A curious thing is happening: Labour is talking about democracy more than we have done in years. The ongoing Democracy Review has put the question of how we make our movement fairer at the forefront of debate.
Members have been empowered to submit their ideas on how to make the party more democratic. It’s a welcome step – but it’s time we looked outside the tent.
It’s a rare point of consensus, but ‘for the many, not the few’ has captured something that voters are looking for. Yet while we rightly look at our own internal structures, the glaring reality is that Westminster’s political system is for the few, by the few.
In May, Jeremy Corbyn took the positive step of making support for abolishing (and replacing) the unelected and outdated House of Lords a condition of becoming a peer.
That reflected a recognition that the chamber is anything but democratic. It works for the few.
But voters see ‘Westminster’ as one institution. To bring politics closer to the people, we have to sweep up all the corridors of power – not just the Lords.
For the Commons, that includes extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds. Moving towards automatic voter registration (why should you have to ‘opt in’ to your right to vote?). And, as in Scotland and Wales, adopting a fairer system for elections.
Doing so may involve overcoming some hurdles. In March, Electoral Calculus, which regularly projects the results of future elections in the UK, projected a ‘wrong winner’ election: that is, Labour winning more votes but fewer seats than the Tories at the next election. It showed that the Conservatives could win 40.5% of the vote and 297 seats, whereas Labour could win 279 seats on 40.7% of the vote.
(It wouldn’t be the first time. 1951 saw the Conservative Party win 48% of the vote to 48.8% for Labour. Yet there was a Conservative majority.)
Labour’s next agenda must be to move politics outside of those dusty corridors – and into workplaces and town halls. To ensure millions of votes aren’t thrown away at the ballot box, with our one-person-takes-all politics skewed towards a handful of leafy ‘swing’ seats. That’s a recipe for alienation and whole communities withering on the vine.
Letting the light in to Parliament – with real, informed citizens’ involvement is the best salve to the rising tide of populist paranoia we’re witnessing.
But democracy is more than just a principle. Political equality can secure lasting economic equality too. Without fundamental change to how the levers of power operate, the scales will keep being tipped against workers, as the recent Politics for the Many report showed.
It is trade unions who have often been at the forefront of progressive political change, from the franchise struggles of Chartism to pushing for devolution in Scotland. Now we can lead a new frontier for secure lasting change: a Chartism for the 21st century.
A new democratic settlement, with a fair voting system where votes equal real representation is vital for the change we need in this country. This is the latest battleground in the struggle for workers’ rights, which is why more and more figures in the Labour movement are joining the campaign.
The outdated Westminster stitch-up needs to make way for a more democratic, consensual form of politics. Let’s clear up the broken political system: bring an end to the stagnant culture and move to a proportional voting system
If we truly believe in the redistribution of wealth and power then we need a political system which reflects that – with people-power at the ballot box too.
Nancy Platts is Jeremy Corbyn’s former trade union adviser and is the co-ordinator of Politics for the Many.