PR must be new normal

Mark Serwotka says government mishandling of the pandemic underlines the case for electoral reform

The events of the past twelve months have fundamentally changed this country. Many of the norms that ran through our lives have been turned upside down and society will never be the same as it was before the pandemic. That same commitment to a new normal must now apply to our voting system too.

We’ve undoubtedly come a long way in the two centuries that have passed since dozens of men and women died at Peterloo protesting for the right to vote. This seismic event had a profound impact, and in the wake of the pandemic, now is the time to continue the fight for a voting system that is truly representative.

Despite the tragic consequences of the Covid pandemic, the country has come together and united in the face of unprecedented challenges. From cleaners to nurses to supermarket workers, everyone has played their part in keeping the country going. This sense of fairness should extend to our voting system because, after everything we’ve been through, it simply isn’t fair to persevere with a system that represents some groups in society and excludes others.

Research shows that people in the lower social grades, C2DE, are more likely than those higher up – grades ABC1 – to say that the democratic system doesn’t address their interests. Furthermore, those in the two highest social grades say they know more about politics and are more satisfied with the current political system, compared to other social groups. In essence, the further down the social grades, the lower the engagement and satisfaction with the state of politics in this country.

This should be a call to arms for progressives across the labour movement to make the case for proportional representation in its strongest terms yet. Working class people have the most to gain from a political system that better represents them and their interests, and so electoral reform can play a pivotal role in addressing the problems that have plagued working communities for decades.

Proportional representation can also be the catalyst for much greater levels of political engagement, which isn’t limited to putting a cross on a ballot paper every five years. A system that means every vote really does count will encourage people to get more involved in the political process and this can only be a good thing for the health of our democracy.

Other significant and deeply divisive events over the past few years have brought electoral reform to the fore. From Brexit to the election of Donald Trump, truth in politics has become a dominant theme. A proportional system is one of the best tools we’ve got to cut through the disinformation and fake news that has become so prevalent and has eroded trust in politics to a new low.

I’m confident that, had we used a proportional representation system in the December 2019 election, a Tory party that so frequently and brazenly lied to the electorate wouldn’t have ended up with anything like an 80-seat majority. In the end, their deception was rewarded with a 7.4% increase in seats off the back of just a 1.3% increase in the vote share, while they won 56.2% of seats from 43.6% of the vote. The government’s subsequent catastrophic handling of the pandemic has further highlighted the absurdity of our system and the need for urgent reform.

As we navigate our way out the pandemic, electoral reform should be at the forefront of our minds in the long road to recovery. If we are to heal the country’s deep divisions and come out of the pandemic stronger, we must make sure that every single vote matters.

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