I recently gave a speech along with the former PM of New Zealand, Helen Clark, as part of a launch of a new campaign to get the Labour Party to adopt support for PR electoral reform as policy.
The alliance of groups and factions includes Open Labour, Compass, and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform. Together they have formed a new coalition to push the policy – which we believe has strong support within the party.
The new campaign, named Labour for a New Democracy, argue that the current electoral system stands in the way to redistributing power around the country.
Below is a transcript of my opening remarks:
“In my five minutes I want to briefly look at the bigger picture. By that I mean looking at both the morale case for PR as well as the crisis of democracy that confronts the UK and many other countries.
Now I understand the Labour Campaign a New Democracy is about convincing Labour members to adopt PR as party policy. Because without the Labour Party committed to PR I can see no way for it to happen.
The usual tactic revolves, in part, around convincing members this will benefit the Labour Party electorally. Because electorally speaking the 20th century was the Tory’s century. In the last 100 years under FPTP the tories have won 3 x as many general elections as the Labour Party. Here in the 21st century they’ve already won twice as many elections as we have. They’re 4-2 up.
So, you’d think it would be easy to convince our Party to get behind an electoral system that levelled out the elections playing field. But it isn’t. Why?
Well, two main reasons:
1. The first is because our party is hooked on the trappings of oppositionalism. Hooked on occasionally being in govt: “Hey, we might not be doing great, but at least we’re doing better than the lib dems and the greens.” It means we get more short money. More political airtime. In effect the trappings of second place. At least in England and Wales. Used to happen in Scotland. Not anymore.
2. The other reason is because of Labourism – that unique British socialist and social democratic belief that only the Labour Party can ever be a force for progressive change in this country. Why is that a factor? – because in an electoral system that is stacked against us, on the rare occasion we do win we don’t have to play nicely with others. We get to be like the tories and impose our policies on the country. It’s not about compromise, working with others – it’s our way or the highway …because that’s what how politics works.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
And that is why we as a campaign we have to appeal – not to the partisan, winner takes all mentality that has so often dominated our party’s approach to electoral change. Rather we need to appeal to both the better nature of our socialism and the wake-up call that is the ‘crisis of democracy’ that confronts all progressives here and abroad.
Let me briefly take each in turn.
On the better nature of our socialism it’s this: as a party we need to practice far more humility and understanding; We need to embrace the fact a progressive future will not be dictated by us alone. And even if we could dictate it – we should shy away from it. Rather we should embrace collaboration and negotiation. But that is exactly what FPTP seeks to prevent.
But ultimately all of this ties in to the ‘crisis of democracy’. By that I mean the erosion of democratic norms, the rise of authoritarian nationalism and the ensuing climate crisis and its effects. Because let’s be very clear. If our democracy was functioning properly we would not be on the brink of climate catastrophe. Because people don’t vote for the arctic circle to burn just as they don’t vote for increasingly likely ecological collapse.
Of course PR isn’t a silver bullet. It wont miraculously fix these issues. But it is a strong base on which we can build a more collaborative politics. Help forge a better political culture amongst progressives of all hues. Because without that we will continue to be divided – and ultimately conquered.
Leadership means many things. But if the Labour Party wants to lead progressive thinking throughout the 21st century then let it do so by example ….in a spirit of pluralism and engagement. If so, that starts by getting behind a fairer electoral system.”
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