Easter Briefing

Easter Briefing

 

Stop Press: Debate on electoral reform on tomorrow, Tuesday 23 April

MPs return to Parliament tomorrow Tuesday, 23 April, St George’s Day, when a former Labour MP, now Change UK, Angela Smith introduces a debate on Proportional Representation in the House of Commons, at 4.30 pm, see https://calendar.parliament.uk/calendar/Commons/All/2019/4/23/Daily. We hope our electoral reforming Labour MPs can demonstrate not only how many they are, but that only Labour’s position changing can lead to electoral reform and also that this is not about party interest but about our broken democracy and the political culture.

Easter

It is good to look back and see where progress has been made. Since the 2015 General Election, which brought us the EU Referendum, we have had a few opportunities to hear MPs discuss electoral reform. First there was Jonathan Reynolds on 16 December 2015. Of the Labour MPs who supported this Bill some have retired, Chuka Umunna has left the Party, the only known electoral reformer to join Change UK. Kevin Barron, Ben Bradshaw, Richard Burden, Stella Creasy, Jon Cruddas, Geraint Davies, Margaret Hodge, Wes Streeting and Stephen Twigg are still active MPs. See the speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0bfXh7M6sA

 

Owen Jones spoke out on the subject on 16 June the following year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=245vBHuSlHg, just before MPs had another opportunity to hear if their views had changed. Just a month later, on 20 July 2016, Caroline Lucas introduced a debate in the House of Commons which linked Votes @ 16 with a more proportional voting system, Electoral Reform (Proportional Representation and Reduction of the Voting Age). Labour MPs voted for this along with members of the SNP and LibDems. Graham Allen (stood down in 2017), Paul Blomfield (LCER Chair), Stella Creasy, Jon Cruddas, Pat Glass (stood down in 2017), Helen Goodman, Margaret Greenwood, Helen Hayes, Clive Lewis, Alan Meale (one of Labour’s few defeats in 2017), Jess Phillips, Jonathan Reynolds, Wes Streeting, Stephen Twigg and Daniel Zeichner.

 

The Many Not the Few

Together with Make Votes Matter we produced our take on Labour arguments for electoral reform, the Many Not the Few, just before the 2017 General Election was called and rewritten after that in its second edition on our website, www.labourcampaignforelectoralreform.org.uk. The name comes from the fact that so few voters choose the MPs in marginal constituencies which decide which party forms the government. We aim to make votes count wherever people vote. It is in keeping with our Labour values of equality and democracy.

 

Then in the General Election of June 2017, we lost Graham Allen, Jim Dowd, Alan Johnson, Fiona Mactaggart and Andrew Smith who stood down. But new MPs arrived who were already committed to electoral reform. Some became active immediately, some were retread electoral reformers, David Drew and John Grogan, and Chris Williamson who had changed his mind in the interim. Some participated in the last debate on electoral reform on 30 October 2017 when MPs considered the successful petition in 103,000 signatures, see: https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/c52f8c49-55ac-44c8-bf23-b1705afadaf8 or https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-10-30/debates/9D7C1DE6-0EA9-45D2-AD7E-D0EEB3ECCB92/ProportionalRepresentation.

 

This time Paul Blomfield, Ben Bradshaw, Ruth Cadbury, Bambos Charalambous, Thangam Debbonaire, David Drew, Susan Elan Jones, Stephen Kinnock, Sandy Martin, Rachael Maskell, Ian Murray, Jonathan Reynolds, Cat Smith, Alex Sobel, Wes Streeting, Paul Sweeney, Stephen Twigg, Martin Whitfield, Chris Williamson, contributed in the debate triggered by the petition. Other new comers supporting electoral reform are: Mike Amesbury, Tracy Brabin (who came in in 2016 after the murder of Jo Cox), Marsha De Cordova, Emma Dent Coad, Tan Dhesi, Darren Jones, Ged Killen, Anna McMorrin, Stephen Morgan, Laura Pidcock, Luke Pollard, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Alex Sobel, Thelma Walker and Paul Williams.

