Exclusive: 83% of members say Labour should back proportional representation

© Twitter/@Keir_Starmer

New polling shows 83% of Labour members believe the party should support changing the UK’s electoral system to proportional representation, up from 76% less than two years ago, LabourList can exclusively reveal.

According to a poll of nearly 1,000 Labour members, conducted by YouGov for Labour for a New Democracy, only 10% say their party should not support the switch from first-past-the-post to a form of proportional representation (PR).

The latest findings show record levels of support within Labour for the policy of electoral reform, which would change how general elections are run in the UK, with backing for PR being strong across all ages, genders and regions.

It follows a previous YouGov survey, carried out in December 2019 just before the Tories won an 80-seat majority with 43% of the popular vote, which found that 76% of party members thought Labour should back PR.

As of May 2021, more than a third of Constituency Labour Parties across the country – over 225 local parties – have passed motions expressing support for proportional representation to be used in UK general elections.

But as local parties decide which issues to prioritise at Labour conference in September, campaigners have warned that electoral reform will only be debated in Brighton if dozens of CLPs send PR policy motions to conference.

Labour MPs and pressure groups joined forces in September last year to launch ‘Labour for a New Democracy’. The campaign to build support for electoral reform within Labour has a model motion for members to present to their local parties.

This motion specifies that the exact kind of PR voting system that Labour would endorse in its next manifesto and legislate for when in government would be determined by an “open and inclusive process” convened by the party.

Commenting on the new polling, Labour for a New Democracy’s Caroline Osborne said: “Support for a proportional voting system is now overwhelming in the Labour Party – thanks to the brilliant work of activists on this issue.

“But we mustn’t take for granted that this unprecedented demand counts for anything until it becomes party policy – and we can only make that change if members all over the UK table our conference motion at their CLPs.”

L4ND is backed by Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, Make Votes Matter, Compass, Chartist Magazine, Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy, Open Labour, Another Europe is Possible, Politics for the Many, Get PR Done and Labour for a European Future.

PR aims to ensure that the share of seats won by each party matches the level of support they win from voters. Its advocates point out that the UK is the only country in Europe to use first-past-the-post for general elections apart from Belarus, a dictatorship.

A Labour for a New Democracy panel event on Wednesday evening, chaired by LabourList editor Sienna Rodgers, saw figures from across Labour’s factions discuss the need to get PR debated and voted on at party conference.

“It’s not time for PR. The time for PR was 100 years ago,” shadow minister Alex Sobel said. “We’re well past the point where we should have changed and actually our electoral system is creaking at the hinges because we haven’t changed it.”

According to polling by YouGov earlier this year, 62% of Labour voters and 42% of the general population in the country support the UK changing its general election voting system to a form of proportional representation.

Keir Starmer, whose support is crucial to getting a commitment to PR into the next Labour manifesto, vowed during his leadership campaign to consult party members on electoral reform and to include it in a constitutional convention.

He 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 will never get full participation in our electoral system until we do that at every level.”

Starmer went on to tell Labour members that, if elected to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as leader, he would deliver a “radical devolution of power”. At the end of last year, Starmer announced the launch of a UK-wide constitutional commission.

The new polling by YouGov was commissioned by Make Votes Matter. Total sample size was 989 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken from 22nd June to 1st July 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of Labour Party members (aged 18+).

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