Opposition MPs have tabled amendments on reforming our voting system that would improve our elections for voters across the country.
On Monday the government’s elections bill returns to the House of Commons. Along with other campaigners, experts and civil society groups and the Democracy Defence Coalition, we’ve been campaigning hard against this damaging legislation.
Far from improving our democracy, this bill would weaken it. Plans for mandatory voter ID will make it hard for ordinary people to cast their vote and, for those without the required ID, could see many turned away form polling stations on election day.
The bill also gives ministers new powers to set the direction of the work of the Electoral Commission. Our independent elections watchdog must be just that, independent. Plan to give ministers power over its work represents a huge conflict of interest with those same MPs whose elections the Commission is tasked with regulating will now have power over its work.
What’s more the bill now includes new provisions – snuck in during the committee stage late last year to replace the preferential voting system used to elect Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners with Westminster’s broken First Past the Post system. Ministers claim this will improve accountability, but we know looking at the warping effects of FPTP elsewhere this would only serve to disempower votes and see millions of votes thrown on the scrap heap and risk unpopular candidates sneaking into office with worryingly low shares of the vote.
But as well as opposing these damaging plans opposition MPs have tabled amendments to the bill that would, if passed, actually improve elections across the UK, something that any new election law should do as a priority.
A Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform
Scottish MPs Brendan O’Hara and Patrick Grady have tabled an amendment to establish a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Systems – a deliberative forum to examine new, improved electoral systems for the UK.
The assembly would look at alternative systems to replace First Past the Post prioritising improving voter engagement and understanding, electoral integrity and fairness and proportionality.
We know that First Past the Post is failing voters, there’s a reason why in Scotland, Wales and even in some elections in England – that any new positions created have been elected by preferential and proportional systems like the Additional Members System or Supplementary Vote.
Proportional Representation for Westminster
Another key amendment is from Liberal Democrat Alastair Carmichael and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas to introduce proportional representation for Westminster elections.
As we’ve long argued PR for the House of Commons is the only way to deliver a representative parliament and fairer politics – the way to ensure that all votes have their voices heard and all views are represented.
An end to winner takes all politics where governments rule with absolute power on unearned majorities needs to end.
If MPs want to pass a bill that would genuinely improve elections in the UK they should support these amendments instead of supporting the divisive and damaging proposals that ministers have put forward in the bill.
Monday is a chance for MPs from all parties to show that they support a fairer more representative politics – we urge them all to take it.