 

LCER already knows of Prospective Parliamentary Candidates who support electoral reform and have a good chance of being elected when the General Election occurs. We can help Labour PPCs by advertising their support to third party supporters who might thus be induced to tactical vote for them. We need more but some of the PPCs in the Class of whenever we have the next election are: for starters Faize Shaheen of CLASS is standing in Chingford & Woodford Green. Outside London many of the following PPCs have important local elections on 2 May in their constituencies and would welcome your help: Corrie Drew in Bournemouth East, Mhairi Threlfall in Filton and Bradley Stoke, Nicola Bowden-Jones in Kingswood, Ashley Dalton in Rochford & Southend East, Sarah Church in Swindon South and Simon Letts in Southampton Itchen.

 

What you can do?

If you know the positions of your candidate selected to stand at the next general election, do let us know their names and contact details, emails, twitter account.

If your MP is not named above, they may have decided not to support electoral reform, but much more likely they haven’t had the time or chance to think about it, particularly we are told, the women MPs. You can do us a great favour by asking your MP their position and letting us know. And the same with the PPCs (Prospective Parliamentary Candidates), especially where we hope to take the seat, ie Labour targets. Just ask and let us know. We need debates in all constituencies, but especially in Labour seats with Labour MP who oppose reform, and all the Labour targets so we meet, communicate with and support candidates who are in favour.

 

Votes @ 16

The Electoral Reform Society, this year held two meetings at the Welsh Labour Conference. One of them was on Votes @ 16 which speakers thought likely to be adopted in Wales in time for the 2021 Assembly Elections. The Electoral Commission is working closely with students at colleges and schools to answer any questions they may have and specifically to consult whether voting should be held at their place of education or integrate them with the public.

 

Myths & Rebuttals: Arguments against the main arguments against reform

To help our speakers we can provide training but excitingly we have just produced our Speaker’s cards, we call Myths & Rebuttals, which is available form LCER, just send us an email to Lcer@labourcampaignforelectoralreform.org.uk.

Everyone who has tried to argue the case for electoral reform will know the arguments against. In the cards we have identified the main obstacles and alternative rebuttals to give everyone the confidence to take on the doubters.

 

LCER has (unisex) its Heroes

People who have taken the message out and whose legacy we are still working for. We have lost Robin Cook and Mo Mowlam, then Rhodri Morgan, and this year Paul Flynn died. Many Labour electoral reformers attended a packed cathedral in Newport, on 22 March. Paul, who became a Chartist specialist, supported devolution and electoral reform from the early 1980s. When we held our LCER Democracy Dinner, Paul sent copies of his books signed for our auction. This allowed us to pay off our debts incurred during the 2011 Referendum and subsequent mailing. We are lucky that he recorded his reasons for supporting electoral reform for the cross party Make Votes Matter meeting at the National Assembly of Wales. You can resee it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6T_IZcKwLQ0.

 

Mark Drakeford, another electoral reformer, now the First Minister of the National Assembly of Wales, visited the MVM/LCER Stall at the Labour Wales conference on 13 April and assured us of his support. Congratulations to Mark for being elected to such a high office. In Welsh he is not only First Minister but Prime Minister as the Welsh language does not distinguish.

 

His Predecessor but one, Rhodri Morgan, was a supporter as a Labour MP in the 1980s along with his wife Julie. His autobiography just called “Rhodri: A Political Life in Wales and Westminster”, unfinished when he died unexpectedly was completed by Mark Drakeford and Kevin Brennan. His friends are collecting money to put up a statue of Rhodri who was a powerful democrat and speaker for his country. You can contribute to this statue fund by writing to rhodrimorganstatuefund@gmail.com or texting 07734 880 397, facebook.com/RhodriMorganStatueFund. The bank account details are Lloyds Bank, sort code 30-98-97 account 642 338 68.

 

Local and perhaps European Parliamentary Elections

There are local elections on Thursday 2 May which may or may not be influenced by the Brexit debate but the new parties are not necessarily contesting the 248 English local councils, the six directly elected mayors and who knows what will happen to the DUP monopoly in Westminster in the 11 local councils in Northern Ireland which voted 55 per cent Remain in 2016.

 

Smaller party members often support electoral reform in their own interests. Good on the SNP for supporting PR even when they were massive beneficiaries of first past the post in 2015 when they almost wiped out the main parties.

 

Trade Unions conferences are coming up. Will you be attending? The Politics for the Many believe that Labour can concentrate on Lords Reform whereas MVM and LCER prefer to argue for House of Commons reform. It may be that we won’t win any vote to Annual Conference yet but we can see the way things are going from the meetings we have done, where the majority of Labour activists support change.

