Labour’s leadership election still has well over a month to go. But there is something that has not been discussed, something that has been highlighted by the UK’s smaller parties. This year’s general election was one of the most unfair in decades in terms of differences between vote shares and seat shares. Following the election there is a demand for a change to the voting system, something Labour should discuss as the current system ensures that a change of system could only be realistically implemented by one of the big two parties. Furthermore, Labour's leadership election is not even being conducted with the current UK-wide, first-past-the-post system.
So why should Labour back proportional representation?
1) South of England
This May’s election saw Labour almost all but disappear in the south of England as the Conservatives made unprecedented gains. However, people do vote Labour in the south of England. But due to the UK’s electoral system those votes do not translate into seats meaning Labour’s representation in the south is significantly diminished. The same reasons result in the Conservatives being diminished in the north of the country.
The election also saw Labour disappear in Scotland. The party only ended up with one seat, whilst the SNP got 56. In fact, the SNP got double the number of votes as Labour, despite getting an impressive 56 times the number of seats. Labour does have a strong voice in Scotland - a weaker one than before - but the current system, combined with the SNP’s dramatic surge, dilutes that voice. A change in the voting system would show the plurality of voices - especially in Labour - north of the border.
3) Division into factions
Labour is divided. The recent welfare vote highlights this further.
A proportional system could see Labour split into formal factions. The new parties could work together coalition governments following elections, but the divides could be more clear to the electorate, something which is arguably more fair and democratic.
4) Progressive cause
The case for electoral reform is a progressive issue. Proportional representation would make parliament more plural and lead to cross-party agreement and compromise. If Labour led the charge on the case for change then the party would be seen as progressive and forward thinking, allowing them to paint the Conservatives and out of date.
5) Electoral Benefit
Electoral reform could only really be implemented by one of the two larger parties or if a smaller party got into coalition with one of the big two and pushed a deal through. But for those who lost out in the last election, such as the four million who voted UKIP only to see the party get just one seat, there is an opportunity for Labour to tap into that. UKIP, Green and Liberal Democrat voters (the latter have been campaigning for change for ages) could lend their votes to Labour in the short term so their smaller parties benefit in the long term.
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