Make Votes Matter has its day in Parliament

On Monday, Proportional Representation was finally back in Parliament, for the first full discussion of the issue in seven years.

The Westminster Hall debate was triggered by a government petition started over a year ago by Make Votes Matter co-founder Tim Ivorson, which gained 103,495 signatures thanks to the work of diverse parties, organisations, activists and supporters.

Read on to find out what happened on the day, watch and share key moments of the debate and find out what happens next...

In recent weeks, many thousands of us have been lobbying our MPs by email, social media and in person to ask them to speak up for fair votes. This was an opportunity for the MPs of the PR Alliance to argue on behalf of the clear majority of voters who want seats to match votes.

Earlier in the day a group of Make Votes Matter activists assembled outside Parliament with a huge banner to draw attention to the debate on this crucial issue, and we were joined by Tommy Sheppard MP (SNP) and Liz Saville Roberts MP (Plaid Cymru).

The people want PR.jpg

The debate itself was extremely well attended for an event of this kind and went on for a full three hours. Compare how many MPs are in the room for the PR debate (first photo) to the three other most recent e-petition debates…

Westminster Hall 30th October

26 MPs from five of the seven parties in the House of Commons made the case for PR. Seven MPs spoke for First Past the Post, and largely relied on debunked myths. It was striking just how one-sided the debate was. Pro-PR MPs repeatedly intervened to point out flaws and inconsistencies in the arguments of the pro-FPTP speakers.

Here's what we learned...


Winston Churchill supported PR

Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay twice invoked Winston Churchill in order to make the case for First Past the Post. But Churchill himself called Proportional Representation "incomparably the fairest and best in the public interest", something Caroline Lucas MP was quick to point out.


Collaborative politics is a good thing

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, set a Conservative MP straight about democracy in Germany, the country she was born and raised in, and explained how collaborative politics and participation of smaller parties is key to better politics.


FPTP supporters have a hard time defining democracy

Chris Williamson MP - a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn - asked Steve Double MP for his definition of democracy. Surely it must involve government on behalf of the majority - something we rarely get in the UK. Interestingly, Mr Double didn't provide a definition, instead simply repeating that the country has historically used First Past the Post.


FPTP supporters don't want to talk about Germany

Wera Hobhouse intervened in Conservative MP Ranil Jayawardena's discussion of Italy's unique and unquestionably flawed voting system to ask for his thoughts on the very effective system of PR the UK recommended to Germany after WWII. Mr Jayawardena's responded "I am here to talk about First Past the Post in the United Kingdom". He then immediately began talking about Poland.


AV is not PR

We all get very tired of hearing that "we've already had a referendum on PR". We haven't, and MPs did a great job of repeatedly calling up anyone who said otherwise. Below are two occasions when Conservative MPs were forced to admit that #AVisnotPR, thanks to interventions by Tommy Sheppard of the SNP.


Support for PR does not imply support for AV

First Past the Post advocates John Spellar (Labour) and Steve Double (Conservative) laid down a challenge to people who say the AV Referendum isn't relevant to the PR debate: did anyone who supports PR actually vote against AV? Joanna Cherry (SNP) had an answer.


PR doesn't put candidate selection in the hands of parties anymore than FPTP does

Craig Mackinlay claimed that lists - which are involved in some but not all of the systems of PR being proposed for the UK - give power to parties, not voters. But Labour MP Wes Streeting pointed out that candidate selection for lists can be done, and is done, democratically. As Professor John Curtice said recently, FPTP is a party list system: a list of one.


British people are intelligent enough to vote in PR systems

While summing up the government position, Minister Chris Skidmore fell back on the claim that British people wouldn't understand how to vote under a system of PR. Incidentally, the argument he makes in support of this claim - the number of spoilt ballots in Police and Crime Commissioner elections - is so catastrophically flawed that it's worthy of a blog post of its own. For now it's fully debunked in this post in the MVM Facebook group. In any case, Caroline Lucas was having none of it and called out the Minister during the debate.

It was brilliant to see so many Labour MPs joining those from the Green Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party to call for a fair voting system in which seats match votes, and for even more of them to come and listen to the arguments being made by their colleagues. Here are some of the highlights from their speeches...


Tommy Sheppard, SNP

Tommy Sheppard summed up the debate well - pointing out that none of the FPTP-supporters present had argued that seats shouldn't match votes, instead raising minor issues that he said were designed to confuse the electorate.


Caroline Lucas, Green Party

Caroline Lucas spoke about the adversarial and anti-collaborative politics created by our voting system, and how this impacts on government policies and real world outcomes.


Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat

Wera Hobhouse, who has been a member of the Electoral Reform Society council, explained why FPTP is a "rubbish voting system" in no uncertain terms.


Jonathan Reynolds, Labour

Jonathan Reynolds discussed how FPTP disempowers voters all over the country, and notes that "strong government means good government, not an artificial majority". Jonathan was one of an impressive number of Labour MPs to speak in favour of PR. Click here for videos of Ben Bradshaw, Paul Blomfield, Ruth Cadbury, Sandy Martin, Stephen Twigg, Stephen Kinnock, Susan Elan Jones, or visit our YouTube channel.


Cat Smith, Labour's Shadow Minister for Voting Engagement, herself a strong supporter of PR, was tasked with setting out Labour's official policy - which is noncommittal. A major part of our task is to help Labour change this, working alongside the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and others.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing coming out of the debate is the fact that Labour MPs who haven't taken a strong position on PR - such as Thangam Debbonnaire and Matthew Pennycook - came along to the debate to listen to the arguments. MPs like all people do change their minds, and more and more of them are coming to understand the problems FPTP causes to voters and to our democracy.

What we need to do now is to build on this momentum and lay the foundations for a parliament that will bring in fair votes after the next general election. This means lobbying our MPs alongside as many of our fellow constituents as we can mobilise and, if our MPs are not willing to listen, lobbying the prospective parliamentary candidates in our constituencies too.

We’ll shortly be inviting everyone who wants PR to play an important role in bringing this about. Proportional Representation offers the possibility of better politics, democracy and society. All the arguments and enthusiasm are on our side. We've just got to get out there and make it happen.

Can you chip in to our Crowdfunder to support the campaign for Proportional Representation? Anything you can give will help us fight for real democracy.