Conference passes motion urging Labour to introduce PR for general elections

Katie Neame

Delegates at Labour conference in Liverpool have passed a motion calling on the party to make a commitment to introduce a proportional representation electoral system for general elections.

The electoral reform motion – composite motion eight – calls on Labour to commit to introducing PR for general elections in the next manifesto and to changing the voting system for general elections to a form of PR in the party’s first term in office.

The motion – put forward by Ashford Constituency Labour Party (CLP) – commits Labour to convening an “open and inclusive process” to decide the specific proportional voting system it will introduce.

At least 140 local Labour parties backed conference motions calling for Labour to support a switch to a PR system, making it the most popular issue among local parties for the second year running.

The composite motion debated today stated that the UK’s political system has “catastrophically failed to represent people’s wishes, needs and votes”. It argued that first-past-the-post does “long-term damage to the health of our democracy”.

Two other motions on electoral reform were debated by delegates today. Composite motion nine, which was submitted by Blackpool North and Cleveleys CLP, was carried on a show of hands.

The motion calls on Labour to replace the ministerial code – which sets out the standards of conduct expected of government ministers – with a “legally binding contract, with clear consequences for breaches”.

Composite motion ten, proposed by Glasgow Anniesland CLP, was also backed by delegates on a show of hands. It resolves that conference believes that Labour should commit to the abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement with an elected second chamber or senate.

The motion, which was submitted by Blackpool North and Cleveleys CLP, calls on Labour to replace the ministerial code – which sets out the standards of conduct expected of government ministers – with a “legally binding contract, with clear consequences for breaches”.

Labour is not bound by policy passed at its annual conference – even if motions are passed unanimously. It is Labour’s national policy forum (NPF) and ‘Clause V’ meeting before an election that decides which parts of the party programme are included in the manifesto.

A motion on PR was rejected at last year’s conference despite being supported by close to 80% of CLP delegates, as 95% of trade union delegates voted against. Unite and UNISON – the UK’s two largest unions – have both since backed electoral reform, joining other Labour-affiliated unions including ASLEF and the TSSA.

Exclusive polling for LabourList earlier this month revealed strong support for PR among Labour members. More than 70% of respondents said the Labour Party should back a move to PR, compared to 22% opposed.

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.”

But Starmer declared over the weekend that the party’s next manifesto would not include pledges on electoral reform, adding that it was “not a priority” for him.

Reacting to Starmer’s comments, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said he was a “little disappointed” to see the party rule out reform, adding: “I would say to them listen to hear the mood of conference on that particular issue.”

In a speech to conference today, Mark Drakeford told delegates: “The Senedd, with its unbroken Labour governments, has always been elected by proportional representation.”

The Welsh First Minister added: “In a special conference, earlier this summer, over three quarters of the entire Welsh party voted to strengthen the proportionality of our voting system, to make sure that every Labour vote will count towards creating that next Welsh Labour government.”

Writing for LabourList in April, John McDonnell argued that the party needed to “keep up the momentum” on PR, declaring: “We need to build on last year’s result and ensure the debate is taken back to the conference floor and that… we win a mandate to include electoral reform in the next manifesto.”

Commenting during conference, the former Shadow Chancellor argued that the current system had “consolidated power in the hands of politicians who have lined the pockets of their rich friends and protected the profiteering of corporations while undermining workers’ rights”.

A Momentum spokesperson declared following today’s vote that conference had sent the Labour leader an “unambiguous message” that the “leader alone does not dictate the policy of the party” and that a Labour government “must be a democratising government”.

“The democratic revolution can’t end at PR. We need to break up our centralised Westminster system entirely: by abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with an elected senate, and devolving more decision-making power to regions and communities,” they added.

The Labour for a New Democracy group was formed in September 2020 when Labour MPs and pressure groups joined forces to campaign for electoral reform.

The coalition is backed by various groups including Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, Make Votes Matter, Compass, Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy and Open Labour.

Below is the full text of the composite motions on electoral reform considered this afternoon.

Electoral reform one – composite motion eight

Our political system has catastrophically failed to represent people’s wishes, needs and votes.

No one voted for housing food, heating or transport to be beyond the means of ordinary people.

No one voted for our health, education and justice systems to be underfunded past breaking point. To build a better society address distrust and alienation in politics and to safeguard the union, everyone must have an equal voice.

First Past the Post (FPTP) does long-term damage to the health of our democracy. Labour must commit to fixing it, In the 2019 general election, there were: 38,264 votes for every Tory MP elected; 50,836 for every Labour MP, 25,882 for every SNP MP.

Devolution was a major achievement of the last Labour government. Labour is already committed to extending democracy, from strengthening devolution to Lords reform. But our democratic system will remain broken – until we replace FPTP with a form of proportional representation.

There are systems of PR that retain a strong constituency link between MPs and their electorates, while ensuring that votes count equally and seats match votes.

Conference resolves that:

Labour must make a commitment to introduce Proportional Representation for general elections in the next manifesto.

During its first term in office the next Labour government must change the voting system for general elections to a form of PR.

Labour should convene an open and inclusive process to decide the specific proportional voting system it will introduce.

Mover: Ashford CLP
Seconder: North West Leicestershire CLP

Electoral reform two – composite motion nine

Under this Tory government we have seen a culture of undermining the rule of law, breaching the ministerial code and ultimately undermining our democracy.

The events since 2019 has shown contempt toward the public. From unlawfully proroguing parliament, Owen Paterson breaking the ministerial code, allowing Priti Patel to remain in post despite bullying civil servants, to promoting Chris Pincher despite knowing of his sexual misconduct. But finally, the brazen culture of partying during the pandemic, whilst so many made sacrifices this government will never understand but ultimately asked us all to obey.

This motion calls for several actions:-

  1. Replace the ministerial code with a legally binding contract, with clear consequences for breaches. With key examples when consequences are triggered. Including, suspensions, resignations and removal of an MP or even PM and the automatic triggering of a by-election.
  2. Increase the Electoral Commission’s powers, to hold political parties, candidates and MPs to account, if they are found to have broken the rules. The consequences include the ability to exclude candidates or MPs from standing for election.
  3. MPs shouldn’t ordinarily hold second jobs and that any secondary income can’t surpass their MP salary (some exceptions apply). These bold steps will show the public that the Labour Party, not only sets the rules, and lives by them, but ultimately show the public that we are not all the same.

Mover: Blackpool North and Cleveleys CLP
Seconder: Sutton and Cheam CLP

Electoral reform three – composite motion ten

Conference notes that the Labour Party has long recognised that the House of Lords is not fit for purpose and that it has no place in a modern democracy.

Conference believes that Labour should now commit itself to the abolition of the current House of Lords and its replacement with an elected second chamber or senate and should legislate to that end in the first term of the next Labour government.

This second chamber should act as a revising body that seeks to improve legislation. In order to have legitimacy we further believe that this new body should be democratically elected and must reflect the makeup and identity of the United Kingdom.

Conference looks forward to the publication of the report on the issue of the House of Lords by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown due to be published later this year, and resolves to use it as a springboard for progressive reform

Mover: Glasgow Anniesland CLP
Seconder: Maidenhead CLP

More from LabourList


We provide our content free, but providing daily Labour news, comment and analysis costs money. Small monthly donations from readers like you keep us going. To those already donating: thank you.

If you can afford it, can you join our supporters giving £10 a month?

And if you’re not already reading the best daily round-up of Labour news, analysis and comment…