‘Black Votes Matter,’ say campaigners fighting for fair voting system

“I’ll tell you what PR is not. It’s not a silver bullet that is an advantage for certain groups. PR is an advantage for all groups. It does not discriminate. It ensures that every vote matters and every vote is equal.”

That was the message from Justina Cruickshank, Vice-Chair of the Electoral Reform Society, guest speaker at Black Votes Matter, an event organised by Make Votes Matter to explore how the current voting system disadvantages minorities, and what can be done to improve the situation.

Speakers at the Make Votes Matter event included the journalist and broadcaster Gary Younge, Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director at the Equality Trust, and Comr Olalekan Odedeyi, founding member of Tees Valley Labour BME Forum.

With just 51 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons taken by BME MPs after the 2017 General Election, there is still a long way to go before people from these communities feel represented in parliament.

Could the voting system be part of the problem? That’s what people came to find out at last night’s Black Votes Matter event in London.

According to campaigners, the UK’s First Past the Post voting system means most votes are “wasted” and parties winning millions of votes can end up with no seats in Parliament. Proportional Representation (PR) means that seats match votes and all votes count equally - and is strongly associated with more diversity among MPs and reduction in inequality across society, they add.

The event examined how people from black and minority ethnic communities can increase their political voice and whether PR could help achieve this. They also dispelled some of the common myths around PR giving extremists political power.

Speaking at the event, Gary Younge said: “Why would I support something that would give a voice to the far right? I would rather expose them by having them in the room as part of the debate.”

Grassroots activist Olalekan Odedeyi said: ““PR is going to do a great job of solving voter inequality, and reducing a lot of wasted votes as it produces more representation.”

Contrasting countries like Norway, which use PR, with the UK, Dr Wanda Wyporska, of the Equality Trust, said: “Cross-country analysis suggests that democracy is associated with a reduction in economic inequality. The UK and the US are the poster children for economic inequality. If you want the American dream, don’t go to America, go to Norway.”

Surrinder Chera, of Make Votes Matter, said: “We strongly believe that Black Votes Matter and that voting reform is relevant to all communities. But we also need to understand why some BME communities seem to feel disengaged about the urgent need to overhaul our voting system.

“We need to hear more from people who aren’t represented in mainstream politics, and holding events like this can provide an opportunity to start those conversations and give a platform for meaningful debate on this important issue.”

The event was held on Thursday 11 July at the West Indian Cultural Centre in Wood Green, London.