At least 144 constituency parties have called on Keir Starmer’s Labour to endorse a switch to proportional representation this year – more than have made a single demand on any other issue in recent conference history.
It is highly likely that Labour conference 2021 will debate using PR for general elections, after almost half of all Constituency Labour Parties – 314 of 648 – backed the move and at least 144 sent PR motions to conference.
At Labour conference 2019, 135 motions were submitted on the Green New Deal policy and 91 were sent on Brexit. The highest-known number of motions on a single topic was 151 on Brexit in 2018, but these expressed a range of views.
With PR set to be a major debate on the conference floor this year, campaigners from the Labour for a New Democracy coalition of groups supporting PR have welcomed the “unprecedented demand” for electoral reform.
L4ND brings together 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 others.
The groups are urging the Labour leadership to commit to changing the voting system once in power and to convening an open process to decide the specific voting system that it will pledge to introduce in the next manifesto.
Recent YouGov polling of the Labour membership found that an overwhelming 83% of members believe their party should support the introduction of a proportional voting system, with just 10% opposed to the idea.
Labour for a New Democracy’s Caroline Osborne said: “The 144 CLPs sending our motion to conference come from every region and nation of Great Britain – as well as International CLP, which represents Labour members overseas.”
The conference delegate from Gosport Labour added: “So many important issues will be debated at this year’s conference but it is clear that Labour’s members see reform of our democratic system as fundamental to changing our society.”
Maria Iacovou, from the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and a conference delegate from Harwich and North Essex Labour, said: “The demand from Labours’ membership to the party leadership could not be clearer: the first-past-the-post status quo is indefensible.
“PR is fairer, leads to better politics, and supporting it is the right thing to do. Conference delegates are heading to Brighton seeking an unequivocal commitment to introducing PR under the next Labour government.”
During the Labour leadership contest last year, 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 will never get full participation in our electoral system until we do that at every level.”
There has been no sign so far that Starmer will adopt the PR policy. The campaign also faces difficulties on the conference floor as just four trade unions – TSSA, MU, ASLEF, BFAWU – have explicitly committed to backing it.
Conference debates 20 policy motions – ten picked by CLPs, ten by affiliates – and votes via a show of hands or a card vote. If by card, the balance is 50% local parties and 50% affiliates, which means union support is needed.