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Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform – New Year Bulletin

January 4, 2016
Looking back over a year where the pollsters predicted another no overall control parliament from the first past the post system whose main promoted characteristic is that it is meant to prevent coalition and give (unrepresentative) majority government.
The actual result was 24 per cent of eligible voters voted for the Tories with a slender overall majority of 12 while 40 Scottish Labour MPs were wiped out while they picked up nearly a quarter of the votes,  entitling them to 15 not just one MP, and SNP got all but three constituencies, 56, on half the vote.
One really good reason why pollsters get first past the post elections wrong but referendums and PR systems right has to be because we have in first past the post, in May 2015 at least, 650 different elections, each depending on local candidates, which party is working the constituency, how many other parties are putting up and differential turnout, media and party interest, marginality and media coverage overall.
Lord Ashcroft’s polling in individual constituencies was much more accurate but very much more expensive.  Lynton Crosby has been knighted for his ruthless role, ensuring it was Labour that lost votes to UKIP not the Tories, in kicking the player not the ball, ensuring that televised debates split the Tory opposition and promoted the SNP where the Tories had nothing to lose.
The Mirror ran a story about the 901 votes which secured the Tory majority:
We have conflicting stories about the role of the Labour leadership, the austerity versus the austerity-lite accusations, the role of turnout and how many parties put up in a given constituency.  LCER remains perhaps the only Labour grouping where people with differing explanations and political views can unite in their opposition to the voting system, Compass, Progress, Labour First, Momentum, and now Open Labour (see especially the last paragraph of David Purdy’s article at http://openlabour.org/comment/finding-direction).
The good things that the Labour Government did about Equality are also things which help Democracy and vice versa.  The only flaw is that the voting system which should make us all equal in the ballot box divides us so instead of one person one vote one value we have floating voters in marginal seats which decide elections and the rest don’t even have a walk on part.  But check out Stephen Twigg’s list for Equality and our unfinished project at http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/10/29/equality-for-all/.
Jonathan (Jonny) Reynolds MP took the initiative to move a motion to bring in a Bill “Representation of the People (Proportional Representation) (House of Commons) which you can find at:
  http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm151216/debtext/151216-0002.htm#15121629000002.  In his speech Jonny Reynolds put to the House the following which seems to sum up what LCER has been saying over the years:
“the means of electing the House of Commons – namely, the first-past-the-post electoral system – is no longer fit for purpose.  It has led to a narrow and unrepresentative politics, increasingly poor decision making, poorly conducted elections and, at times, poor government.  Moreover, it now threatens the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and the cohesion of the constituent nations of the UK, by failing to produce representation that truly reflects the diversity of political views contained therein.”
Although the motion was lost by 164 to 27 for, Labour split almost evenly with many of those who have opposed first past the post over the years versus some new and progressive Labour MPs supported the question: Graham Allen, Kevin Barron, Ben Bradshaw, Richard Burden, Stella Creasy, Jon Cruddas, Geraint Davies, Jim Dowd, Paul Flynn, Margaret Hodge, Fiona Mactaggart, Jonathan Reynolds, Andrew Smith, Wes Streeting, Stephen Twigg and Chuka Umunna along with the Tellers for the Ayes Helen Goodman and Daniel Zeichner. Our thanks to each of you.
The opposition was led by John Spellar, not the Tories who provided most of the votes against the motion.  He made his usual attacks, first on the fact that as a student, Jonny Reynolds attended a session of the Jenkins Commission, totally ignoring the fact that this was a Labour government commission, promised in our 1997 Manifesto, containing members of other parties, but of the five Joyce Gould and David Lipsey were both Labour (Sir John Chilcot is now engaged elsewhere).  And Mr Speller’s reading of the recent French local elections is bizarre.  With first past the post rather than the second ballot used in France the Front National would have swept the board in the first and only round.  And as it was once said when Le Pen’s father began winning votes “you don’t bring the temperature down by breaking the thermometer”. Fascism needs to be dealt with politically not by a voting system that covers up what is happening in many constituencies.
However John Spellar had the support from well known first past the post supporters in mainly safe Labour seats where the only problem is low turnout and the UKIP vote: Clive Betts, Ronnie Campbell, John Cryer, Simon Danczuk (suspended from the party), Paul Farrelly, Mary Glindon, Mark Hendrick, Kelvin Hopkins, Gerald Kaufman, Ian C Lucas, Rob Marris (reelected in a marginal seat), Siobhain McDonough, Ian Mearns, Virendra Sharma (a mistake as an LCER member),  Gavin Shuker, Dennis Skinner, Graham Stringer, Gisela Stuart (a member of LCER Executive before being elected in 1997), Derek Twigg, Mike Wood.
