Delegates at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton have voted against a motion that would have committed the party to changing the voting system for UK general elections to a form of proportional representation.
A show of hands in the conference hall proved too close to call and a card vote was declared, then the motion was rejected. Although an overwhelming 79.51% of Constituency Labour Party delegates backed the move, it fell because 95.03% of affiliates voted against.
Following a debate earlier this afternoon, after more than 150 Constituency Labour Parties submitted motions on the topic to conference, delegates voted on the motion agreed at a compositing meeting on Saturday evening.
While committing Labour to backing a PR system, the motion also said the party should “convene an open and inclusive process, to decide the specific voting system which the Labour Party will commit to introducing in the next manifesto”.
Labour leader Keir Starmer vowed during his leadership campaign to consult party members on electoral reform and to include it in a constitutional convention, 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.”
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.
Labour MPs and pressure groups joined forces in September last year to launch ‘Labour for a New Democracy’. The campaign to build support for PR within Labour promoted its model motion for members to present ahead of conference.
“One thing is clear from today’s vote – Labour Party members are overwhelmingly in support of proportional representation. After unprecedented support from local parties in backing motions calling for reform now we see that 80% of local party delegates backed reform on conference floor. This in itself is a historic victory for equal votes – and now the Labour Party leadership must listen,” a spokesperson for Labour for a new Democracy said.
Recent polling found that 83% of Labour Party members believe the party should support changing the UK’s electoral system to proportional representation, up from 76% in research carried out shortly before the 2019 general election.
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.
The Labour for a New Democracy spokesperson added: “We have won the argument with the Labour membership – both the debate and the result showed almost no support for the broken status quo.
“But we can also see we have not yet won the argument elsewhere in our movement. Hundreds of trade unionists play a key role in our campaign, but despite this most unions do not yet back reform.
“The truth is, if the Leadership had engaged with this unifying policy as intensively as they pushed their own proposed rule changes, PR would now be Labour policy.
“The Labour Party membership is united behind the drive to make votes count for all. It is unsustainable for any party to have policy at odds with the values of its members. Our campaign will continue.
“We are determined Labour must go forward to the next general election with a firm promise that it will support PR, replace our rotten electoral system and mend our broken democracy.”
Below is the full text of the motion rejected by conference on Monday.
Composite six – electoral reform
With first past the post (FPTP) votes do not have equal value. General elections are decided by swing voters in fewer than 100 marginal constituencies. FPTP has created ‘electoral deserts’.
FPTP privileges ‘swing voters’ over neglected voters – including younger, black and minority ethnic communities. It creates widespread disenfranchisement, disillusion, and disengagement in politics, throwing our democracy into crisis. It exacerbates regional, class, gender, wealth and racial inequalities in the House of Commons, in our political culture, and in national conversation. FPTP is unfit for purpose, stacked against the interests of less affluent people and communities, and urgently in need of reform.
A voting system in which every vote counts equally is needed to address the worrying levels of alienation, division and mistrust in British politics. Labour in government played a leading role in introducing forms of PR to the UK’s devolved government. There are systems of PR that retain a strong constituency link between MPs and their electorates, while ensuring that all votes count equally and seats match votes.
Those societies with the lowest levels of inequality and social exclusion all have proportional voting systems. We need a Labour government to transform society. But to give everyone a real voice in a 21st century democracy, we must change the voting system.
Conference resolves that:
- the next Labour government must change the voting system for general elections to a form of proportional representation.
- Labour should convene an open and inclusive process, to decide the specific voting system which the Labour Party will commit to introducing in the next manifesto.