Soup kitchens - a consequence of Tory austerity

Ewan Wadd on why we need a representative parliament

My politics, like that of many of my generation, was galvanised by the EU referendum. My friends and I felt like our opportunities were being taken away when we were not old enough to have the luxury of being asked. The general election in 2017 acted like a watershed moment, showing me that the politics of togetherness and hope can truly inspire. Following that I started to educate myself about politics through YouTube and the news. I stumbled upon a video from the creator CGP Grey entitled “Why the UK Election Results are the Worst in History”. In five minutes, it explained the 2015 general election results in detail, saying that despite only winning 37% of the vote, the Conservatives won 51% of the seats – giving them complete control over Parliament and the direction of our country.

Growing up in the Tees Valley, and volunteering at my local soup kitchen, shone a spotlight on the damage austerity was doing to towns like mine. Yet the party causing such damage could govern with near impunity when they had nowhere near majority support. From then on, I was convinced that if we wanted to be a democracy that works for everyone, where parliament accurately represents how the country voted, we had to change how we elect our representatives.

Fast forward to 2020. The plucky, optimistic sixteen-year-old from Teesside is now living in Bristol for university, has been a Labour member for nearly a year, and is devastated by the 2019 election. The politics of togetherness and hope lost. Badly. After becoming one of Bristol West’s delegates to the South West Regional Conference, I see that a motion will be debated on the party supporting proportional representation. I met Mary Southcott at a LCER stall and signed up to the mailing list. However, the PR motion was not debated. The delegates presenting it could not attend due to awful weather. It was literally rained off. That opportunity to discuss our failing voting system was lost like a school football game.

Throughout the pandemic, LCER South West ran Zoom events about how electoral reform could benefit all progressives, whether you are a trade unionist, social democrat or democratic socialist. Despite moving my CLP back to my hometown of Darlington during lockdown, I still attended. The events included an excellent discussion between Joanna Kaye and Jeremy Gilbert on why the left should embrace PR. I learnt about Labour for a New Democracy (L4ND), a joint campaign by twelve pro-electoral reform organisations pushing for one objective: making the Labour party support proportional representation at this year’s Conference.

There are two prongs to this campaign. First, submitting resolutions to the National Policy Forum’s Justice and Home Affairs Commission in response to their consultation on electoral reform. The commission met in May, its report is compiled in July and goes to conference, giving it a big impact on our chances. The second is sending resolutions to Conference, prioritising one about changing to PR when we are next in government. In both these lines of attack, the more motions passed, the better our chances of success. Every resolution passed needs to be submitted to the commission. Over 200 constituency Labour parties have done this already.

Being a student gives a unique opportunity. You can choose whether to have your CLP in your home or university address. You can use the knowledge and experience of places where there are many supporters of electoral reform to push the L4ND campaign where there are not. We need to do as much work as possible in the northern and Midlands seats where Labour has in the past always succeeded. Here, the argument for electoral reform has yet to be won. Virtual meetings make us able to participate wherever you are in the country. When in Bristol for lockdown 3, I still debated the L4ND motion in my home CLP of Darlington – succeeding in making Darlington the 150th CLP to send in a resolution.

Covid-19 has taken so much away from my generation. We had to stay indoors and were not able to go out and do what every generation before us has done. It is frustrating, and it is hard. But we have so much energy and determination to make the future better than the present. That energy gives us the potential to create real change. This seemingly small change can transform politics. The potential has been made dormant by the pandemic. If we unleash it, the more open, honest, and progressive future we all want may be closer than we think.

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