As our Parliamentary petition for PR pushes towards 100,000 signatures, the London Assembly passed a motion today rejecting an attempt by backbench MPs to dismantle the system of Proportional Representation used to elect its members. The motion, proposed by Sian Berry AM, calls on the Mayor to make representations to the Minister for the Constitution, highlighting the success of Proportional Representation in London.
The Electoral Reform Bill, which passed its First Reading last December, would mean abolishing the currently used Additional Member System and replacing it with First Past the Post - and was widely lambasted by cross-party politicians and campaigners as a "cynical attempt to turn back the clock for party-political gain".
Sian Berry said:
"London is one of the most diverse cities in the world and needs an Assembly that can speak up for all kinds of Londoners and represent their views.
"All of us on the Assembly were voted in with a system of Proportional Representation and we properly reflect the range of parties Londoners cast their votes for. There’s no reason to change something that’s working so well.
"People need to be able to vote for what they believe in and to believe their vote counts – and under Proportional Representation this happens. Moving to a First Past the Post system where voters are left trying to work out which parties can win, which ones are in the 'two horse race' and then going for the least bad option would be a real backwards step."
The Electoral Reform Bill proposed by Ranil Jayawardena MP (Conservative, North East Hampshire) and co-sponsored by eleven other MPs - would also change the voting system for all Mayoral and Police & Crime Commissioner elections in England to First Past the Post.
Only four of the Bill's twelve co-sponsoring MPs represent constituencies in London and all are either Conservative or Labour MPs. Significantly, every Labour Assembly Member defended Proportional Representation for London by voting in support of Sian Berry's motion - as did one Conservative AM in addition to all the Green, Liberal Democrat and UKIP Assembly Members.
There was no detail published alongside Ranil's Bill about how exactly First Past the Post would work for the Assembly, but if the current proportional “Additional Member” seats are removed from the 2016 election results the number of parties represented would be reduced from five to two – excluding the quarter of voters who backed the affected parties and greatly diminishing the Assembly as a representative body.
It would also mean reducing the share of women in the Assembly from 40% to just 28% - an even lower than the percentage of women MPs in the House of Commons. Proportional Representation is widely acknowledged as a key enabler of better gender balance in politics. In fact, every single country with more than 40% women in its primary legislature uses PR. All twelve of the MPs who co-sponsored Mr Jayawardena's Bill - incidentally - are male.
In practice, Ranil's Bill has little chance of becoming law - but represents an attack on the only domestic public elections in England to use a system of Proportional Representation.
As well as the motion from the London Assembly, Ranil has come under pressure from constituents challenging his proposal to extend First Past the Post.
Luke Buckland, a constituent who runs Homes not Handcuffs - which campaigns to protest council bans on begging - traveled from Yateley to Monk Sherborne to be at one of Ranil's constituency open meetings after the MP declined his request for a meeting to discuss the issue.
"First Past the Post has led to the least representative Parliament ever. It makes no sense to go back to using it in places that already have modern PR systems in place. I hope Ranil will now reconsider."
This comes as our Parliamentary petition for Proportional Representation in the House of Commons passes 90,000 signatures - rapidly approaching the 100,000 required to trigger a full Parliamentary debate. It's clear that there's a groundswell of support for PR that is unprecedented for this stage in the electoral cycle.
Read all about it in Owen Winter's article for the Huffington Post - and please keep signing and sharing the petition to Make Votes Matter!