Parliament debates Proportional Representation

On Tuesday 23rd April in Westminster Hall, MPs had the opportunity to debate whether to adopt Proportional Representation.

It’s eighteen months since this last happened - when Make Votes Matter’s parliamentary petition attracted more than 100,000 signatures and secured a parliamentary debate. A lot has changed since then, with the alleged arguments for First Past the Post looking more discredited by the day - and this was reflected in Westminster Hall.

Here’s what we learned…

Conservatives are coming round to electoral reform… thanks to lobbying by Make Votes Matter supporters

Conservative MP Derek Thomas said visits from Make Votes Matter activists among his constituents were the trigger for his conversion to PR:

“Since I have been elected, an organisation called Make Votes Matter has sent representatives—in fairness, not a huge number. As they have spoken to me, I have recognised that they do not feel represented or that their voices are being heard.”

Going on to say:

“I met representatives of Make Votes Matter to understand what an alternative voting system could and would look like. I agree that serious consideration should be given to electoral system reform.”

This is a great testament to the efforts of St Ives constituents who have been to speak to Derek - and is further proof that it is always important to tell your MP your concerns about First Past the Post, no matter what your preconceptions about their view on electoral reform. Even a relatively small number of constituents speaking up has the potential to win over an MP, soften their opposition to PR, or at least deny them the excuse that electoral reform is something “they never hear about from their constituents”.

Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, also spoke about the benefits of PR to a mature and consensual political culture, as did Vicky Ford, MP for Chelmsford, who nonetheless remains concerned about aspects of PR.

Of the four Conservative MPs (aside from the government minister) to speak in the debate, just one was unequivocal in their support for First Past the Post. All of the MPs who defended First Past the Post in the 2017 debate chose to stay away.

Change UK MPs have come round to Proportional Representation

Back in February, MVM’s Joe Sousek used an article in the Independent to make the (somewhat obvious) prediction that MPs joining the Independent Group (now Change UK) would inevitably come round to backing PR.

We’re pleased to see that this has happened. In fact, Angela Smith MP instigated the Westminster Hall debate. In her opening statement she set out her reasons for opposing First Past the Post - all the more compelling because they echo the Constitution Society’s devastating report on the state of the electoral system that was also published on 23rd April. Not all Change UK MPs are new converts to PR. Chuka Umunna MP, who also spoke, has long been one of the most vocal supporters of PR in Parliament.

Pro-PR Labour MPs are speaking up… anti-PR Labour MPs have run out of arguments

A full third of current Labour MPs have said they support PR for general elections. A smaller number (around 50 that we know about) remain strong supporters of First Past the Post - but their strategy is becoming increasingly clear: don’t talk about the voting system.

Not a single Labour MP attended the debate to defend our broken voting system. Given how badly it is failing the UK, this is no surprise. Meanwhile numerous Labour MPs spoke in favour of wholesale reform in one form or another, including Rupa Huq, Alex Sobel, Paul Sweeney, Justin Madders, Paul Blomfield and Jonathan Reynolds.

Cat Smith MP, whose primary responsibility as Labour’s shadow minister for voter engagement was to set out the party’s official policy, said: “Personally, I am on the record supporting PR.”

Liberal Democrat, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green MPs are brilliant advocates of PR, as always

The debate saw some great interventions from cross-party supporters of PR - with the SNP and Liberal Democrats in particular out in force. Not only did speakers make the case for electoral reform, but several made important calls for a citizen-led, deliberative process to be set up to choose a new voting system for the UK.

And Caroline Lucas - who as the sole Green MP in Parliament had to be elsewhere during the debate - more than made up for it on the BBC’s Question Time later in the week.

Lobby your MP!

The most important take away from this debate is that lobbying works. Hundreds of us talking to our MPs has taken us from there being no Conservative MPs in favour of reform, to there being several who are willing to speak publicly in favour of PR - and to work with us to persuade more of their colleagues.

Every MP is worth talking to. If you haven’t yet had a face-to-face meeting with yours, visit our meet your MP page and get in touch with them. Once you have a meeting we can invite other supporters in the constituency, so you don’t have to go on your own, and provide all the briefing and guidance you’ll need.