Ian Shires

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Willenhall North Ward, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Walsall MBC Learn more

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Co-operation for a better electoral system- and a better country. Part 1

by Ian Shires on 13 September, 2020

Published on Liberal Democrat Voice by  | Fri 11th September 2020 – 3:20 pm

Events of the last 12 months (think unlawful prorogation of Parliament, Covid-19 mismanagement, stalled Brexit talks, exams fiasco, threats to abolish the Electoral Commission and breaking International Law) demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that the Johnson-Cummings administration is surely the most inept, incompetent and fundamentally dishonest in living memory. But should we be surprised? I would say no, as this government is only in place as a result of the First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system which is itself fundamentally dishonest.

  • How can it be right that one party gains 43.6% of the vote, but wins 56% of the seats in Parliament -and 100% of the power?
  • How can it be right that it takes 830,000 votes to elect just one Green MP? But 1.24 million votes (just 400,000 more than the Greens) give the SNP 48 MPs? Is an SNP vote really worth 32 times a Green vote?
  • How can it be right that just a few thousand votes in a small number of marginal constituencies are often the only ones that really matter?
  • Why have we LibDems only got 11 MPs when we should have 70 in a truly democratic, proportional system?

These democratic discrepancies are completely intolerable. We must act to make this a rallying point around which we work with all other progressive parties. Make Votes Matter is the key grassroots cross-party movement in the effort to get Proportional Representation (PR) for Westminster. They have already drawn together an alliance of organisations, trade unions, individuals, MPs and political parties. Almost all parties that is, except of course the Tories, for whom the system works wonders, and Labour who are a work in progress -see below.

Many commentators have lately been making the point that progressives need to work together on this as well as many other issues. So it has been heartening over the last few weeks to hear both Ed and Layla articulating their wish to work together with Labour for the common good. The key question is of course – ‘Are Labour ready to work with us?’ There are some promising signs.  At the very least, the electoral arithmetic, especially with the rise of the SNP, means that Labour need to think carefully about where their best option lies.

Typical of the new cooperative sentiment is Jonathan Lis writing in last month’s Prospect Magazine:

But the moral of 2019 is that the progressive parties must work with and not against each other. The second, fundamental truth is that Labour must back proportional representation or face the possibility of near-permanent opposition.

And as Joe Sousek, from Make Votes Matter and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, points out:

In 19 out of the last 20 general elections, most people have voted for parties to the left of the Conservatives. Yet the Tories have been in power for 63 per cent of this time. … It’s time for Labour to recognise that First Past the Post has done nothing to create an equal society.

So the idea of true representative democracy is rapidly gaining ground within Labour, underscored by a December 2019 YouGov poll of Labour members which showed 76% in favour of PR.

Compass, headed by Neal Lawson, is another group strongly in favour of PR and campaigning for a new collaborative approach to politics. He urges the LibDems and the Greens to demand that Labour adopts PR in order secure cross party cooperation on ideas such as the Green New Deal, Basic Income and a Constitutional Convention. Compass have already started work on this ‘Common Platform’ approach which we should warmly welcome as a way to prevent continued Tory minority misrule.

Perhaps most encouraging of all, Labour now has a sensible leader in Keir Starmer who has said he is willing to look at this question, and he may well be influenced by shadow cabinet member Jonathan Reynolds, a longstanding and powerful PR advocate.

Part 2 of this article deals with the practical advantages of PR and steps we can all take to promote it.

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