Sunday, 11 June 2017

Be careful what you wish for. Now comes the real challenge, persuading Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party to support PR.

In my 26 April post I wrote 'I would like the outcome of this election to be one in which Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MPs can only govern with the consent/support of other political parties represented in the UK Parliament and that their first act will be to introduce proportional representation across English local government and the UK Parliament using the voting system used to elect the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly (also the London Assembly which we tend to forget or don't actually know happens). Part of the same Act would abolish the House of Lords.'

Every vote has to count. A close friend from my schooldays living in Devon voted for a Liberal candidate with no chance of winning. The Conservative candidate was a hard-Brexiteer and she thinks Labour 'too idealistic'. She likes her politicians and governments to be 'pragmatic'.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party really want to change British and English politics for the better then they can begin by agreeing to a change in our voting system in this Parliament which can then be used in the next general election. If I was the Greens, the Liberals or the SNP I would make this the main condition of supporting Labour.

I hear 'UKIP' being muttered by Labour opponents of PR voting. The added member system relies on seats being allocated on an average share of the vote cast in the constituency section for the winning candidates. This sets a high threshold and means added members are still much more likely to come from a main party, but in a democracy you cannot exclude candidates or political parties because you don't like them.

I have told the story in a previous post (more than once I'm sure) about how I came to believe in PR, so to repeat myself again:

I can pinpoint when I became a supporter of proportional representation. It was in 1960, when I attended my first Labour Party selection meeting for the then Wembley South CLP for Wembley Central ward where I lived. In those days local councillors served for three years and a third of the council was elected each year, so we had only one prospective candidate to select. There were four hopefuls and after the first ballot, the bottom name was deleted and on the second ballot, someone got over 50% of the votes cast, so was selected.

Someone in the meeting asked if we could have preferential voting, which was explained as writing 1 2 3 4 against the name of each would-be candidate and the one with the lowest number of no.1 votes would drop out and their no.2 votes would be distributed as allocated. It immediately seemed like a less messy system of selecting a candidate — I only had to vote once, then the votes could be quickly counted as their was only about twenty of us in the hall, but the exhaustive ballot won and it was not until I was in Lenton in the early-1980s that Labour Party members could be persuaded to use preferential voting instead of exhaustive ballots.

It struck me then, at the age of 16, that if the Labour Party would not use first past the post (FPTP) to select its own candidates, how could it support FPTP in elections for councillors and MPs? From then on I became a supporter of proportional representation (PR) and the historian in me quickly learned that until after 1945, the Labour Party supported PR.

Clegg and the Liberals cocked up the opportunity they had in 2011 to get PR. This time we should go for England and the UK Parliament adopting the same system as used in Scotland, Wales and the London Assembly. They never got referendums, so there is no need to have one this time.

In The Guardian yesterday (10 June 2017) the author Val McDermid argued for PR and today it was Caroline Lucas's turn to argue the case for PR.

The case for PR is unassailable and its moment has come. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party must not fail democracy. I dread to think what will happen if they show they are, at heart, anti-democratic, wanting power for the few, for a Westminster elite of which they are part, despite claims to the contrary.

My friend in Devon, like millions of other voters, has been failed by first past the post. Her vote should count, as should every vote.

I want to vote Labour again, Greg Marshall's poster is still in our front window, as are many of his placards and posters in other houses and gardens around my part of Beeston. As things stand the only votes which mattered in Broxtowe three days ago were those cast for Anna Soubry. Next time every vote has to count or Labour will have failed before a vote is cast. The truth is as stark and simple as that.

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