For the many, not the few
Peter Gregson says Labour members who support proportional representation can use their votes in internal elections to help push Labour towards adopting the policy.
Labour Party members can use their vote in the forthcoming NEC elections to elect those in favour of electoral reform. To see a list of who deserves your vote, go to tinyurl.com/labourpr to see a list of NEC candidates; of the 26 standing, just half support change.
There are 41 places on the NEC; 9 come from CLPs and those are the ones up for election. Of the others, 14 are union reps and 6 are MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson. If we can make sure all 9 CLP reps support PR, they could become a powerful voice for shaping policy.
If Labour commits to PR and gets into power, we will be able to change how this country is governed for ever. Many are sick of seeing our country being conned on Brexit by Tory extremists, and I believe they would never have gained the power they presently hold if we had PR.
Labour folk worry that a fairer voting system will prevent radical proposals being implemented once in office, but in the UK that means extreme right-wing ideas can get through as well. Look at hard Brexit, austerity, the poll tax, council house sales, privatisation of public services, etc. Labour has spent two-thirds of the past 100 years in opposition – electoral reform will remedy that. And we needn’t worry about coalitions – the Lib Dems didn’t influence Tory policy in the last government one jot, as far as I can see.
One argument against PR for Labour people is that it would preclude forming a majority Labour government pretty much forever. But under PR the Tories would also struggle to form a government, and certainly seldom a majority one. Do we really need the likes of Rees-Mogg getting away with ruining the country’s trading prospects?
What’s clear is that under the present system, Labour will spend far more time in opposition. Wouldn’t it be better to have a chance to rule, albeit though that might mean co-operating with the likes of the Greens to do so? Every vote should matter; in 2017, under STV, Scotland would have been better represented at Westminster, with 16 Labour MPs, not 7. Of course, under PR, voting patterns change. More people come out to vote as well; up to 10% more. But we end up with a more representative democracy.
The AV referendum was lost in 2011 because nobody loved it, and it was badly explained by the Electoral Commission. The No campaign was dirty and deceitful, the Yes campaign weak. There was a belief that PR always led to coalition governments and with the Con-Dems in power, with the Lib Dems branded by broken promises on health, universities and cuts, it was hard to be positive about coalitions. No matter that AV only marginally raises the chances of a hung parliament. Unfortunately, Nick Clegg couldn’t help much – he himself recognised that voters wanted to poke him in the eye. But all over the world coalitions can and do work.
After 1997, government spending doubled under Labour – only to be slashed by Tory austerity. We need more coalition governments (but not like the Con-Dems, an unequal marriage if ever I saw one). Those doubting we are facing an inexorable drift to a more unfair society need look no further than Piketty’s predictions for the future. As long as big money sets the Overton window and the press follow suit to favour the Conservatives, Labour is going to struggle to win elections – and their successes will be reversed by any slight swing to the right, when we face yet another Tory government intent on undoing progressive change. Coalitions in the UK will help stop this unbalanced see-saw with a rightward drift. PR is the medicine our society needs.
Now is a good time to shout for this, with a government that got 29% of the votes (from a voting population of 46.9 million people) making a mess of Brexit. In 2017 under STV Labour could have won 297 seats, more than any other party. They’d have a minority government now, or a coalition with the Lib Dems or SNP, but one thing’s for sure – we’d have no hard Brexit. Labour want a customs union; the Lib Dems and SNP would support that. What better argument for PR against those that prefer FPTP for its tendency to lead to “strong government”?
We need a better system for the UK. We already have PR for Scotland and Wales – why not Westminster too? The huge numbers of new Labour members (many young) provide an opportunity to inject fresh energy into the cause. I urge Labour readers to use their NEC and other votes, referring to the candidate list at tinyurl.com/labourpr – and blow the winds of change.