In this month’s local groups’ Q&A, we speak to Laurie Taylor who runs Make Votes Matter Totnes.
Here, Laurie shines a light on some campaign successes in and around Totnes.
When did you get involved in MVM/MVM Totnes?
In January 2018. In the run up to the end of 2017, myself and Barbara, one of the Totnes MVM group members, had a ‘sparky’ conversation about doing something but decided to shelve it until after our busy lives had died down after Christmas.
I became 60 per cent retired at the end of 2017 and wanted to put a lot of oomph into this campaign while I’ve still got oomph in my body to give out!
At that time I became aware of Make Votes Matter having started a couple of years’ earlier ...and the rest, as they say, is history.
What was your motivation?
A bit of a story but in the mid 1970s life pitched me up in a safe Conservative seat. It took until the 1979 General Election - when Thatcher formed the Government - for me to realise how appallingly unfair our voting system was.
In the early 1980s I had got hold of a copy of the Hansard Society Commission’s Report on Electoral Reform, 1976. The crystal clear conclusion of the report was that we needed to change to a system of Proportional Representation (PR). But, of course, nothing happened… it was swept under the carpet! We know why, because First Past the Post (FPTP) favours a two-party system. I was shocked and dismayed. At the 1983 election I met my then MP, Tom King, on a one-to-one basis in our village. My sole purpose was to challenge him on FPTP and PR. He waffled and blustered and I managed to come up with the put downs to the usual defence of FPTP. But I didn’t feel listened to.
From 1983 life took over... three daughters and work. Not a lot of time left! I used to ‘bleat’ here and there about voting system change but was shocked to find that any engagement or knowledge of the subject was sparse to say the least. So I spent many years quietly fuming!
How often does the group meet?
Roughly every six weeks. Our last meeting was on Monday 12th August. We want to meet before National Democracy Week, 14th to 20th October, and so we next meet on Sunday 29th September. The group thought we might, by then, have a sense of whether there’s to be a General Election… but who knows, as it’s all so crazy!
Tell us about the group’s recent successes?
Totnes Alive Festival took place in early June. We had a stall there all day, with group member Richard’s brilliant ‘Cornwallometer,’ which is a bit of fun. Basically, on a board you get people to mark how they are going to vote on one side, then check the other side to discover that whatever colour you voted you got a Conservative MP! It’s a way to engage people in a conversation about PR.
The Ways With Words (WWW) event at Dartington in early July coincided with MVM’s Demand Democracy Day. Coincidentally WWW had a politically themed day on that Saturday. We worked the queues in shifts, engaged with many people and handed out loads of leaflets. We’ve done our own PR factsheet with our contact details which we insert into the MVM leaflet.
Another group member Brian has put together a Facebook page which appears to be increasingly successful.
What’s next for MVM Totnes?
Well, our MP Sarah Wollaston is now a Liberal Democrat and on board regarding PR. The Constituency Labour Party here have petitioned their National Policy Forum as being pro-PR.
We have just started getting into school sixth forms to give talks on PR and hope to continue this work.
I did ask the Cabinet Office if they could fund me as a Schools’ Democracy Ambassador; but they didn’t want to.
I will be going to the Make Votes Matter Alliance meeting in October and hope to work with the core team at MVM and other groups to spread our wings a bit further afield. We’ve made such good progress here and we’d like to help other local groups, if they'd like some help.
We’re waiting in the wings, drawing breath and ready to pounce as and when the present, chaotic, political shenanigans settles into a General Election.
What’s your advice to others campaigning for PR?
1. Keep plugging away at local politicians, political parties, the public and the press. John in our group is great at this and is amazingly alliterative!
2. As far as our local group goes, sharing out tasks between the core people is important.
3. Having regular (if not necessarily frequent) meetings to keep the momentum.
4. Having a core group with a range of strengths.
5. We have developed a wider, local, network of supporters which feels like a great reserve and resource and draw on. It’s really good for us to know they’re out there, and when the revolution comes, they’ll be ready!!
How can people join or contact the group?
If you would like to feature in our Local Groups Q&A, email firstname.lastname@example.org