Making all votes count 

While 76% of Labour voters support PR Alena Ivanova asks whether members are willing to back a progressive Labour-led coalition.  

Talking to a comrade recently about the ‘dark ages’ for elections in 2000s, he admitted to voting Lib Dem in 2010. This is not your typical bright-eyed student fooled by Nick Cleggs’ dubious charm. We are talking about a staunchly left working-class young person who surveyed the dire prospects of all parties’ political programmes and decided on the Lib Dems because of their commitment to electoral reform and Proportional Representation (PR).  

The second edition of the report* published by Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and Make Votes Matter (the cross-party campaign to introduce PR  to the House of Commons) makes the case for PR in light of the surprise strong result for Labour under Corbyn and the unique position the party has found itself in under May’s unstable government. The publication argues that the manifesto’s commitment to a Constitutional Convention is significant but does not go far enough and, more importantly, is not reflective of the new mood to rebuild the party as a grassroots-led, truly members’ organisation.  

The report outlines the basic arguments against the current First Past the Post system – that it is archaic, that it rarely delivers a government that has actually won the widest support, that it polarises the political discourse and at the same time devalues political ideas, putting pressure on candidates to focus on short-term easy fixes for marginal localities, rather than big picture strategic change for the whole country. Perhaps most significantly, the existing electoral system has delivered a majority of conservative-led governments when the country consistently returns a majority of more progressive votes. The effects of this erosion of democracy are felt by all of us, not only in terms of the continuing austerity and dismantling of public services, but the apathy and mistrust people feel towards the political system – often people in the demographics that Labour is polling best in. 

It goes on to present evidence that PR countries have achieved better gender and BAME representation in government, as well as lower income inequality, better environmental controls, less appetite for engaging with armed conflicts and higher social expenditure.  

Consistently, the report draws on existing research and modelling of previous election results to make the compelling argument that under Proportional Representation, there would be no areas in the country taken for granted, and voters in each seat will be represented in parliament. That in itself should be reason enough for Labour to wholeheartedly support an electoral reform that makes all votes count.  

However, the question that left-wing activists within Labour would then need to answer for themselves is what would the effects of more coalition governments with Labour as the key party would mean for the project we are finally making headway with, namely shifting the political consensus back to the left of genuinely democratic socialism. For example, discussing the effects of FPTP during the Thatcher era, the authors clearly state: 

‘The point here is not that a Labour-Liberal coalition would be exactly the same as a Labour majority government, but that it would be incomparably better and more representative of British voters than the actual outcome, nearly two decades of Thatcherism.’ Are Labour supporters prepared to stand by their preference for PR (76% of Labour voters believe the party should commit to PR), if it means a progressive coalition that is not necessarily aligned to the current Labour vision that is finally offering a true alternative? 

*The Many, Not the Few 

Proportional Representation & Labour in the 21st Century 

Published by Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and Make Votes Matter 

Alena Ivanova is a member of Tower Hamlets Labour Party and Momentum