £178,169
Scotland gross staff costs £112,691
Wales gross staff costs £124,226
STAFF COSTS TOTAL £1,031,553
Finance & Investments Detail Total
Investment management fees £150,626.00
Audit, accountancy and bookkeeping £11,660.00
FINANCE & INVESTMENTS TOTAL £162,286.00
Campaigns, Communications, Members and Events Detail Total
UK campaigns and research £63,806.00
Events, members and supporters £32,871.00
External communications £18,987.00
Party conferences £1,367.00
Scotland campaigns, conferences & events £5,344.00
Wales campaigns, conferences & events £7,912.00
CAMPAIGNS, COMMUNICATIONS, MEMBERS & EVENTS TOTAL £130,287.00
Overheads Detail Total
Premises (3 sites) £91,444.00
IT & phone (3 sites) £30,713.00
Printing, stationery and office supplies (3 sites) £3,628.00
OVERHEADS TOTAL £125,785.00
Governance and HR Detail Total
Governance, legal and professional fees £31,967.00
Strategic planning, internal meetings, awayday £290.00
Council (meetings, elections, induction, training) £3,434.00
HR, recruitment, staff training & development £33,266.00
GOVERNANCE & HR TOTAL £68,958.00
Other Costs Details Total
Bad and doubtful debts £0.00
Depreciation £12,512.00
Sundry expenses / contingency £493.00
OTHER COSTS TOTAL £13,005.00

2020 was a difficult year for many organisations, and the Society was no exception. The impact of Covid on our operations is clear from the expenditure breakdown above. Most of our staff team were furloughed during the first phase of the pandemic (April-July), and our campaigning, media and membership work in 2020 was significantly affected. Our income was also impacted, especially the income we received from our property and in the initial period, the value of our investments was also affected.

Electoral Reform Society Investment Fund

In 2019 we began investing the proceeds of the sale of our shares in the former ERSL. In February 2019 £41m was transferred as cash to the newly appointed investments managers, Rathbones plc. After much discussion on the long-term objectives we concluded the following: time horizon for investing was 10+ years; the key objective is to fund an annual withdrawal of £1.3m (adjusted for inflation), and maintain the real value of the remaining capital over the long term so that it is not eroded by inflation over time and loses purchasing power. We informed Rathbones that we do not envisage major capital withdrawals to be made from the portfolio other than the aforementioned annual drawdown (taken in quarterly instalments) which meant we could agree on a long-term benchmark of inflation (as measured by CPI) plus 3%. Rathbones categorise our portfolio as a Medium Risk ‘level 4’ strategy (on a scale of 1 to 6, with 6 being the highest). In addition, we have agreed a ‘market’ benchmark constructed of real underlying market indices, to enable us to measure the portfolio’s performance particularly over shorter time periods. The long-term inflation objective however remains the most important target.

Rathbones took approximately six months to fully invest our portfolio (noting we started with 100% cash). Investments were built up steadily rather than invested in one go, to mitigate timing risk. As such we generally measure the fund’s progress from the September quarter of 2019 from when we consider ourselves to be fully invested.

In order to achieve our return target, the portfolio needs to have reasonable exposure to assets that have shown to deliver strong real (inflation adjusted) returns, therefore the largest asset class in the portfolio is equities. However, Rathbones have constructed a balanced portfolio that also contains fixed interest assets (bonds) and alternative investments (such as infrastructure and gold) for diversification purposes and to reduce downside risk in difficult economic periods (when equities tend to suffer more). Rathbones believe that organisations that manage Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors effectively are more likely to create sustainable value over the long-term, than those that do not. Therefore they actively consider and integrate ESG risks and opportunities into their investment decisions and analysis. This involves as assessment of ESG credentials on evaluation of an investment, and actively engaging with companies and their management teams on an ongoing basis, to promote improved practices around these issues.

