Under pressure from members, Labour’s National Policy Forum is finally consulting the party about electoral reform. Kind of…

In the last couple of years, Make Votes Matter has been working closely with the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform to mobilise support for Proportional Representation within the Labour Party.

It’s been very successful. 85 Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) – or 13% of all local Labour branches – have carried motions in favour of PR. According to Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF)  itself, this makes PR “one of the most frequently raised issues” among the membership for at least the last two years running.

Almost all of these CLPs also called for Labour’s next annual policy consultation to ask the membership for their views on electoral reform. Given the number of local parties asking for this, and given that recent polling found 76% of Labour members to be in favour of the party backing PR, this would seem to be a very sensible thing to do.

So it was exciting to see this year’s NPF consultation focusing on constitutional issues for the first time in many years. The NPF is divided up into “commissions” that deal with certain policies. Constitutional issues come under the remit of the “Justice and Home Affairs” commission – which in recent years has focused on issues like the criminal justice system rather than democracy.

It’s welcome, then, that the commission has now found space for constitutional issues in its latest consultation. However, the words “Proportional Representation”, “electoral reform”, or even “First Past the Post” were nowhere to be found in the document.

Instead, it focuses on devolution – as well as issues like parliamentary sovereignty and the independence of the judiciary – albeit while at least asking a genuinely open question: “which areas of the constitution present the most pressing concerns?”

As we’ve pointed out in Make Votes Matter’s response to the consultation, it’s pretty much impossible to have a coherent discussion about these areas of the constitution without mentioning our voting system. And it shows…

For example, the consultation document concedes that the constitutional settlement agreed by the last Labour government has become “unsustainable” within a single decade of it leaving office – due to the actions of subsequent governments which (thanks to First Past the Post) have disproportionate power.

Yet the solution they now propose is the same as that attempted by the last Labour government: “a large-scale devolution of power and resources built on a new long-term political and constitutional consensus”. There’s no recognition that while we continue to allocate supreme legislative power on the basis of minority support – as First Past the Post is designed to do – any new consensus can’t be expected to last beyond the lifetime of the government that brokers it.

It’s frustrating that Labour still seems to be trying to square the same circle: of being ‘radical’ on democratic reform while staying silent about the fundamental injustice at the heart of UK democracy. In our submission we set out at length precisely why the introduction of Proportional Representation is the most pressing concern – and why Labour should view it as such.

If you’re a Labour member, we strongly encourage you to submit a response too – however brief. You’ll need to log in (or register using the number on your membership card). When making a submission:

  • Use your own words – the more individual submissions on the same subject, the better.

  • Explain why you believe the Labour Party should support PR.

  • Be sure to include the words “Proportional Representation” in the title, select “Justice and Home Affairs” as the relevant policy commission, and choose “Electoral Reform” as the category.

Ultimately, a showdown at conference may be the only way to get Labour truly behind equal votes. This in itself is odd. The purpose of a consultation process should surely be to avoid the need for this kind of dramatic confrontation – rather than making it all but unavoidable.

Nonetheless, our joint 2021 conference project – Labour for a New Democracyis already busy building its network of CLP contacts. Come the next conference, we’ll be ready. Until then, please take this opportunity to respond to the consultation and help us keep electoral reform on the agenda.

UPDATE (1 July 2020): The deadline for submissions to the NPF consultation has been extended to 20 July