Changing Britain’s voting system in 2018 might be overly optimist, but Brexit shows we are living in a new paradigm.
Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London all use forms of PR to elect their representatives. Take Scotland for example, current Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard and ex-leader Kezia Dugdale were both elected via the top-up list element of the Additional Member System. Until 2016, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was elected via the list as are most Tory MSPs. To win the battle for PR, representatives in parties opposed to PR - yet who won election via PR systems - must be won over and highlighted for their hypocrisy if they continue to oppose it. Getting the likes of Leonard and Davidson on board with be a major win for the pro-PR movement.
2. The Labour Party
In the current first-past-the-post system, the key to electoral reform is the Labour Party. A significant number of Labour MPs, including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, support PR, meaning that Labour is certainly on track to support a change in voting system. But in order to get them there they need pushed. The Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, who earlier released a report on Labour and PR with Campaign Group Make Votes Matter, show that PR introduced by Labour is a real possibility.
3. Ending the AV referendum argument
One of the commonest responses to calls for PR, especially on Twitter, is that, “we had a referendum on that and the country overwhelmingly rejected it”. This cannot be overstated enough, but this argument is false. The Alternative Vote referendum was not a vote on PR. AV is not a proportional system and is more likely to result in majority governments resultant of second preference votes. This mischaracterisation needs corrected in 2018 to help line the path to a change in voting system.
4. Winning over Conservatives
When PR is eventually introduced, it will not be done so by the Conservatives. Nonetheless, in order to win the argument, and create a consensus that PR is the right step for the country – bringing it into line with most other democracies – there needs to be support from all sides. This can be done by highlighting how the Conservatives would gain from electoral reform. This can be done by pointing out the results in the Scottish parliament. From 1997 to June 2017, Scotland only had zero or one Tory MPs. The existence of the AMS-using Scottish parliament showed the existence of Tory support in both the electoral and parliamentary arenas. Furthermore, in areas in the north of England where the Tories struggle to win seats, the argument needs to be made clear that PR would win them seats up there. Overall, they would likely lose out, but PR would give them representation in areas where support is small but significant. That is true democracy.
The Tories will never back PR, but winning a handful of MPs over could help when the day comes to decide.
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