The portfolio was split into two separate funds on the 30th December 2019; Pot A, valued at £39m (entrenched by a vote of ERS members at that level); and Pot B valued at £5.5m (the excess value over the entrenched amount at the time), an expendable pot. Income from Pot A is transferred to Pot B and the annual withdrawal is paid out on a quarterly basis from Pot B. Pot B also generates some income.

Throughout 2019 Rathbones delivered a total return (return in the form of both capital growth and income) on the overall funds of +8.7%. Put another way: from a starting (cash) value of £41m the investments grew to just over £44m. Over this time the first quarterly payment of £325k was paid out as well, in December 2019.

Looking back over an eventful year, 2020, we saw equity markets fall swiftly at the end of Q1, reflecting the government imposed COVID-19 restrictions and the resultant impact on companies, consumer spending and therein economies. From March however, markets across the globe rebounded strongly – helped by central bank and government support measures. 2020 was an extraordinary year and the portfolio weathered it well, in absolute and relative terms. The portfolio’s total return (i.e. capital and income) for the calendar year was +5.4%, ahead of the agreed benchmark of +3.7%.

Growth has been strong in 2021, both in terms of economic output (GDP) and company profits, largely driven by supportive government and central bank policies. Successful COVID vaccine rollouts in developed countries has further helped to bolster the recovery. A wide range of economic indicators, such as company earnings, global trade, and industrial production are all above their pre-pandemic levels, posting a far faster rate of recovery than most thought likely in the spring of 2020.

Indeed, the reopening of economies, coupled with lingering supply chain issues and heightened energy prices, has stoked inflation to decade high levels in the US, UK and Europe. In October 2021, UK consumer price index increased by 4.2% year on year, whilst this figure was 6.2% in the US. We continue to believe today’s high rates of inflation will prove transitory but will be depend on the easing of supply chain pressures and energy prices as to when prices may ease. For inflation to become permanent or spiral higher, wage inflation across most sectors must accelerate persistently, which is not a phenomenon we are seeing. That said, the portfolio managers have been mindful of having sufficient exposure to so called ‘inflation winners’, typically banks and energy sectors, by adding to both areas in 2021, which has been beneficial for the portfolio. Performance from the start of 2021 to 30th September was +11.8%, ahead of the market benchmark of +8.1%.

Since inception our investments have returned +21.3%, which compares favourably against the market benchmark’s return of +13.5% and our long-term inflation target of 9.7%[1]. Over this time the fund has paid out £2.6m, whilst growing from a starting value of £41.0m to £49.0m as at 30th September 2021 (at the time of writing the total portfolio value is £50.5m; 17th November 2021).

 Looking ahead to 2022, as growth moderates from ‘great’ (emerging from the pandemic-induced lows) to merely ‘good’ we do think this will be enough to support continued growth in corporate profits and further gains in global equity markets and other assets. This should be supported by the fact that considerable aggregate pent-up savings are still to be fully released. We expect inflationary concerns to linger and tightening of monetary policy (interest rates and central bank bond purchases) to generate volatility, but gradual and well-signalled rate increases should not hinder the economic expansion. 

In terms of governance and oversight, the ERS Council has set up an Investment Committee made of members of the Council and senior staff, with the power to co-opt outside expertise. This Committee monitors the performance of the fund and communicates with the investment manager during the year. The Committee has also been working on an approach to responsible and ethical investing, a framework through which the performance of the fund can also be measured. This work will be picked up by the new Finance, Audit, Investment and Risk committee to be set up in 2022.

Blue Lion Place

In 2016, we used the proceeds from the sale of our building in Chancel Street, Southwark, London to purchase a new building in Blue Lion Place, near London Bridge. Work on the building was completed in late 2019 and we moved into our new, permanent home in January 2020. We occupy the first floor of the building, with shared services on the ground floor and tenants occupying the remaining three floors.

In line with government advice, we closed Blue Lion Place for a large part of 2020, with staff either on furlough or working from home. 

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