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Electoral reform is politics for the many

Changing the way our votes are cast and counted is key to getting the left into power and keeping it there, argues SHAVANAH TAJ

UNDERNEATH the talk of Brexit and open selection is something else party members want to talk about — overhauling Westminster.

The hurdles Labour faces to achieve a majority at the next election are high and undemocratic.

Assuming a tied vote, the Conservatives would be largest party by 12 seats and Labour would need a lead of 7.4 per cent to win a majority, compared to 3.4 per cent for the Conservatives.

Under Westminster’s system — unlike here in Wales, as well as Scotland and Northern Ireland — votes are essentially thrown away if they’re not needed to get the winner past the finish line. Since Labour support is often concentrated geographically with whopping majorities, those extra votes go nowhere.

This problem would be exacerbated if new boundaries were introduced. If they’re introduced, the Tories would need only a lead of 1.6 per cent to win a majority — less than they won in 2017 — and Labour would need a lead of 8.2 per cent.

That means Labour would need to win an additional 64 seats — more than twice Labour’s net gain of 30 at the 2017 election — simply through Tory gerrymandering.

We have a hard-right government in power in Westminster, despite the combined Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat votes having a majority.

We have a system that leaves millions of working class voters ignored simply because they are unfortunate enough to live in the many Tory safe seats.

In Wales and Scotland, if you have an underperforming representative, you aren’t stranded. You can go to your region-wide one or choose from a number of councillors in your area.

Labour members are getting angry at a rigged system — one that locks progressives out of power simply because the left vote is more diverse.

We’re starting to witness a change. An overhaul of the voting system was the top issue submitted by CLPs to the Justice commission of the National Policy Forum before this conference.

The commission has recommended that the issue be put forward to a constitutional convention.

As with open selections, though, members want to talk about this now. The key isn’t which system to use — it’s agreeing that the way we pick MPs is bust and then discussing the principles any change needs to embrace, from ensuring seats match votes to retaining the local link.

Forty-four CLPs have passed motions calling for fair votes, following campaigning from Make Votes Matter and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform.

Make no mistake, few reforms, if any, would have such a significant impact on the future of progressive politics in the UK than making every vote count. In an age of inequality, the ballot box is how we level it out, but that requires workers’ voices being heard wherever they speak up.

There’s a myth that the only way for Labour to be in government is under this corrupt first past the post system.

Yet projecting the results of the 2017 general election under alternative electoral systems, where people were also asked if they would vote differently under these systems, the Electoral Reform Society projected that Labour would have won more seats under most forms of PR, including 274 under AMS, used for Holyrood, and 297 under STV, used across Ireland, up from 262 today.

Not only that but we risk seeing another “wrong winner” result at the next election, with Labour getting more votes than the Tories but fewer seats.

This is about principle. Besides these arguments around direct political gain and losses, it’s about what kind of society we want to see. A fairer voting system has been proven to be good for social outcomes.

Westminster’s system encourages public money to flow to marginal seats rather than where there’s most social need. And at a local level, “one party states” mean there’s little scrutiny of the “nod and wink” contracts and handouts given to developers and private contractors.

These are some of the arguments I have been making as part of the trade unionist Politics For The Many campaign.

We recognise the need for electoral reform is urgent. Recent polling shows that a lack of faith in politics, politicians and government has made its debut in the top 10 issues for Britain and this discontent is fuelling the rise of the far right.

It’s also part of a wider problem in which power is skewed towards the interests of the few and against the benefit of working people and their organisations.

With dozens of CLPs and thousands of members speaking up, the movement is growing for a radical Labour agenda for our democracy.

While it might not grab the headlines like Brexit, Westminster is crumbling in more ways than one. For economic equality to last, we need political equality too. It’s time for a politics for the many.

Come to Power for the Many: A Radical Agenda for Democracy at The World Transformed, Liverpool, Sunday September 23, 1pm – 2.30pm, Black-E Main Space.

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