The ERS’ new strategy for 2021-2024: Alliances, agreements and action for real reform

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive

Posted on the 23rd July 2021

Since the ERS published our last strategy in 2016, UK politics has, in some ways, changed beyond recognition. Britain has left the European Union, the pandemic has reshaped our society, and we’ve had leadership changes and two general elections that have reshaped the parliamentary arithmetic and political debate.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Trust in politics is at rock bottom – indeed  falling to new lows.  The UK remains a multi-party democracy stuck with a one-party-takes-all voting system at Westminster. And – as in the past – we have a government elected on a minority of the vote, able to make sweeping changes to our democracy with little need for cooperation or scope for real challenge.

At the ERS we operate on a simple premise: that politics can be better than it is. We work with political parties, civil society, with our members and supporters, academics and voters, to make the case for real reform to the UK’s crumbling political system.

Movement for change

Over the past five years, we’ve made major progress on our campaigning issues and priorities. We’ve built alliances with partners – setting up an All Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Reform and the Labour Campaign for New Democracy, building links with trade unions, joining the newly-established Democracy Network and leading campaigns against mandatory voter ID. We have helped move Labour closer to backing proportional representation, helped pass legislation in Wales letting councils introduce STV, and successfully pushed for online campaign imprints and stronger lobbying rules in Scotland.

We’ve deepened public involvement in democracy too – being a core part of Scotland’s first ever citizens’ assembly, leading the first local citizens’ assemblies in Wales, running voter registration campaigns and helping put the need for a constitutional convention on the political agenda.

And we’ve shared our expertise with parties across the political spectrum as well as wider civil society – developing policies, working with members, and pushing proportional representation and other reforms higher up the agenda.

The ERS is ambitious about far-reaching changes to the way politics works in Britain, working across our three offices in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh to build a better democracy.

Our new strategy for 2021-2024 builds on conversations with our members and supporters, our staff, our elected council, politicians and campaign groups working across the democracy sector, to set out where the ERS can make the strongest inroads over the next three years into building a better democracy.

That year-long process has honed our goals and vision into something that’s ambitious, which we’re proud of, and we’re excited to put into practice. We summarise it below.

Our Goals

  1. For public authorities in the UK to be elected by proportional representation, specifically by the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies. 
  2. For the democratic institutions of the UK, its nations and regions and other constituent parts to work in ways that foster trust, engagement, and voter power

Our Culture

We’ll do this by staying true to our principles. In all of our work, the ERS seeks to be:

  1. Honest – We aim to build relationships based on trust, to learn from our successes and mistakes, and to operate with integrity.
  2. Responsible – We aim to ensure all of our work is rooted in evidence and firm foundations.
  3. Broadminded – We will work across the spectrum to help build a better democracy in the UK, building coalitions, being innovative, and listening to others. The ERS is part of a proud movement for political equality.

The ERS’ 2021-2024 Strategy: How we’ll make change

Our new strategy recognises that change isn’t static. In some areas, we’re moving forward – through imprints for online adverts across the UK and the real prospect of further electoral reform in Wales. But in other areas, we have to recognise the risk of democratic backsliding, and the need to stand up to protect and expand our existing political freedoms.

Constitutional issues are firmly part of today’s political debate, as the UK government pushes ahead with plans that run contrary to the ERS’ vision – including rolling back preferential voting for mayors, imposing mandatory voter ID, and undermining the independence of the Electoral Commission.

Right now, disillusionment, disengagement, and distrust are the words most often associated with people’s relationship to representative politics. The ERS understands that this is enabled by a voting system that ignores people’s choices. Westminster’s centralised system is holding this country back.

As we come out of the pandemic, the ERS is working to build coalitions to change this, and reform politics at every level.

In the next three years, the ERS will work to increase the salience of vital political reforms – to raise them up the agenda by linking them to the issues people face in their daily lives.

In summer 2021, the ERS will launch a programme of work based on our new strategy for the next three years.

Our route to reform – 2021-2024

  1. Build an effective network of groups and organisations, including political parties, who are supportive of democratic reform. We will push for cross-party agreements on proportional representation and wider reform, working within and outside of parties.
  2. Persuade one of the two major parties to back proportional representation. This is most likely to be the Labour party, but we will continue to work with Conservatives
  3. Increase the salience of our policies for political reform among influential groups of voters –  in other words, to make proportional representation and democracy a vote-winner
  4. Push democratic Institutions to change and innovate to increase long term citizen support and trust. We aim to increase the use of Citizens’ Assemblies, secure cross-party agreement on Lords reform, and build consensus around principles for devolution across the UK 

In all of this, we will work in accordance with our values of equality, freedom and fairness.

You can read a summary document of the strategy here – we’ve done so much since 2016, and with our new strategy we are ready for the next three years. 

We’ll need your support: be part of the movement for real democracy.

Join the Electoral Reform Society today

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