Laurie Taylor has been a passionate campaigner for Proportional Representation (PR) for more than 40 years. He recently returned to his old school to discuss electoral reform with the current cohort of politics students. What an exhilarating experience it turned out to be! And if anyone else is inspired to do the same, Laurie shares his homework on how he went about it.

I’ve been giving talks on PR for some time now, as well as being an active campaigner for equal votes. So when I read that my old school had staged some in-house learning about elections around the time of the last General Election, I was quick to contact them. I wanted to share my enthusiasm and knowledge of voting reform and asked if I could talk to the politics students about electoral reform. 

I wasn’t sure if they’d take me up on my offer, especially as it has been over 50 years since I last walked through the school gates. But having contacted the politics department by email, I did stress to them that there’s something really memorable for students when you have someone external speak to a class on a certain topic. That’s alongside the teachers of course, who do an amazing job. Bringing a subject to life can stay with you for a long time, or at least it certainly did for me when I was at school. I played a lot of rugby back then at county and regional level. I also had an under 16s England trial. Before I aspired to all of that, we had a full England international player visit the school to coach us. This was such an inspiring experience for me. I remember being so awed and excited at the time.

So it was a great feeling when I heard back from my old school, Emanuel, in Battersea, that they were keen on the idea. I mentioned it in passing to Make Votes Matter who were just as thrilled about the prospect as I was. I was a little surprised at this because I didn’t think it would be of interest. But Sarah, MVM’s Communications, Campaigns and Engagement lead got in touch and arranged a call with me to hatch a plan to publicise the talk to local media. MVM is keen on getting more campaigners into schools to discuss electoral reform, as it’s crucial to reach out to people of this age group. So we kept in touch about possible dates. Sarah also advised me to check that the school would be open to having some publicity about the talk, which they agreed to.

I took care of my speech and thought about what questions might come up. MVM took care of the press release and researched which media outlets to send it to. I then shared the draft press release with the school, which included a quote on behalf of the Head of Politics.

A date was agreed by the school which happened to be the week before the raft of local elections for ‘Super Thursday’ on May 6th. This turned out to be even better for getting the media interested in covering the story because elections were topical. After the talk I sent out the press release to the media, along with two photos; one of me when I was at school in the 1960s, and a more recent one at home in Totnes, Devon. That’s where I have lived for many years, and I’m also the local group leader for MVM Totnes. The Wandsworth Guardian picked up the story, along with the Totnes Times. And it got a mention in the school newsletter, which was great for raising the profile of PR.

Laurie school talk Totnes Times cropped.jpg

During the talk, which was virtual, due to the pandemic, students asked me the usual very well thought through questions: coalitions; minority influence on government; voting systems and so on. When I am asked “What’s your favourite PR system” I don’t tend to go along with this. I find it can be so side-tracking to the main point if we get into much discussion about systems, especially with people who are not very knowledgeable about the subject. But here I realised I was among politics’ students who were quite ‘up to speed’ and I was ok about exploring this with them.

The time I had with the class was limited and the questions kept coming so the course tutor, Laura, asked me if I could follow up the questions by email. I said yes…no problems. Doing the follow-up over the next couple of weeks was hugely satisfying as I could really research and bring together my own personal views in the answers. The tutor also thanked me for my input.

And… I’m booked in already for the next cohort of year 12 politics’ students! As a bit of a bonus I’ve had contact from some of my contemporaries at school who saw the news reports of the talk and invited me to a lunch engagement. 

I would highly recommend other people get in touch with either their old school, or a school which they might have close ties with, and ask if giving a talk on electoral reform is something they might be interested in. MVM can support you with publicity and they also have some excellent resources to help you prepare.

Check out the Schools engagement pack, or watch the video ‘How to speak with confidence on Proportional Representation’ and sign up to the MVM speaker programme.