Voting change at heart of new democracy

Tessa Milligan says the penny is dropping as Labour members swing to electoral reform

We are seeing the dangers in real time of what happens when a party which polls a minority vote under First Past the Post secures a huge, disproportionate majority in the House of Commons.

The result is a Government intolerant of its own MPs, intolerant of any dissent, which refuses any form of co-operation, dodges accountability, rushes legislation through Parliament to avoid scrutiny, and funds a Government of mediocre friends, family, donors and cronies with our money. A Government elected by a minority, delivering an incompetent, corrupt, populist autocracy. Make no mistake: this is a de facto coalition of the old-style Tory Party with Farage’s lot and the hard right.

What is their approach? To poll on or around 42% for the electoral coalition – a minority of the vote – with a good chance of that securing permanent Government under First Past the Post.

This is then spurred on by a series of invented or hugely inflated rows to fire up the voting base, be they scare stories of dinghy invasions across the Channel, faux-outrage about a “Rule Britannia” sing-song at the BBC Proms, or something else. These rows are designed to stoke up division, especially racist divisions – a strategy which can work pretty well under the divide-and-conquer First Past the Post voting system. We end up with a so-called ‘culture war’ which splits the country in two, and drives us, as an electorate and as a society, apart.

For a more inclusive, representative and collaborative democracy, we need proportional representation.

Proportional representation cannot, on its own, change the culture of how we govern and are governed. It has to be part of a package of reforms which roots decision-making as close to the people as possible by those who are accountable to the people.

The first casualty in pursuit of democratic accountability should be the House of Lords. It’s an affront to democracy. Instead, Parliament’s second chamber should be elected by proportional representation.

The second casualty will be our unwritten constitution. It’s not fit for purpose and, as lawyers would say, it’s not worth the paper it isn’t written on.

The third casualty should be First Past The Post, to be replaced with a proportionally representative system which is fairer and fosters an atmosphere of collaboration in which division for division’s sake struggles to thrive in the same way as it does under First Past the Post.

It’s not perfect. It’s not easy. I’m not trying to come up with solutions which are easy for politicians. It is their duty to seek collaborative solutions which work for voters and which deliver functioning democracy and better governance.

We are of course seeing how fairer voting can work in the Labour Party, having adopted the Single Transferable Vote in some of our National Executive Committee elections (I’m one of those to blame for that).

The penny is dropping with most members that winner-takes-all slates are of the past, vicious attacks on opponents work against you, and ultimately, if elected, you are going to be working with some of your election rivals. STV is more representative, more inclusive, gives the voter more choice, and means votes matter more. Its adoption marks a vital step in the right direction towards healing some of the bitter divisions in our party.

But bitter divisions continue to exist in politics outside of the Labour Party. Bitter divisions which are being exploited by those in power. We need proportional representation. We need a New Democracy.

Proportional representation would bring the possibility of collaborative, inclusive politics reflecting the progressive majority – and a future that is negotiated rather than imposed.


  1. I agree with Tessa Milligan on why we need PR but there is a ‘but’. As a Labour Party member for 66 years I have been arguing for PR since 1960.
    STV is fine ‘in house’ where I vote for individuals but I’m never going to put a cross against a Conservative or a Liberal, even though I happily work with them as a community activist. So, I vote Labour and Green if they have a candidate. Multi-candidate wards/constituencies might be one way around this. Individual candidates can break through or hold on and what we get is wards electing candidates from different parties or independents. I can live with that. I get 2-3 votes and can spread them about at a local election if I’m lucky, but not Parliament.

    When it comes to 21st century PR elections to date in Scotland, Wales and London, percentage turnouts fall miserably short when compared to turnouts at FPTP General Elections since 2001. I have used House of Commons Library data to compile comparative tables, which you can see on my blog at: – I want PR because I’m a libertarian socialist and a pluralist. Like so many things the Party does, it loves to complicate them. My only point of dispute with is that there is nothing democratic about the closed party lists used in the Added Member System. Logic says proportionally highest loses should take AMS places. No politician should be given a free ride. For the record, my wife and I make a monthly donation to LCER.

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