LCER Easter Briefing
Easter Greetings from the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and have a good break if you are having one. The parliamentary recess started on Thursday and will end on 16 April.
This is not an April Fool. We are serious about changing the voting system which elects our MPs.
In London we have London Borough elections on Thursday 3 May and wish all our Labour council candidates and councils elsewhere, and those supporting them, good luck in their campaigns. They will not only be used to judge how the Labour Party will do at the next General Election (GE) but it will be the first outing for some of Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) newly chosen, or rechosen, to be our champions whenever the GE takes place.
LCER wants to be in contact with these contacts, and those who take over where someone resigns, to offer support, and in some case to argue that they too champion electoral reform. For instance, Sarah Church has been selected to stand in Swindon South. She is already what we call an LCER Sponsor. She says: “First past the post is not providing representative democracy: it is more likely to return a minority Conservative government than a Labour majority government even when our vote share rises across the country. Over 80% of the 35 OECD countries use some form of PR- this is normal democratic process. Under the Alternative Vote system, South Swindon (where I stood) and other similar constituencies would have returned a Labour MP as Lib Dems, Greens and some UKIP would have given us their second vote, but under First Past the Post we returned a Tory … again.”
Not only our MPs and candidates but all Labour members need an informed say on electoral reform. That is why we are offering speakers to all Labour branches and constituencies. We are asking them to think about sending a resolution so that the Party knows about their support with individual and collective submissions to the Justice and Home Affairs Commission of the National Policy Forum.
Scotland and Labour North
We have new contacts, members and activists after our successful work in Dundee and Newcastle and look forward to working with those who came to our stalls and our fringe meetings. We have new support also from key people in the Parliamentary Labour Party outside our marginals, in Easington from Grahame Morris who signed up at the Labour North Conference. We had a nice quotation from Helen Goodman MP (Bishop Auckland MP) who says: “Most people in Britain don't want a Tory
government. With PR we need never have another Tory government again!” Julie Ward, MEP for part of the Labour North geography, spoke at our fringe and says: “Why are we afraid of working with other parties if they agree with us? The political culture needs to change in the UK. In the European Parliament we have been able to fight austerity together across parties and influence more than our group, the Progressive Alliance of Socialist and Democrats. We often have a majority in terms of policy at Westminster but allow the Tories to continue their anticonsensus policies because they are able, under first past the post, to produce a majority of seats, although not in 2010 and not in 2017. Are we saying that we would rather have a Labour majority government? of course! But failing that under the current voting system would a Labour led government be better than a Tory led one? Most people would say yes. A majority or minority Labour government is possible under proportional representation. Wouldn't that be better than waiting decades for a Labour majority government to fix all the things that the Tories have destroyed in the meantime.”
Party Chair, Ian Lavery although not yet a supporter, also recognises the need for discussion: “sadly our precious democracy is still under threat. The Tories through gerrymandering and regressive voter ID measures are attempting to rig Britain's electoral system in their favour. We need to protect our democratic freedoms and to encourage more people to engage with politics not make it harder for people to exercise their rights. On balance I am in favour of retaining our current system of voting but I do believe that fundamental reform is required to make our democracy fit for the 21st century. We should look to an elected second chamber and towards constituencies that are broadly the same size but not be bound simply by numbers if the geography and local ties do not fit.”
Targeting and over targeting
The Labour machinery have always over targeted in Labour marginals, and now the Conservatives do the same. With information that parties have their message can be individualised in a way that removes the decision about who forms a government even further from people in 550 other constituencies. In GE2017, Jeremy Corbyn fought a PR election believing that every vote counts, just as every person matters. So he aimed to move the centre of gravity as a whole not just in individual marginal constituencies.
This mismatch could produce a popular vote victory for Labour but not government. So LCER is fighting for both: to change our outdated voting system and to win all the votes from people who want a change in the voting system in key marginals for candidates who will fly the flag for a system which reflects our values and makes vote count and people matter. Before democracy becomes a marketing exercise with varying messages going to different people, let’s recognise that with the data available you can fool some of the people all the time, but not all the people you need to win a PR election.
Key electoral reformer switches sides but is he correct?
Just as people are moving inside the Party, Lord (Andrew) Adonis has decided to move in the opposite direction: see https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/andrew-adonis-electoral-reform-proportional-representation-a8275911.html. Perhaps Lord Adonis needs to remember what Robin Cook said about the purpose of government to prepare for opposition. Or what John Rawls said about the Veil of Ignorance, where people need to think about the voting system they would chose if they didn’t know
what party they supported or where they lived. This definitely applies to the north – south divisions we see in the PLP and in constituencies until recently.
Perhaps Robin Cook would have seen that the outcome in the referendum on EU membership is linked very definitely with the winner take all mentality of first past the post. Binary choices do not make for good decisions. This is majoritarian rule and we need a consensus driven one. In each constituency we see that there is a binary choice, often but not always Conservative v Labour, but where third party supporters, sometimes Labour, refuse to play this game and we get an anti-consensus candidate who may go on to form an anti-consensus government.
And the link with Brexit?
Our voting system pretends that all the people are represented by their MP, politically as well as in cross party local issues like a hospital, school or zebra crossing. John Curtice shows that in safe Labour seats that voted to Leave the EU most of the Labour voters voted Remain. The problem was that these constituencies under the first past the post voting system usually have the lowest turnout and the EU referendum brought a higher percentage out to vote. See John Curtice: ukandeu.ac.uk/is-labours-brexit-dilemma-being-misunderstood.
How can we persist in having a voting system which distorts the picture we have of our own country. How long before we see that our democracy is flawed not because of the EU but by its voting system. https://www.thecanary.co/uk/analysis/2018/03/30/there-is-a-frightening-reality-about-britain-that-youre-not-supposed-to-know/.
Since most Remain voters and electoral reformers come from the same demographic, cosmopolitan and university cities, how about Labour going back to areas it overwhelming represents and arguing the case for what it believe in. Referendums are not usually responsible for giving us a clear view of the answer to the question on the ballot paper. So let’s start the conversation on the voting system not only in our marginal seats where it will win us votes, or in untargeted seats we leave to other parties even without withdrawing candidates, and go into our heartlands and argue that for years their votes did not count, their issues were not prioritised by any party in government that wanted to win another under the same system that elected it.
Scotland and Wales
Billy Hayes will be on the platform at the Scottish Trade Union Conference, 16-18 April in Aviemore and we will have a stall and a fringe at the Welsh Labour Conference in Llandudno 20 – 22 April. If you are going there let us know. It would be good to hear from you if you are active in your trade union. Have you asked your Labour representative their position on reform and let us know? What about a request for a speaker from Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform working with Making Votes Count. Or a resolution from your branch or constituency in support of reform.
Join LCER and be part of the debate
If you have got this far, we are offering a free copy of our guide to Labour arguments for electoral reform, the Many, not the Few, to anyone who joins up between now and the end of May. Just join on our website or write to firstname.lastname@example.org, pay by paypal, standing order, cheque or cast.
LCER Parliamentary and Political Officer
0117 924 5139
077 125 11931
LCER Administrative Coordinator