Yesterday may be remembered as an historic day in the campaign for electoral reform

Trade unions have voted to consider changing the current system

Photo: Rob Williams

At the TUC Congress in Brighton, trade unions voted by a large margin to consider electoral reform – just two days after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the new Labour leader.

It’s an important move because unions were some of the main opponents of change in the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum. Now they are to consider much more significant reform, i.e. full proportional representation.

Union delegates voted to commission independent research on reforming the voting system, backing the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union and National Association of Probation Officers’ composite motion after some interesting debate.

We’re obviously delighted here at the ERS – the move adds to calls for Labour and other parties to support a more proportional voting system, in line with most modern democracies, after what was the most disproportionate election in British history back in May.

Trade unions – such as the PCS and NAPO – are increasingly recognising that First Past the Post is completely broken. Clearly it’s time for parties to follow the TUC’s lead and urgently think about the need for change.

But the move is significant for another reason – unions getting behind change was a key factor in New Zealand’s shift to Proportional Representation in the 1990s, so this could be the start of a major move away from our out-dated voting system for local and Westminster elections in the UK.

We hope that the Labour Party under new leadership will take note of yesterday’s vote and get behind real reform so that seats will truly match votes in future elections.

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS union, put it right when he said:

“Far too many voices are shut out by our voting system. First Past the Post writes off those who aren’t in swing seats, leaving millions on the electoral scrapheap.

“We urgently need a fairer voting system where everyone’s vote counts and so that the political diversity which now exists in the UK can be reflected in Parliament and in council chambers across the country. [This] vote is a crucial and welcome step and we look forward to seeing the recommendations, and then campaigning to make progress on proportional representation a reality.”

Hopefully more unions will soon be echoing this sentiment and pushing for PR once the TUC research is out next year.

Josiah Mortimer is communications officer at the Electoral Reform Society. Follow him on Twitter

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6 Responses to “Yesterday may be remembered as an historic day in the campaign for electoral reform”

  1. Selohesra

    How many seats would UKIP have got under PR? – certainly a lot more than the Scot Nats!

  2. Syzergy_Point

    Yes ukip would have got more seats than the snp. At the last election the snp ulster unionists got a big boost. Tories a boost. Labour a smaller boost. Libs lost out ukup and greens massacred. The boundary changes will further boost the tories at the expense of the rest

  3. RogerDis

    You are totally wrong there. Tories would lose out. Why else do you think they’re against change?

  4. Syzergy_Point

    Confused. Isn’t that what I said?

  5. Matthew Blott

    If that’s what people voted for then fair enough, I don’t have a problem with that.

  6. AnthonyTuffin

    I warmly welcome the decision to commission research on reforming the voting system – or, rather, systems because the UK uses several different systems for different elections.

    But please let’s get away from discussing whether this or that voting system would help or hinder this or that party. The fact is that any system may help Labour more than the Conservatives sometimes and vice versa at other times. It depends on voting patterns, which vary from time to time.

    Also, no matter what we think of a particular party, we should not try to choose a system deliberately to under-represent it. Not only is that undemocratic, but it also only gives supporters of that party legitimate grievance and encourages them to take direct action instead of accepting the decision of voters. In any case, a system that would have penalized UKIP this year may help it in 2020, with a different voting pattern.

    The discussion should not be about which system will benefit any party but which is in the best interests of voters, the nation and democracy.

    I believe that the best system for that purpose is Single Transferable Vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies because it best represents voters’ views. To keep this comment short, I’ll write no more now, but I shall be very pleased to go into more detail later.

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