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Labour Recognises Westminster’s Voting System is Driving ‘Distrust’, in Potential Pivotal Moment for Proportional Representation Fight

“The Labour Party has made it clear: First Past the Post is flawed and deeply damaging to our democracy,” one campaigner said.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer has wavered on the issue of proportional representation. Photo: PA/Alamy

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Campaigners for electoral reform are celebrating a landmark win, as a key body that feeds into Labour’s policy-writing process has formally recognised that Westminster’s winner-takes-all voting system is a driver of “the distrust and alienation we see in politics”.

Labour for a New Democracy has described the move from Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF) a “significant turning point” following years of campaigning within the party alongside a coalition of pro-reform groups. 

The NPF decision comes shortly after Labour Together – a group close to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – published research showing that 63% of the public support a change to PR, with just 16% opposed. 

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The polling found that Labour’s key target voters – including so-called ‘Workington Man’ and ‘Stevenage Woman’ – say changing the electoral system would be the best way to improve our politics.

Labour’s formal criticism of First Past the Post also follows a massive shift within the party and affiliated trade unions over the past few years, with mega-unions like Unite and Unison ending their historic opposition to proportional representation, and party activists swinging overwhelmingly behind reform.  

“No voter should be locked out of democracy – but Labour and the public know First Past the Post leaves millions of people without a voice. That’s a fundamental problem with our politics – and one Labour must address in government,” Labour for a New Democracy said in a statement.

“The Labour Party has made it clear: First Past the Post is flawed and deeply damaging to our democracy,” a spokesperson said.

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“We recognise that this does not go as far as we all want. For us all, the case for Proportional Representation for the House of Commons is unarguable. But Labour’s recognition that the current electoral system is failing takes us further towards making that change,” a spokesperson for Labour for a New Democracy said.

They added: “We have taken the entire Labour Party one step further down the road to PR. This is the first public recognition in a formal policy document that the current electoral system is flawed, coming at the end of a serious and intensive NPF process.”  

The group said it would continue to work with Constituency Labour Parties, trade unions and elected representatives across the Labour movement to make PR “a reality” if Labour is elected to form a government next year.

Pro-reform campaigners will hold a “debrief” on the shift to activists on Tuesday evening (25th July). 

A spokesman for Keir Starmer recently suggested to Byline Times that the Labour leader was opposed to a shift to PR, suggesting it will be a struggle to push the party to implement the policy in government.

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Britain Isolated

The way Britain picks its Members of Parliament contributed to the warped nature of the Brexit debate – pushing the UK towards a hard exit from the European Union, a report from the Institute for Government suggested last week.

The analysis from the respected think tank finds that the the over-representation of the Democratic Unionist Party in the 2017 general election – coupled with Sinn Fein’s policy of refusing to take their seats at Westminster – meant there was no representation “at all” for Northern Ireland’s pro-EU parties in the UK parliament during the Brexit process. 

The DUP paid for ads on the mainland during the Brexit referendum, which may have contributed to the UK vote to leave the EU. But it also backed leaving the Customs Union and Single Market after the referendum result – a form of hard Brexit that Boris Johnson eventually pushed through as Prime Minister. 

That’s despite the DUP’s position that Northern Ireland must avoid a hard border with the Republic, which was almost entirely incompatible with its demands for the UK to end free movement of goods, services and people with the EU. 

In Europe, only the authoritarian state of Belarus uses FPTP for its national elections, alongside the UK. Most countries that used FPTP in the past have since changed tack, including Ireland, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Japan, The Netherlands, South Africa and New Zealand.

Key party figures, including the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, and Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, have come out in favour of electoral reform. 

And for the first time, the 2021 British Social Attitudes survey found a majority of the public (51%) in favour of electoral reform. “There are also many ‘safe seats’ across the UK where votes for any but the incumbent party are all but wasted,” the recent IfG report notes.

Final wording agreed by Labour’s National Policy Forum 

“The flaws in the current voting system are contributing to the distrust and alienation we see in politics, but there is no consensus for a new system.

Any proposed change to our voting system must be carefully thought-through – it cannot be dictated by political leaders or forced upon the country from the top down.”

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