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Will Labour change the game?

As the Left reflects on the lessons from the 2019 election there is growing momentum for the Labour Party in particular to embrace the need for constitutional reform - including a fairer voting system. 

Gavin Barker and others have been encouraging local Labour members to discuss these ideas and put pressure on the leadership to embrace progressive change, as he shares below:

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"If the game is fixed, change the rules.” Many of you will have read Simon Duffy’s article where he set out in the most blunt terms the fallout from the election defeat and what needs to be done. Among his suggestions was the urgent need for electoral and constitutional reform, as part of a unified agenda pushed forward by opposition parties working together to oust the Conservatives at the next election.

Here is one small step in that direction. Please adapt and build on it - whether Green, Labour or Liberal Democrat. It is a draft constituency party motion that situates electoral reform as part of wider, much needed constitutional reform.

For Labour members it will be too late to use this within the context of the imminent Leadership context, but it can be amended and used by all progressive constituency parties in the months and years to come. Some such as the Greens will already have done this but in that case, it needs to be escalated as a priority manifesto commitment and not just a footnote. Many Labour constituencies have also passed motions for PR, but I still get the sense that this is seen as something of a sideshow.

Ultimately it overrides any specific manifesto commitments to the NHS and education; for we are here talking about ‘the rules of the game’ on which all else depends: how elections are conducted, and how power is exercised and by whom. In both cases we have a rigged system that ensures elite, unaccountable government. Nothing will change unless we change the rules of the game.

Here is our draft motion in full:

CLP MOTION FOR ELECTORAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

This CLP/Branch:

That Truro and Falmouth Constituency Labour Party shall restrict its nomination of the prospective leader of the Labour Party only to candidates who have declared their support for introducing Proportional Representation as part of electoral reform.

Additionally, calls upon the Labour Party leadership to situate electoral reform as part of a sweeping agenda of democratic reform in which a citizens convention on a modern written constitution, by and for the people, is convened at the earliest possible moment after assuming power.

This CLP/branch notes that:

In the 2019 election, it took 50,817 to elect Labour MP. By contrast the number of votes needed to elect a Conservative MP was 38,300.

We now have a government with 56% of the seats on 43% of the vote. Moreover, 45.3% of votes going unrepresented, i.e. meaning the number of voters in each area who did not vote for the winning MP. Across the country, it means millions of votes for parties go to waste – with some parties’ support much more spread out than others.

A broken election system is part of a wider systemic imbalance in power and accountability whose source lies in the abuse of parliamentary sovereignty by the Executive (government). The result is ‘elective dictatorship’ which has consistently leached away power from the regions to the centre.

This trend must be reversed with a future codified constitution designed at a citizens convention that assumes the highest law in the land; one to which even the Westminster parliament is subject. It must transfer real power from the centre to the regions, and establish a new social contract between people and government.

If you think this works for you, use it. If not, change the wording. But whatever you do, keep the link between electoral and constitutional reform. Isolating proportional representation as something separate from a thoroughly dysfunctional political system is not going to work. It is rather like fixing the car wheel while the axel is broken. We need a whole body refit.

The draft party motion also forms a suitable agenda item and excuse for progressives from different parties to start talking to each other informally, as a precursor to more formalised electoral pacts. That is going to take time but the sooner we start, the better.

Finally, for Labour members in particular, this is how the leadership contenders stand. This is taken from an article by Polly Toynbee:

"Keir Starmer “believes there’s a case for electoral reform, because of the millions of votes wasted every election in safe seats”. He adds the proviso, “reform must ensure it protects the constituency link”, and says he is up for discussion."

"Lisa Nandy is a longtime advocate of progressive alliances but is only “open-minded” on PR. Most backers of alliances see them as a temporary fix coming together to bring in PR."

"Rebecca Long-Bailey is, as ever, opaque. All her campaign says is that she is “in favour of reviewing our electoral system as part of a wider package of constitutional reform that will be fleshed out in the course of the campaign”.

"Disappointingly, Emily Thornberry, good in many ways, is the arch-anti-reformer. She was against the alternative vote in the 2011 referendum and strongly backs the current system. “We are all equal with first past the post,” she claims. Which is perverse as it is plainly not so."

Follow the Centre for Welfare Reform's work on Constitutional Reform on Twitter: @CitizenReform