LCER Mid-August Briefing
We are at the middle of August looking forward to the return of Parliament on 5 to 14 September, and the conference season thereafter. But also looking back at an interesting year both politically and psephologically.
Labour’s Manifesto – The Many and not the Few
Let us look at what Labour offered in its Manifesto, not PR as some of us had argued. EXTENDING DEMOCRACY said:
As we change our constitutional relationship with Europe, we must also adjust our own arrangements. Just as many felt that power was too centralised and unaccountable in Brussels, so many feel that about Westminster.
A Labour government will establish a Constitutional Convention to examine and advise on reforming of the way Britain works at a fundamental level.
We will consult on its form and terms of reference and invite recommendations on extending democracy.
This is about where power and sovereignty lies – in politics, the economy, the justice system, and in our communities.
The Convention will look at extending democracy locally, regionally and nationally, considering the option of a more federalised country.
LCER argued that this convention was the route to addressing the voting system. We contacted Labour candidates to find out how many were supporting PR, and suggested if they had not already spoken out about their support, they did so in their leaflets, in their replies to questions in hustings, emails or on the doorstep. This we argued would help win over third party voters in seats which were identified as marginals, either Labour/Conservative or Conservative/Labour. Our task was helped where the Green Party withdrew their candidates to indicate where people should vote Labour when the clear choice was with the Conservatives. Those who voted Remain were also encouraged to vote Labour where that would perhaps get rid of Conservative MPs who voted to come out of the European Union.
Forward Together, Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and a Prosperous Future - the Conservative Manifesto says:
THE HOME OF DEMOCRACY AND THE RULE OF LAW
This election will decide the composition of our parliament, the oldest of all large democracies. The laws that we make form the basis of judgements in our courts, which are respected around the world. This unequalled democracy and legal system is our greatest national inheritance. However, collective faith in our democratic institutions and our justice system has declined in the past two decades. It is the purpose of this Conservative Party, in responding to the historic vote on our members of the European Union, to re-establish faith in our democracy, and in our democratic and legal institutions.
A flourishing and secure democracy
Our democratic institutions may be ancient but should not be neglected. We will continue to modernise and improve our electoral registration process, making it as accessible as possible so that every voice counts. We will legislate for votes for life for British overseas electors. We will continue with the current boundary reviews, enshrining the principle of equal seats, while reducing the number of MPs to 600, similar to other Western democratic chambers. We will retain the first past the post system of voting for parliamentary elections and extend this system to police and crime commissioner and mayoral elections. We will retain the current franchise to vote in parliamentary elections at eighteen. We will repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
The British public deserve to have confidence in our democracy. We will legislate to ensure that a form of identification must be presented before voting, to reform postal voting and to improve other aspects of the elections process to ensure that our elections are the most secure in the world. We will retain the traditional method of voting by pencil and paper, and tackle every aspect of electoral fraud.
So the choice of which of these two parties they would prefer to see in government was not hard to make for anyone who thought they wanted democracy to be updated.
LCER worked to find out which Labour candidates were supporting change. They had a good idea of most of the MPs who were restanding. When the results were out on 9 June there were three retreads and 12 other MPs who had indicated they were in support of electoral reform. There were in addition nearly 40 Labour candidates who did not quite make it this time. There were in addition many former MPs restanding who chose to make their positions in favour of PR public. So with about 40 MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party confirming their support of the status quo we have changed the balance of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Some of those who stand in safe Labour seats still do not detect any problem.
What we need to do as a campaign is find out about the ones who said nothing and whose positions we still do not know. You can help and let us know about your Labour candidate or MP. Send any information to email@example.com.
When the LCER Executive met in June it agreed that our strategy had not changed. It is to ensure that Labour has a pledge to change the voting system in its next Manifesto. This means changing Party policy. We are working with Make Votes Matter to build up a team of Labour speakers to address meetings of Labour movement meetings and respond to their requests.
We have two speakers’ workshops coming up and you can register, preferably if you are a Labour Party and a LCER member. In Manchester on Saturday 19 August use this link and in London on 26 August use this link.
We will be able to evolve speakers’ notes and rebuttals of the main opposition arguments by September.
In the meantime our Trade Union Officer, Billy Hayes, is working on a TUC fringe on Tuesday lunchtime, 12 September. Make Votes Count and LCER are working on the fringe on Tuesday evening at Labour Conference. If you are going to the TUC or Labour Women’s or Labour Conferences let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have a stall where you can find us at Labour conference. More details later.
Calculating the way to a Labour victory
Clearly we believe that a Labour victory is the only way of achieving voting reform. We hope for a Labour overall victory or to be the largest party at the next general election. We don’t know when that will be but with boundary changes on the way, based on a fake equalisation and a faulty, inadequate registration, there is no certainty about a victory. We might not have the reduction of MPs to 600 although promised in their manifesto. We know that fixed term parliament legislation is not worth the paper it is written on and the UK-EU negotiation means we need to be ready at any time particularly by 2019 when Theresa May may go.
We need to win 326 (half of 650 plus one MP) to have an overall majority. That means we need 326 – 262 = 64 more Labour MPs. A working majority is probably more like 340, so nearly 78 MPs are necessary for that. There are about 85 seats which theoretically could be won but many of these are in Scotland where often parties are too close to call.
For a reforming House of Commons what matters is how many Labour targets rid us of Conservatives as opposed to electoral reforming MPs in Plaid Cymru and particularly the Scottish Nationalist Party. The other uncertainty, such is the current voting system, is that we might see the Conservatives gain from or lose seats to other parties. So Labour might end up with no overall majority anything down from 325 to about 290 depending on how the other parties do. This increase in Labour MPs may sound more likely, at 30 to 60, but may depend on the dynamics in each constituency, how many candidates, which parties are targeting, and of course the manifestos. Jeremy Corbyn’s tour will include apparently 70 seats remembering we cannot afford to lose any of the recently taken seats.
Clinging onto first past the post suggests to third party voters that Labour is not willing to work with other parties even where we agree. Pundits are saying GE2017 was a return to two party politics. This ignores the tactical voting which we know took place. Not of course just on PR but also the EU remain vote who voted against Conservatives and a Hard Brexit. But PR says a lot about our attitude to democracy and power. This is not about coalition politics but if Labour deprives the Conservatives of their chance to form a government which it nearly did this year, it needs to have something that binds us to those third party voters who voted Labour this year in those vital Labour – Tory and Tory – Labour seats.
So a move to electoral reform says a lot about the sort of party Labour has become. More pluralist, less tribal. More open to working with others when we agree.
It is worth the effort to get the Party to change and we hope to work with you to see it happen, locally and nationally. Your role will make all the difference. Each meeting, each speaker, each motion submitted to the policy commission, each question put to a candidate or MP.