Keir Starmer Now Opposes Scrapping Westminster’s Voting System for PR in Blow for Reformers
His spokesperson told Byline Times that the Labour Leader has a “long-standing view against PR”
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Labour Leader Keir Starmer actively opposes a move to proportional representation for the House of Commons – putting him at loggerheads with the party membership and trade unions, Byline Times can reveal.
On Wednesday, this newspaper reported that the 350,000-strong union USDAW had become the latest to call on Labour to back scrapping Westminster’s winner-takes-all voting system, First Past the Post.
Two-thirds of trade unions that support the Labour Party now back a major change to Westminster’s voting system amid a mounting campaign among the party and union grassroots.
But Starmer’s official spokesperson has now revealed that the Labour Leader has a “long-standing view against proportional representation”. When asked to clarify if the Labour leader was against PR he said “yes”.
“He isn’t looking to change the electoral system…It’s not something that’s a priority for him,” Starmer’s spokesperson added.
Labour delegates overwhelmingly backed PR at last year’s party conference – after mega-unions Unison and Unite supported the shift. But they do not control the manifesto – a process that is steered by the Labour Leader and his allies on the National Executive Committee.
Starmer has repeatedly refused to commit to changing the system, despite noting during his leadership campaign that many people felt their votes didn’t currently count.
But his spokesperson’s latest comments appear to be the first time he has suggested active opposition to PR.
Nearly 23 million votes did not count towards electing people’s MP in 2019, according to Electoral Reform Society analysis, a result that was branded “disenfranchisement on an industrial scale”. Tactical voting and electoral pacts also dominate First Past the Post elections. YouGov polling after the 2019 elections found that one in every three voters (32%) chose to vote tactically, instead of choosing their preferred party or candidate.
A move to PR is viewed as likely to help smaller parties like the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. The latter achieved just one MP seat for 850,000 votes UK-wide in 2019.
Leading democracy campaigner Neal Lawson – director of cross-party group Compass – said: “By opposing PR, Starmer is putting himself against the overwhelming views of his members, the views of the public and the need to renew our democracy.”
Starmer recently claimed that “Britain needs a completely new way of governing” and publicly threw his weight behind Gordon Brown’s proposals for reform of the House of Lords. He has also previously said that the Westminster system produces “sticking plaster politics” – which lies at the root of the problems we all face, including the cost of living crisis.
A spokesperson for union-backed campaign group the Labour for a New Democracy told Byline Times: “Keir said he wants a decade of renewal and to restore faith in politics. He knows thousands of Labour members and trade unionists across the U.K. are right – that the solutions must include changing the voting system.”
Campaigners cite “clear and growing demand” for PR across the trade union and Labour movement.
A move to a PR could involve switching to the Scottish Parliament’s Additional Member System, which ‘tops up’ First Past the Post results with proportional list seats to make results more reflective of votes. Or it could involve Ireland’s Single Transferable Vote system, which would give voters a number of local MPs rather than just one, with the ability to rank candidates by preference.
Labour’s National Policy Forum is currently considering the party’s platform ahead of the next general election. A recent consultation saw submissions on PR making up the single biggest issue.
Two-thirds of local parties’ responses to the commission responsible for constitutional issues called for PR, along with 44% of submissions on all policy areas, according to the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform.
Tom Brake, Director of Unlock Democracy, told Byline Times: “In his New Year speech, Sir Keir Starmer called for a ‘bold, reforming government’ and ‘a politics which trusts communities with the power to control their destiny’. Proportional representation is the simplest way to guarantee this new approach. I hope Sir Keir will stick to those guns.”
Willie Sullivan, senior director at the Electoral Reform Society, said previously: “It’s clear that the status quo in our politics has failed so many for so long. Election after election, too many voters see their voices shut out.
“We need an end to our broken First Past the Post voting system and the winner-takes-all mentality that dominates our politics. Only a fair and proportional voting system can ensure that all voices across the country are fairly represented in Parliament.”
Caroline Osborne, of the Labour for a New Democracy group, pointed out earlier this week that Labour Conference already voted “overwhelmingly” for a manifesto commitment to introducing PR and that “with USDAW also joining these calls, there is now an undeniable consensus for a new electoral system”.
“These calls for reform cannot be ignored,” she said. Keir Starmer is betting the opposite.
Update: This piece was amended to correct a quote misattributed to Politics for the Many. The quote was from Labour for a New Democracy. We have also added a quote from Unlock Democracy.
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