The Labour Party bureaucracy has been accused of trying to kick electoral reform into the long-grass, despite mounting demands from the party membership for an overhaul of Britain’s voting system.
The party has faced growing calls from members to commit to replacing First Past the Post with a form of Proportional Representation - and to consult its whole membership on this policy without delay. Make Votes Matter has revealed that 43 Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) have passed motions to this effect.
In its report to autumn conference, the part of the National Policy Forum responsible for policy on justice, home and constitutional affairs revealed that “electoral reform was once again the most frequent submission topic”.
However, the commission concluded that “the Constitutional Convention promised in the manifesto was the best forum for such deliberations”, effectively postponing a debate on the policy until after Labour next gets into government.
Critics warn that even prominent supporters of PR within Labour doubt that such an approach would result in reform. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell previously stated that no party would change the voting system on which they were elected without a “significant commitment in advance of that election”.
It is far from clear that the National Policy Forum even looked at all the motions submitted to it. A number of CLPs that passed motions were not included in the comprehensive list of local parties that made submissions throughout the year. Among these omissions were CLPs that submitted their motions publicly on the party’s official policy website, such as this motion from Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner.
Campaigners say the decisions fly in the face of claims that Labour is putting policy-making in the hands of party members. Owen Winter, a spokesperson for Make Votes Matter and executive member of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, said:
“The policy commission acknowledges that more CLPs have passed motions in favour of electoral reform than on any other issue in its remit. Yet rather than consulting the membership as these motions call for, they are trying to kick the issue into the long grass.”
“Given that Labour is meant to be becoming more democratic, it’s a bitter irony that the party is ignoring democratic calls for a democratic discussion about the biggest democratic issue facing the UK.”
“If Labour really is to be a member-led party, it must listen to these CLPs and consult the membership about whether to include Proportional Representation in our next manifesto.”
Richard Burden, Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield, said: “These motions show that many in the party are fed up with First Past the Post, a voting system that creates unrepresentative Parliaments and fuels divisive politics. It is time that Labour took a serious look at reforming our voting system so that the number of seats that parties win better reflects the proportion of votes they secure. Doing so would improve democracy and it would help reconnect people with politics.”
Jonathan Reynolds, Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, said: “It's not surprising there is so much support in the Labour Party for changing the voting system. The UK has had general elections in which the losing party achieves more votes than the winner. We’ve had elections in which whole regions return 90% of members of Parliament for one party, despite that party getting less than half the total votes cast. It’s time we made every vote matter.”
The current wave of motions is the largest the party has seen since the 1990s, which led to Labour promising action on electoral reform. The independent Jenkins Commission was established by the Blair government and recommended a form of PR in 1998 – but no further action was taken.