If you want strong arguments for electoral reform from an economic equality point of view see this report by the New Economics Foundation, see particularly page 40:
Looking abroad: LCER Chair (until our AGM) writes about Germany where the voting system, Additional Member System, converted members of the Plant Commission, to a form of top up system, see http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/12/15/letter-from-berlin/
Picking up on a similar theme to Jonny Reynolds’ above, Chris Bryant writes: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2015/12/conservatives-are-rewriting-constitution-create-one-party-state.  English Votes for English Laws, when rolled out where devolution means devolving responsibility without power or finance, or without an element of pluralism from voting systems which broadly reward votes with seats, is worrying.  England is the last colony in the most over centralised part of the UK state.
The other set back was that we lost the possibility of 16 and 17 year olds voting for their future, in or out of Europe, in a referendum which may take place as early as June this year. We are also losing attainers who will be 18 years of age on Thursday 5 May and eligible to vote if on the register.  Opposition to lowering the voting age have come from a misinterpretation of the turnout in the 18-25 age group.  But this is the age when young people are moving away from home, often moving frequently from place to place, often in the private rented sector.  Once they have the habit and the knowledge of voting, instilled through information made available by local authorities, schools, teachers and parents, we have a chance of a more inclusive democracy.
As it is, the incomplete register will be the basis of the next parliamentary boundary changes.  Initial proposals in the boundary review are to be published in September this year.  However, Conservative MPs will be given seats so that they will not be affected whereas Labour MPs will be: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/12077770/No-Tory-left-behind-pledge-amid-boundary-change-fear.html?fb_ref=Default
“Super Thursday”, as some are calling Thursday 5 May this year, will see some 47 million people registered to vote – so some missing millions there?  Elections will take place for Scottish and Welsh local government, for London regional government including the London Mayor, for some English local government including the Bristol Mayor and for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).  Then we have the Referendum where 16,17 year olds have been disenfranchised alongside many people who have EU citizenship but their lives, families, work are based in the UK.  They have a real stake in the outcome of the EU referendum and are allowed to vote in the European elections as long as they sign up that not voting elsewhere.
In 2016, the voting systems used will be as follows:
* Supplementary Vote (SV) for PPCs and Mayors
* Additional Member System (AMS) for the Greater London Assembly
* Single Transferable Vote (STV) for Scottish local elections
* First Past the Post (FPTP) for Welsh and English local elections.
* One member one vote (OMOV) for the EU referendum so all votes count
  equally wherever people live.
OMOV was true for the Scottish Independence referendum which shook up Scottish traditional voting patterns and for Labour’s own Leadership elections.  Note that the highest percentage increase in membership is in the Cinderella region of the South West which has four MPs and before the LibDems imploded came third or fourth in many seats which we failed to contest in a serious way choosing our candidates late or asking members to work in urban areas where Labour had target seats.
Amazing how much FPTP is responsible for: over targeting, the Conservative led coalition from 2010 – 2015, safe seat mentality taking people for granted, division within Labour groups and Labour parties, the loss 40 Labour seats in Scotland, the loss of much of the South, South East and East of England, outside urban areas of London, Norwich, Cambridge, Luton, Southampton, Hove, Slough, Oxford, Bristol, and Exeter.
NB: Supplementary Vote: Many people will lose their vote in the Supplementary Vote elections for Mayors in London and in Bristol because they don’t know how to cast their second vote.  It may be that Labour will go on only asking its core vote to vote Labour but where they drifted to other parties from neglect, attraction or simply something new, we need in new voting systems to get more than the Labour vote.  We need to politely ask those voting for other parties to give us their second preference.  That is how to win under SV.  And in Scotland this also applies under their STV system for local elections.
The good news is that the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has suggested and the TUC agreed to prepare a report taking a new look at the voting system.  All trade unions should have a new look at what first past the post delivers them when they compare themselves with the Trade Unions operating in the rest of the EU. And according to research for the Electoral Reform Society, 63 per cent of Labour voters support PR. Even more Conservative voters than not but read the results at http://polho.me/1k26egw.
We have work to do before our LCER relaunch.  This is an opportunity for you to discover which Labour politicians are in favour of Electoral Reform and which will fight reform.  If you know the position of your own MP or a former candidate, MEP, MSP, AM, any Labour Peers or councillors, or candidates, just let us know.  We have a little list and none of them should be missed.
There will be a cross party Alliance for electoral reform set up early this year to coordinate the work being done in political parties, particularly Labour, with cross party and non party campaigns run by the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy and Making Votes Matter.  Watch this space!
And follow @labour4pr which now has 3725 followers on twitter!
Mary Southcott
LCER Parliamentary and Political Officer
0117 924 5139
077 125 11931
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