Daily Left News

Sandy Martin is the Chair of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform

For many weeks now, support for the Labour Party has hovered around 40-45% in the opinion polls.  For the Conservatives in December 2019, 43.6% of the vote translated into 365 seats, which is 56% of the total, and an 80 seat majority, and in our Prime-Ministerial system that gave them 100% of the power.

Current predictions for the number of seats Labour is likely to win on 4th July have ranged from 390 (a 130 seat majority) to 475 (a 300 seat majority). Even if recent polls which suggest a 4 or 5% drop in support for Labour in recent days prove correct, with 5 national parties vying for votes it appears likely that Labour will achieve a historically large overall majority, even on 38% or 39% of the vote.

The Conservative Party appears to be imploding, but much of their support is being lost to Reform. There are indications that Labour might be losing some support to Reform too. I have been and will be canvassing and leafletting for Labour in Lowestoft because I desperately want to get rid of the current corrupt incompetent unfair Tory government, and I am horrified by the popularity of Reform in constituencies like Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. I am determined that July 5th should be a day of jubilation, and utterly reject the notion from some quarters that people should be persuaded to vote for some other Party than Labour in seats where only the Labour candidate can beat either the Tories or Reform.

But the task facing the incoming Labour government is immense, and a lot of people are going to be unhappy that their favourite change or improvement or investment isn’t implemented straight away. If the new government could point to the support of the majority of votes cast, that would go some way to reassuring people that their concerns were properly represented, but that is very unlikely to happen. It would take a massive shift to raise Labour’s vote to over 50%. With 46% of the vote and 73% of the seats (the current top end projection) Labour would certainly have the power to implement its programme, but would it be able to command the public’s support for some of the difficult decisions that will be necessary?

The report from Professor Sir John Curtice and others published on Wednesday – Damaged Politics? The impact of the 2019-24 Parliament on political trust and confidence – demonstrates the alienation and distrust that voters already feel about the way our political system operates.  79% of respondents want serious change in the way our government systems work. 45% of voters would “almost never trust” a government to put the Country before their own party interests – and that goes for any government, not just the present one. 53% of the public want to change the voting system – the highest level for 40 years. For those who distrust governments, 62% want to change the voting system.  And crucially, 60% of current Labour supporters want the voting system changed too.

There are so many things wrong with the partial democracy we have in the UK, some of which have been deliberately imposed by the Tories over the past 14 years.  Labour is committed to extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds and to dealing with the disproportionate nature of the voting ID rules.  We should welcome the Manifesto recognition that “trust in politics has been shattered” and pledges to “deepen our democracy by reforming Parliament”. Our democratic systems need renewal, and clearly the chief of these is the House of Commons.  The Party programme adopted last year acknowledges that the First Past the Post electoral system helps drive the voters’ distrust and alienation, and also rejects the idea that reforms could be imposed top-down. However delighted the country will be to see the back-end of the Conservative government, the sense of alienation is likely to grow unless Labour can be seen to move to resuscitate our democracy. 

A huge amount of work will be needed to rescue our health service and our education system, to put our councils back on their feet, to deal with the black hole in social care, and to rebalance the economy in favour of working people rather than shareholders and rentiers. Housing, justice, and the environment are all broken.  The shopping list for the change we need is long, and will not be accomplished in a single term.  But under First-Past-the-Post the gap in actual votes between spectacular failure and spectacular success is remarkably small. A change to a PR system for the House of Commons would ensure continuity of progressive government and halt the political slide to the right in our country. It makes no sense to embark on reforms our country needs without also making the reforms to democracy which will enable that programme to continue.

It would be wrong to impose major change to our electoral system without an open and public deliberation process, and Labour’s agreed programme makes that clear. If Labour achieves a huge majority in the House of Commons on the basis of less than half the votes, the new government will need to move swiftly to convince the voters that they can understand people’ concerns about the democratic deficit and are prepared to do something about it. The new Labour government must start the bottom-up process to agree that change, and the sooner it is started the more likely it is that the party will be able to maintain people’s trust.  Paradoxically, it may well be the very landslide majority which encourages Labour in government to take the first steps necessary to move our country to a democracy fit for the 21st century.

The post Will a Landslide Bury Any Hope of Electoral Reform? appeared first on Left Foot Forward: Leading the UK’s progressive debate.

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