One in four Constituency Labour Parties now back Proportional Representation – so what’s next?

Federico Scolari, Former Student Placement

Posted on the 19th February 2021

Pressure is growing. This week the campaign to get Labour to back electoral reform hit a new milestone. A quarter of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) have passed motions calling for a fairer voting system. This means 166 of 648 CLPs now back the need for electoral reform, with 45 motions being passed this year alone, as a wave of internal support appears to be moving. It comes as branches from the North West, Yorkshire and the Midlands have joined the call, with Weaver Vale CLP becoming the 166th to pass the motion.

The surge of support comes as Labour for a New Democracy – a coalition of Labour and pro-reform organisations including the ERS, Compass, Make Votes Matter and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform – aims to secure Labour’s backing for electoral reform before this year’s party conference in September and to urge Keir Starmer to scrap Westminster’s First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system.

Joanne Callaghan, a member of Weaver Vale CLP who passed a motion this week, said: “I’m really pleased – this is the first time I’ve proposed a policy motion at our local Labour Party and it was passed unanimously. Everybody just thought it would produce a much fairer system – a ‘no brainer’ as our MP Mike Amesbury has said – and knowing your vote will really count, young people like my son are more likely to get involved in politics”.

The news arrives at a crucial point for Labour policy on democratic reform, as a new constitutional commission is due to launch in early spring to evaluate ways to strengthen the ties between the UK’s four nations. The commission is advised by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who supported the non-proportional Alternative Vote back in 2011 – then rejected by the British public.

Writing for the Telegraph, Brown did discuss some powerful aspects of unity with respect to constitutional reform, but he failed to mention the absolute need for widespread electoral reform. Neglecting the issue would be a blatant failure and a missed opportunity in light of such a wide-ranging review, but increasing consensus within the Labour Party is one of many promising signs.

The Labour party has already ditched the FPTP system for its National Executive Committee elections – following the examples of the Lib Dems and the Greens. Before becoming Labour leader in 2020, Sir Keir Starmer convincingly addressed the matter, announcing his support for a constitutional convention and electoral reform to fix the ailments of Britain’s democracy.

But little has been done since and the party have been all to quiet on the issue, despite a YouGov survey showing that 76 per cent of Labour members favoured the adoption of proportional representation. The Labour party must fully embrace change and keep the promises made, which are now finally backed by increasing internal and external pressure.

Labour remains the only social democratic party in Europe to support FPTP – a system that distorts the wishes of voters. The December 2019 elections saw Boris Johnson securing an 80-seat majority with 43.6% of the vote – while 14.4 million voters (45%) went unrepresented.

The lack of faith in the political system and the much-needed unity for Great Britain has a stunningly clear answer: a proportional system that works for everyone. Labour must now listen to the growing calls both inside and outside the party for reform and commit to backing a fairer voting system as a key priority.

Federico Scolari is a placement student with the Electoral Reform Society from the University of Nottingham.

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