 

The Electoral Reform Society points out that where candidates are not put up by more than one party, the result is that in their words, “democracy is cancelled”: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/democracy-cancelled-how-parties-have-captured-hundreds-of-seats-before-local-election-day/. We would go further in LCER and say that where there is an inevitable result and no benefit in gaining extra votes, the result is the similar, a democracy not worthy of its name. This is an argument against the alternative view that Labour should introduce compulsory voting. Where voting is almost meaningless, this would be a fraudulent move. So electoral reform must go before any discussion of introducing compulsory voting. And what about compulsory registration which the missing millions suggest is not working.

 

On the European elections

We have had reports from various Members of the European Parliament. Some have confirmed that they are standing down, for instance long term electoral reformer Mary Honeyball. Others will stand if the elections go ahead joined on the Labour lists by some of our electoral reformers, such as Councillor James Beckles in Greater London. Let us know about other people on your lists and good luck and thank you to MEPs who have supported LCER in the 2014 – 2019 time period, Richard Corbett, Seb Dance, Mary Honeyball, Richard Howitt, Glenys Kinnock, Linda McAvan, David Martin, Claude Moraes, Eluned Morgan, Catherine Stihler, Julie Ward and possibly Paul Brennan. If you are working for Labour in either local or European elections, remember to ask key people about their views on electoral reform, and get their email, personal emails for MEPs in case the elections are called off. And let us know. This applies to your National Policy and NEC members. We only know one member of the Momentum list for the NEC and that is Darren Williams based in Wales, and at Paul Flynn’s funeral.

 

Make Votes Matter – Peterloo Massacre 1819

MVM inspired by the anniversary of Peterloo, 200 years ago, to write a booklet detailing the importance of electoral reform particularly for trade unionists. Owen Winter has been commissioned to write this history and welcomes ideas or suggestions. Write to him directly at owen@makevotesmatter.org.uk and copy us in: lcer@labourcampaignforelectoralreform.org.uk.

 

Women in the Room

Nan Sloane, the author, who some may know from Labour Women’s Network has researched the women who often went unsung in the events leading up to the formation of the Labour Party. It is a good reminder that LCER needs to update its pamphlet on the new suffragettes, women who believe that we not only needed the vote but have a vote that counts. Nan’s book is reviewed for Chartist Magazine in their next edition and is published by IB Tauris.

 

Timeline of work until the end of 2019

LCER has its timeline for changing Labour’s and the trade unions’ positions to at the very least a default position of neutrality rather than active support of the status quo, a position which no longer represents the party, or perhaps the trade unions If you are going to a conference or event, please let us know and we shall do our best to be there. If in addition you would like to help us and cannot be as active in the Labour Party or trade union as you would like, join LCER and help fund others to be

active. It is horrendously expensive to have stalls and fringes at the main conferences. We are still supplying speakers to events which are arranged locally and picking up a lot of support from Labour activists. We are trying to contact as many Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidates as possible to support them especially in marginal seats where electoral reform may be the basis of tactical voting from third party supporters. Check out our website and join if you can afford to.

 

We have been reading

We have a list of further reading ready to go our website. The Hansard Society has been doing an audit: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/apr/08/uk-more-willing-embrace-authoritarianism-warn-hansard-audit-political-engagement?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0d1YXJkaWFuVG9kYXlVS19XZWVrZGF5cy0xOTA0MDg%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUK&CMP=GTUK_email. Recently we have noticed some pieces by Gary Younge of the Guardian: see https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/28/tory-party-brexit-political-system-second-referendum. While LCER as an organisation does not advocate a people’s votes, we do see the case for a New Deal for Democracy which the EU referendum exposed which would of course have at its heart a voting system that made votes count. Perhaps see also: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/13/labour-jeremy-corbyn-british-politics-tories. The good thing about electoral reform and reformers is that they do not need to agree on everything but can work with others on things where they have agreement. That is the new politics and the political culture we need.

 

Mary Southcott

LCER Parliamentary & Political Officer

0117 924 5139, 077 125 11931

 

John Doolan

LCER Administrative Coordinator
07584 934 552

 

www.labourcampaignforelectoralreform.org.uk

John Doolan