The future of the left since 1884

Growing pressure

Labour members are calling for proportional representation. It is time for the leadership to listen, argues Darren Hughes.



Westminster’s political system is both distrusted and dysfunctional. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a huge opportunity for a political party that seeks to give power to the many by overhauling Westminster’s broken, centralised structures and implementing the kind of democratic transformation Britain needs.

This week saw the latest in a series of challenges to the Labour leadership from its members to get behind electoral reform, putting increased pressure on a leadership who has acknowledged that millions of voters feel their votes do not count.

In their weekly member survey, LabourList asked: ‘Should Labour support the introduction of proportional representation for all UK elections?’ The results were overwhelming with 75 per cent of readers throwing their weight behind the call for Labour to support proportional representation. It comes after polling by YouGov in December showed similar results: 76 per centof Labour party members back a change to proportional representation for electing MPs.

Pressure is growing. The LabourList survey follows news that the party received 424 submissions to its recent National Policy Forum (NPF) consultation calling for the party to back proportional representation. It meant that 60 per cent of the submissions to the justice and home affairs commission – almost one in eight received by the NPF in total – specifically called on the party to support a proportional voting system.

Labour members and the wider labour movement are waking up to the political and social crisis caused by Britain’s broken democracy. While our voting system is just one aspect of that, alongside the unelected house of Lords, proportional representation has to be the first step to building the inclusive, representative and accountable political system we so desperately need.

It should come as no surprise that Labour voters are joining the call to replace our outdated voting system – just look at the experience of hyper-centralising Westminster governments in recent times. It is perhaps now clearer than it has ever been that unearned majorities do not foster good government.

The first past the post (FPTP) electoral system at the heart of Westminster’s politics is increasingly failing on its own terms. The last election resulted in an 80-seat Conservative majority elected on less than 44 per cent of the vote. The fact that not all votes are treated equally means that 71 per centof the votes at the December general election had no impact on the local result, according to Electoral Reform Society analysis.

As many have noted, the mountain ahead of Labour is huge. The party need to make 82 net gains for even the smallest parliamentary majority. This challenge is made all the more difficult when you look at the shifting political trends in Scotland, which have seen Labour go from 41 seats the last time it won a general election to just one today.

Both party dealignment and electoral maths point towards a future built on cooperation and coalition-making with other progressive parties. It makes little sense for the party to keep backing a mentality – and a warped system – that sees power-sharing as anathema to the idea of effective and stable government. The risk to our country of five more years of conservative government is too great.

But backing a fair voting system for Labour isn’t just about how to secure power – it’s about the type of country we want to be. During the leadership election, Keir Starmer identified the problem of under-representation in politics, and promised to consult Labour members on proportional representation. This is a chance to reconnect democracy with citizens. It is devastating for voters across the country to vote each election and feel that they will never be heard or represented in parliament. Too many parts of the country are seen as electoral wastelands with too many communities written off by the corrupted logic of Westminster’s voting system. This leaves many to switch off altogether from politics, let to feel permanently powerless by the broken system.

With trust in politics at rock bottom, it is time to be bold and propose another way forward. Backing real democracy and proportional representation is at its centre about fairness and making every vote count. For Labour, this principled stance might also help Starmer attract new voters attracted by Labour’s setting of a new agenda of pluralism and cooperation amongst progressive forces across the country.

It is time for Labour to lead the charge for a new constitutional settlement fit for the future. Members are clear: proportional representation must be the start of this change.

Image credit: Paul Albertella/Flickr

Darren Hughes

Darren Hughes is chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society.


Fabian membership

Join the Fabian Society today and help shape the future of the left

You’ll receive the quarterly Fabian Review and at least four reports or pamphlets each year sent to your door

Be a part of the debate at Fabian conferences and events and join one of our network of local Fabian societies

Join the Fabian Society
Fabian Society

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.