UNISON vote to back PR hailed as “huge boost” by electoral reform campaigners

Elliot Chappell

Delegates at the UNISON conference voting to back proportional representation has been welcomed by electoral reform campaigners, who have hailed the commitment from one of the largest unions in the UK as a “huge boost”.

Delegates at the Labour-affiliated union’s conference voted in favour of a motion calling on UNISON to reject the current first-past-the-post system for electing MPs to the House of Commons and instead embrace PR for future general elections.

Stephen Smellie explained that the motion had been passed “after being prioritised by members who then had a free debate and vote”, arguing that “the message from conference is clear”.

“UNISON members are sick of Westminster’s distorting first-past-the-post voting system and want a proportional system that properly reflects the voice of working people,” the UNISON national executive committee member said.

Sources said the motion was passed by a show of hands, not being close enough to warrant a ‘card vote’. UNISON now joins fellow Labour-affiliated unions Unite, ASLEF, the Musicians Union and the TSSA in having adopted pro-electoral reform stances.

Politics for the Many coordinator Nancy Platts said this afternoon that “working people must have a voice at the table” and described the vote as a “huge moment for the campaign for fairer votes”.

“UNISON members have decisively rejected our broken first-past-the-post system and made their collective voices heard. Labour politicians in Westminster can no longer ignore the growing calls for reform coming from across our movement. It’s time to say enough is enough,” she added.

A motion committing Labour to supporting a switch to a PR system for electing MPs to the Commons was rejected at the party’s annual conference last September. The motion was backed by 79.5% of Constituency Labour Party delegates but fell as 95% of trade union delegates voted against.

Writing exclusively for LabourList earlier this year, John McDonnell MP argued that members must push for “democratic renewal” to be a “core part of Labour’s programme” and to “finish what we started in Brighton last year”.

“It is clear that across the labour movement, the tide is turning,” he wrote. “We need to build on last year’s result and ensure the debate is taken back to the conference floor and that, with the support of more trade unions, we win a mandate to include electoral reform in the next manifesto.”

Exclusive polling for LabourList, published ahead of the conference last year, revealed that 83% of Labour members believed the party should support changing the UK’s electoral system to PR, up from 76% less than two years ago.

At the Momentum policy primary in April, members of the left-wing organisation voted on the motions the group would back at the upcoming conference. Members backed a raft of policies including one committing the party to backing PR.

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