Labour must back voting reform if it wants to transform Britain

'PR has such levels of support for good reason'

Voting Ballot Box

Sharon Mintoff & Duncan Enright are elected representatives of the Labour membership on the party’s National Policy Forum.

Britain is broken. After a decade and a half of Conservative mismanagement, the country is on its knees. Our NHS is facing a crisis on its 75th anniversary. Working people are struggling with the cost of living, and the UK economy is on track for the worst growth of any of the G7 nations next year. The Conservatives have proven they cannot be responsible with the country’s finances.

A broken economy is one symptom  of our broken politics. In 2009 Gordon Brown was right to reflect with pride on the progress made by Labour during our last time in government. Sadly, many of those gains have now been lost. Thirteen years, five prime ministers and seven chancellors have delivered chaotic government and economic uncertainty. When Labour gets into government, we will be inheriting a worse mess than in 1997.

This is no accident. Over the past 104 years, the Conservatives have been in power for over twice as long as Labour. The open secret is: this is a feature of our first past the post (FPTP) voting system. Academics are clear that wherever FPTP is used around the world, centre right parties are more likely to win and make life harder for millions of working people.

The Labour movement has woken up to this. There is now clear, strong consensus that we must have a fair voting system, with proportional representation (PR) supported by 83% of the Labour membership. Two-thirds of affiliated trade unions now have policy in favour of PR.

For members across the country, PR is a no-brainer. Where it’s debated at a local level in Constituency Labour Parties, PR passes as a motion 96% of the time. And it’s not just within Labour – a growing majority of the public now also supports PR.

PR has such levels of support for good reason. The economic and political gridlock of our broken Westminster system is failing to deliver on the priorities of working people.

Labour has transformed the quality of life for millions for the better – and we can do so again. We know the problems Britain now faces cannot be overcome in a single term. To truly address the profound challenges created by successive Conservative governments, Labour must be in power for a decade.

But with FPTP, the UK will always remain hostage to a voting system that can hand the Conservatives total power on a minority of the vote – power to undo the progress made by Labour governments, and then some. FPTP is enabling the Tories to dismantle public services and destroy our social fabric.

Meanwhile countries with PR have better outcomes on income equality, less poverty and stronger welfare provisions. Countries with PR enjoy significantly higher trust in democracy. Countries with PR have better rights for working people and trade unions. In countries with PR, gains made by previous Labour governments – gains like Sure Start, a well-resourced NHS, lower crime, reduced child poverty – could not be thrown on the bonfire by incoming Conservative governments.

In the long term, PR delivers the political stability required for economic growth and prosperity. With PR, we can raise the bar for working people and keep it there.

Labour is committed to making life better not just for individual working people but for entire communities. Plans to devolve new power to local councils over housing, transport, finances, employment support and childcare will transform the way local government works. Devolution reforms are sorely needed to revitalise towns and cities that feel left behind by Westminster politics. Devolution can only fulfil its potential if paired with a proportionally elected House of Commons. A Commons that does not centralise power, and that supports – rather than thwarts – plans to level up.

With PR, new powers at a local level could be represented in Westminster by MPs standing for regions of the country that currently receive next to no Labour MPs. The vital connection between MPs and their constituents can be kept, with a new approach to politics that delivers greater power and prosperity to every part of the United Kingdom.

A fair voting system must be core to Labour’s plans to empower communities. With PR every vote matters equally, regardless of where you live. That means there is equal reason for Labour to campaign everywhere, – and a chance for its representatives to make a difference everywhere.

Under  FPTP, millions of people are disillusioned with politics and feel their vote does not count. By contrast, voter turnout is significantly higher in countries with PR. Labour is right to want to involve younger people in politics. It would be a job only half done if a Labour government succeeded in extending the vote to 16 year olds without ensuring all those votes counted.

In 1997 Labour won a landslide with a clear commitment to electoral reform. In the process of fighting the fires left by over a decade of Conservative rule, we cannot ignore the voting system which has handed them the match time and again. Keir Starmer is right that Britain needs real, lasting change and a decade of national renewal. A new government – and a new way of governing. To make that happen we must mend Westminster.

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