It’s time for the UK to become a real democracy in which votes match seats.
The UK’s voting system is a tragic mess. FPTP inflates the support of the two largest parties while diluting support of smaller players. It limits voter choice at the ballot box - and at constituency surgeries - and leads to minority rule. Furthermore, its proponents say results in strong and stable governments, but in 2010, there was a hung parliament. In 2015, the Tories managed a small majority, but two years later the system crashed again. Even under its own criteria, the system is a failure.
Proportional representation in some form must be achieved as soon as possible.
Any election outcome involving a Conservative-led government will result in the status-quo. However, it is worth continuously making the argument that the Scottish Tories’ success in Holyrood is resultant of the Additional Member System, as well as pointing out that there is in fact a group called “Conservative Action for Electoral Reform”. Furthermore, my colleague Matt Gillow recently wrote an excellent piece for Make Votes Matter outlining the Conservative case for PR.
Putting that to one side, there are two options.
One is to get Labour to support proportional representation in some form and hope it is implemented if they achieve a majority. A significant minority of Labour MPs already back reform. Politics Home even reported in 2016 that Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell called on Jeremy Corbyn to back PR. Furthermore, a joint Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and Make Votes Matter report highlights the significant share of Labour MPs who back reform, as well as the Labour case for change.
However, if Labour were to get a majority following endorsing PR – perhaps even a massive one – they could fall into the Blair-Trudeau trap.
Following the 1997 election, the Jenkins Commission was set-up to look at reforming the UK’s voting system. The eventual report backed AV+, but change was never implemented. Once Tony Blair had a colossal majority, why would he threaten that? Almost two decades later, the Liberals' Justin Trudeau won a significant majority in Canada’s House of Commons. His party went from third to first place and was elected on the back of a pledge to reform Canada’s outdated FPTP voting system. But he too has gone back on that promise.
A PR-backing Labour majority could end up implementing change, but there is a serious risk that it fail to deliver, especially if Corbyn plans on radically transforming Britain over the course two or three parliaments.
The best option is therefore a Labour-led hung parliament. Whether or not Labour formally backs PR, this is still the best outcome as there is a significant minority of Labour MPs who back electoral reform. With this in mind, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the Greens would be in a fantastic position to secure PR while also being part of a progressive alliance within the chamber.
Of course, much will depend on the parliamentary arithmetic, but this would create the right climate for change.
PR is within our grasp and Labour holds the key.
We are long overdue real representative democracy; it's time for reform.
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