Activists increase pressure on Labour leadership to back electoral reform

Sienna Rodgers
© Dominic Dudley/

11 organisations under the ‘Labour for a New Democracy’ banner have complained of “significant omissions” on electoral reform in a new Labour policy report and called on the party to recognise member support for a new voting system.

Labour’s national policy forum has released a document by the justice and home affairs commission following a consultation of members, affiliates and stakeholders on devolution and the constitution that took place earlier this year.

The report states that the consultation “received a number of submissions around electoral reform” and that a “citizen-led, deliberatively body” such as a constitutional convention would be best to consider the proposals.

The NPF commission suggests this would be an appropriate course of action due to the “variety of potential reforms” advocated by activists and the existence of “strongly-held opinions on all sides of the debate”.

But Open Labour, Compass, Politics for the Many, Make Votes Matter and others have expressed disappointment that the report “has so little say about electoral reform”, noting that it is one of the most popular policy areas among members.

121 local Labour parties have passed motions in favour of replacing the current system of first-past-the-post with proportional representation (PR) for general elections, and polling has found most Labour members support electoral reform.

The groups have written an open letter protesting that the report “downplays” the demand for reform, failing to make “any firm recommendations for next steps” as it only “observes noncommittally” that a deliberative body would be a good forum.

Labour MPs and pressure groups joined forces in September to launch Labour for a New Democracy in a bid to build support within Labour for electoral reform and change party policy ahead of the next annual conference.

The Labour administration in Wales recently passed legislation introducing the single transferable vote (STV) system for local elections and extending the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds and foreign citizens.

Labour MPs Clive Lewis, Alex Sobel and Rachael Maskell have called on the leadership today to back similar reforms for Westminster, as part of efforts to fix the “broken voting system” and deliver PR across the UK.

“This is an issue that can unite the party,” Lewis said. “Keir Starmer can and should lead on this, committing to proportional representation as part of a charter for democratic change that this country needs.”

Sobel, a Labour frontbencher, added: “Westminster-as-usual isn’t working, and there’s a growing consensus in favour of fairer elections. Labour can and must build a political system that ensures everyone is heard.”

Keir Starmer pledged during the leadership race to consult members on electoral reform and “include it within the constitutional convention that looks at wider democratic renewal”, as promised also in Labour’s 2019 manifesto.

The Labour leader is set to give a speech on the UK’s constitution on Monday, the annual Mackintosh lecture. It is expected that he will refer to “radical federalism” and set out plans for a constitutional convention.

Below is the full text of the open letter.

After a consultation on ‘devolution and the constitution’ earlier this year, the justice and home affairs commission of the national policy forum has published an interim report of its findings.

We are disappointed that the report has so little to say about electoral reform – given how emphatic Labour members’ views were on this issue. Of the hundreds of online submissions to the commission, over 60% explicitly urged Labour to support proportional representation. This makes it by far the most called-for policy in the commission’s remit – and one of the most popular in any policy area.

This should come as no surprise. Three quarters of Labour members believe the party should back PR. LabourList found a higher level of support for PR than for most other popular policies: from the creation of green jobs, to nationalisation of key utilities, to repealing anti-trade union laws. 121 Constituency Labour Parties have already formally called for PR and many more will do so in 2021.

Yet the report downplays this burgeoning demand, saying only that “the commission received a number of submissions around electoral reform”. Instead of making any firm recommendations for next steps, it observes noncommittally that “a citizen-led, deliberative body” is the best forum “for these kinds of issues”.

Despite the significant omissions from the interim report itself, we welcome the commitment in the commission’s work plan to examine electoral reform in detail in 2021. We hope the commission will use the coming year to actively engage with the clear and increasing support for electoral reform among the Labour membership – and that it will propose specific policy in favour of a fair, proportional voting system.

Labour for a New Democracy

Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform
Open Labour
Labour for a European Future
Another Europe Is Possible
Unlock Democracy
Electoral Reform Society
Get PR Done!
Make Votes Matter
Politics for the Many

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