‘Proportional representation will lead to better politics’, Labour conference told

Voting reform is ‘not just about who the system will allow us to care for but what the system allows us to care for’

Voting Ballot Box

Voting reform and a move towards proportional representation, will not only tackle apathy and alienation towards our political system but also lead to better politics, a packed room was told at a fringe event during Labour Party conference.

The Powering Up politics event, organised by Compass, Unlock Democracy and Make Votes Matter looked at how to secure political reform in the UK and bring about radical change not only to our voting system but also to how politics is done in the country, with Tom Brake of Unlock Democracy telling delegates that voting reform is ‘crucial to all other building blocks of democracy’.

While last year’s Labour Party conference passed a motion urging the party to introduce PR for general elections, it was rejected by the Labour Party leadership, with Keir Starmer saying that electoral reform was not a priority and refused to make it one of the party’s election manifesto pledges.

Caroline Osborne, of Labour for A New Democracy, however highlighted that PR was not only popular among party members but also among trade unionists. She told the event: “Among trade union branches its part of their make-up, they fundamentally understand PR can have a huge impact on the trade union movement in this country.”

Sandy Martin, Chair of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, told the audience that voting reform was ‘not just about who the system will allow us to care for but what the system allows us to care for’. He highlighted how if the Labour Party’s only target is Labour to Tory switchers, then it leads to narrow policies with a narrow focus.

He added: “It makes us vulnerable to knocking politics if there are only two sides focused on rubbishing each other’s policies.”

Frances Foley of campaign group Compass said that PR was important because ‘if we want a system that rewards cooperation then we need to act it, we need to manifest the politics we want’, highlighting how the group was willing to back candidates who supported PR.

Foley went on to add that issues like the climate crisis are too big to be claimed by any one party and that if the ‘Labour party wants to deliver big radical change the Labour Party needs alliances’ and added: “If we break open this narrow approach to politics that targets focus groups and a small section of voters then we can do so much more.”

Foley issued a rallying call to advocates of PR, telling the audience: “Hold on to that pluralism, hold on to that message and this is definitely a case of when and not if” she said, in relation to PR.

Klina Jordan of Make Votes Matter explained that wherever electoral reform is brought in, there’s been a massive civil society effort to bring it in, ‘we need a cultural shift and a big movement to keep driving if forward’, she said.

Klina also spoke of how broader coalitions in politics can lead to better policymaking. She said: “Bringing in the wisdom of the many leads to better decision making, we need lots of voices to make those long-term decisions.”

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