Labour MPs and pressure groups have joined forces to launch a new campaign that will build support for UK electoral reform in Labour with the aim of changing party policy by the time its next conference takes place.
The ‘Labour for a New Democracy’ project, which brings together MPs such as Clive Lewis and groups including Open Labour and the Electoral Reform Society, will be launched on Monday at an event at Labour’s ‘Connected‘ conference.
The group has said its aim is to turn “overwhelming support among local Labour and trade union branches into demands for policy change” by passing policy motions in favour of the move to proportional representation (PR).
Three-quarters of Labour members have said they believe the party should commit to introducing a form of PR, a system that is designed to match the share of seats won by a party to its share of votes gained.
Labour for a New Democracy (LfaND) is backed by the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, Make Votes Matter, Compass, Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy, Open Labour, Another Europe is Possible, Politics for the Many and Labour for a European Future.
Clive Lewis, another supporter, will speak at the event on Monday. The MP said: “The UK is facing a public health crisis, a climate crisis, and a crisis of inequality. At their hearts, each of these is really a crisis of democracy.
“Electoral reform is not a panacea, but our current system has proved incapable of responding to the challenges of our time or the needs of the British people. If Labour is to lead the way to a better politics, we must embrace PR.”
The group’s online event on Monday will also be attended by former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark. New Zealand made the move from first-past-the-post (FPTP) to a PR electoral system in 1996.
The Electoral Reform Society’s Willie Sullivan commented: “The UK remains the only democracy in Europe to use first-past-the-post. Any Labour government serious about redistributing power must make tackling the democratic crisis a priority.
“Only serious structural reform can begin to repair this lack of faith in our democracy. A proportional voting system for the Commons and a fairly elected second chamber representing all nations and regions of the UK will give people a voice.”
Keir Starmer pledged during the leadership election to consult party members on electoral reform if elected, saying at the time: “We’ve got to address the fact that millions of people vote in safe seats and they feel their voice doesn’t count.”
Labour’s normal conference was cancelled earlier this year due to Covid, and the party unveiled Connected as a virtual replacement. It will not allow members to vote on policy, but will include speeches, training and panels.
Events will run from the 19th to 22nd September and will feature keynote speeches from Starmer Angela Rayner and Anneliese Dodds, as well as fringe events such as the Labour for a New Democracy launch.
Commenting on the campaign for PR, Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform chair and ex-MP Sandy Martin said: “More Labour members than ever understand that the system we use to vote determines the governments we get.
“With PR and a succession of progressive governments, we can tackle the climate emergency, austerity, and global insecurity. Labour for a New Democracy puts that understanding into action.”
Going into the 2019 general election, Labour promised to hold a constitutional convention that would look at the UK’s voting system if it won power – but the party stopped short of backing PR as an alternative to FPTP.
Below is the full text of Labour for a New Democracy’s open letter.
During the Labour leadership election, Keir Starmer said: “We’ve got to address the fact that millions of people vote in safe seats and they feel their voice doesn’t count. That’s got to be addressed by electoral reform.”
We agree, and it’s not just us. Three-quarters of Labour members believe the party should commit to introducing a form of proportional representation for general elections. Yet, the past suggests without action from the membership, electoral reform might never become party policy. Within important parts of Labour, traditional attachment to first-past-the-post dies hard.
That’s why, this Monday, we are launching a twelve-month project to convert the Labour movement’s overwhelming support for electoral reform into party policy. It is called Labour for a New Democracy. Embracing PR would signal that Labour is ready and willing to deal with the crisis of democracy within the Westminster system. The first step is for Labour branches across the UK to come forward and put their support for PR on record.
A truly representative democracy is a prize worth fighting for. Countries from Portugal to Finland are showing how proportional democracies can rise to the challenges of our time with competence and compassion. In 1996, New Zealand replaced first-past-the-post with a form of PR. Today, Jacinda Ardern leads one of the world’s most popular progressive governments.
At our launch event this Monday, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, will explain how electoral reform has helped to build an inclusive politics fit for the 21st century. We invite Labour members to join us and help fix Westminster’s warped system.
Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform
Make Votes Matter
Electoral Reform Society
Another Europe Is Possible
Labour for a European Future
Politics for the Many