What we learnt from the ERS Members and Supporters Conference 2018

Lizzie Lawless, Membership and Digital Officer

Posted on the 21st December 2018

On the first weekend in December, ERS members and supporters came together for the Society’s Annual Conference and AGM.

The majority of the day was made up of workshop sessions, where ERS staff led discussions on key areas of the Society’s campaigns. Here’s what we learnt.

Workshop: ERS Strategy – The Roadmap to Electoral & Democratic Reform in the UK

Willie Sullivan
Led by Senior Director Willie Sullivan

Each of the strategy sessions consulted members and supporters on our ongoing strategy to achieve electoral reform, getting their thoughts and ideas of the barriers standing in the way of achieving reform and how we could overcome this.

The sessions identified a number of problems and barriers stopping us achieving reform at present. Primarily these depicted the current way Westminster works as a significant barrier, as well as the makeup of political parties and the messaging around reform to date.

Both the morning and afternoon sessions highlighted a potential route to reform via a constitutional convention and greater public participation and engagement in the need for reform.

Workshop: How to do Referendums Differently & Reining in the Online ‘Wild West’

Jessica Garland
Led by Director of Policy and Research Dr Jess Garland

In this session, participants explored the benefits and disadvantages of online campaigning, the role of money in politics, and the place and conduct of referendums in the UK.

Everyone agreed that online campaigning has the potential of increasing involvement in political processes not just at election time (e.g. through e-petitions), but acknowledged its negative consequences. Attendees came up with a variety of innovative solutions in this regard, including setting up a register of online ads; improving civic education; regulating online advertising and improving standards in public life.

There was a consensus that the way referendums have been called and conducted to date has fallen short. The EU referendum was singled out for having been called for partisan/political reasons, and for having led to poor quality debate (unlike in the Scottish referendum).

Participants emphasised that the UK’s democratic system could be enhanced by linking representative democracy with deliberative processes (e.g. a constitutional convention or Citizens’ Assemblies). Improving the formulation of referendum questions and having a clear definition of alternatives, setting up a referendum regulator, and clarifying the rules around third-party campaigning were also proposed.

Workshop: Speaking up for Reform: How do we Communicate the Need for Fair Votes?

Josiah Mortimer
Led by Head of Communications Josiah Mortimer

The communications team are working on how we talk about the need for democratic reform with the public (via polling company BMG Research). But we also want to know what ERS members think of when they discuss sorting out the unelected House of Lords and Westminster’s broken voting system. What gets people out of bed to campaign for political change?

When discussing with our supporters in this session, here are the words and phrases that came up most for…

The House of Lords

  1. The two major parties ‘pack it with their supporters’
  2. Undemocratic
  3. Male
  4. Medieval
  5. Corrupt


  1. Encourages voter apathy
  2. It’s unfair
  3. It worked for two big parties – but doesn’t work for voters now
  4. Seats don’t match votes
  5. Votes don’t count in safe seats

We’ll be feeding some of these lines and thoughts into how we communicate with members and supporters in the new year.

Workshop: Global Lessons: Examples on Campaigning Reform

Darren Hughes
Led by Chief Executive Darren Hughes

Around the world, voters in country after country have chosen to ditch First Past the Post. In this workshop, we had a look at how other countries have thrown off the shackles of Westminster style voting – to see what we could learn.

We looked at the process that lead up to the birth of the Scottish Parliament, and the example of how New Zealand transformed itself.

Ireland, New Zealand and Australia were all raised as good examples to use as English speaking countries that no longer use first past the post.

Supporters shared their knowledge of how other countries and moved on from first past the post and how the campaign is going in Canada.

Thank you

We’d like to thank everyone who attended and made the event such a success!

Read this year's Annual Report

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