Top 10 must-read stories from the Electoral Reform Society in 2020

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 18th December 2020

The pandemic has cast its shadow over everything this year – and issues of democracy are no exception.

We’ve seen the effects of a super-centralised political system, leading to clashes between the nations and regions of the UK, as well as knocking voters’ trust in politics. The failings of top-down, one-party rule have been clear to see.

We’ve been looking into democratic trends and issues that have sometimes slipped below the radar – including some really positive news.

The ERS blog is a unique space for highlighting what’s going on with our democracy, so make sure to sign up for our weekly update.

Here are our top pieces from 2020…

10. Why ministers’ plans for redrawing the constituency map matter

Earlier this month, some geeky but important new legislation received Royal Assent. It sets out the framework for redrawing parliamentary constituency boundaries. Especially under First Past the Post, where you draw the boundaries can make all the difference between securing 100% of the local representation, or none at all. Our blog from June got people talking, and ERS Chief Executive Darren Hughes went on to speak in Parliament about our concerns with the bill.

9. The government accepts votes need to ‘count equally’. Now let’s get on with making it happen

In June, we saw MPs debate the need for proportional representation for the first time since the General Election. Ministers accepted that all votes should count equally – but refused to back the reform we need. We covered the debate – which featured some shocking ERS stats on last year’s warped election results.

8. New Zealand’s MMP electoral system: how does it work?

New Zealanders went to the polls this October, in an election that used – like much of the democratic world – a proportional voting system. In this piece, we looked at how it works.

The result of the election was that the governing Labour party under Jainda Ardern won re-election and a majority of seats – with a majority of the vote, in contrast to Westminster’s broken winner-takes-all system.

7. ERS reveals the scale of secretive online campaigning during last year’s election

In September we set out for the first how much parties and campaigners had spent online in the last General Election – and there were some startling findings from the academics we commissioned. 2019 saw the rise in ‘outriders’ and secretive online campaigning on a scale we haven’t seen before.

6. Labour now backs proportional representation for executive elections. Next stop: PR for Westminster

The Labour Party scrapped First Past the Post voting for its National Executive Committee elections this year, meaning constituency representatives will now be elected using the gold standard of PR: the Single Transferable Vote. It followed a campaign from Labour members across the party, and supported by the ERS, in a real step forward for party democracy. Now Keir Starmer should back PR for House of Commons elections.

5. Why the government’s rationale for closing the ‘Virtual Parliament’ doesn’t add up

The rapid introduction of ‘virtual Parliament’ proceedings for MPs was a welcome sign of how Parliament can modernise quickly when there’s the political will and necessity. Unfortunately, the government also moved quickly to shut it down, before being forced to partially backtrack when the pandemic resurfaced as expected. No wonder we branded it ‘beyond shambolic’.

4. The government is set to appoint dozens of new Lords-for-life

One of the big pieces of bad news for democracy this year was the appointment of dozens of new Lords to the unelected chamber. We called it out before it even happened – and readers were keen to share their anger at yet more party donors being packed into our Parliament.

3. Voters Left Voiceless – The 2019 General Election

Our landmark report on the 2019 General Election made headlines, and with good reason. Read the piece and find out how many voters got ignored in the ballot-burying scandal that is First Past the Post.

2. Keir Starmer: “We’ve got to address the fact that millions of people vote in safe seats and they feel their vote doesn’t count”

Labour’s founder Keir Hardie backed proportional representation – so it’s fitting that Labour leader Keir Starmer appears to be moving towards that position again today. You simply cannot have political equality under Westminster’s winner-takes-all system – and more and more people are realising that.

1. 16 and 17 year olds have secured the right to vote in Wales

We’re delighted to be ending on a positive note, with this year’s most-read piece being the ERS breaking the news that 16 and 17 year olds can now officially vote in Wales for Senedd elections. This is a small but important step in expanding political engagement among young people, and bring Wales into line with Scotland. Now it’s England’s turn.

As ever, thanks to all readers for your support this year. There have been some steps backwards, but also some really promising developments. Whatever happens in 2021, we’ll be hear to keep you updated on what’s going on with democracy in the UK – and keep pushing for the positive political reform this country needs.

Bonus: Just out of the top 10, thousands have been reading and sharing this piece on last year’s General Election – on nine things you need to know about the results (guess how many voters went unrepresented across the UK)…

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