Electoral Reform

1.      EU REFERENDUM:
MPs and Peers were back from Recess last week. We had the announcement of the EU Referendum for Thursday 23 June, and of course the countdown to elections for Scottish Parliament, National Assembly of Wales, English local government and particularly the Mayors in London and Bristol on Thursday 5 May: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/date-eu-referendum-been-set-7414439?ptnr_rid=480253&icid=EM_Mirror_Nletter_DailyNews_News_smallteaser_Text_Story1-4

LCER assumes that most Labour reformers are for staying in the EU but let’s     hear your opinions. David Owen once Labour’s Foreign Secretary has come out for BREXIT as have one time LCER Executive member Gisela Stuart but most electoral reformers (with the notable exception of UKIP) are confident about the UK’s ability to play a role inside the EU greater than when on its own with its own sovereignty. Tell us your thoughts to lcerinfo@yahoo.co.uk or tweet #labour4PR.

2.      BAD NEWS ON BOUNDARIES:
Last Sunday http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b0713nwf about 40 minutes into the programme, Westminster Hour, Labour’s shadow Europe Minister, Pat Glass put the boundary changes into context.  We need to see the package: more unelected peers, fewer elected MPs, the anti Trade Union Bill, the Short money and nearly a million people removed from the electoral register, (plus the millions who were not registered before the move to Individual Electoral Registration).

The Boundary announced the registered number of electors from December 2015 upon which the quota for each constituency is calculated, with a five per cent constraint. The back story which you may remember is that there was a 2013 review based on 2013 figures which aimed to reduce the number of MPs to 600 from 650 and equalise the size of each constituency.  Votes in January 2013 meant that the reviews were cancelled and a new review would begin in 2015 for 2018.  The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 needed to be rescinded when Labour came into government, either majority or more likely as it seemed Labour led.  But that was not to happen and now the process has begun.  The attitude of the Conservatives was that they only need the “low hanging fruits”, people who make the effort to be on the register rather than hard to reach communities.

When the current 650 MPs are reduced to 600 at the next election, the Conservatives will drop from 330 to 316 with their majority increasing to 33 without holding a general election.  Overall Conservations lose 14 seats, Labour 21, LibDems 4, others 7.  The regions and nations drop more seats in Labour areas where constituencies have been smaller and lose fewer constituencies in the south of the Wash Severn line. Statistics taken from Lewis Baston’s work which appeared in the Times.

Year                                   2015                        2018
Scotland                                59                          53
Northern Ireland                        18                          17
North West                              75                          68
West Midlands                           59                          53
Wales                                   40                          29
South West                              55                          53
South East                              83                          81
London                                  73                          68
East of England                         58                          57
East Midlands                           46                          44
Yorkshire & Humber                      54                          50
North East                              29                          25

The reduction of MPs from 650 to 600 is supposed to be “cutting the cost of politics” but as the Electoral Reform Society said “so that’s a 8% decrease in the number of elected MPs to pay for a 17% increase in the number of elected Lords”, 244 Peers.   Graham Allen MP calls the decision to ignore the report of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Report “undemocratic and part of a wider pattern of unrestrained Executive power”.

And then the closing down of the printed version of the Independent and Sunday Independent was announced. Hopefully they will keep up the high standard of coverage of democratic reform when they go on line only.  The 800,000 people off the register following Individual Electoral Registration but the untouched 7 to 8, million missing off the register, see
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/heres-the-reason-800,000-people-are-now-missing-from-the-electoral-register-a6847186.html
https://www.opendemocracy.net/toby-james-and-oliver-sidorczuk/millions-are-missing-from-uk-s-electoral-registers?utm_source=Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=a7b7d65162-
DAILY_NEWSLETTER_MAILCHIMP&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_717bc5d86d-a7b7d65162-407388917


3.      PROGRESS ON ELECTORAL REFORM:
At the end of February, we can look back on progress on electoral reform particularly this month and in December with Jonathan Reynold’s 10 Minute Rule Bill; several meetings which LCER speakers have addressed where Labour members seems to unite in favour of electoral reform; the coming together of an Alliance4PR in Plimlico on Monday 8 February organised by the new activist cross party grouping, Making Votes Matter, participated in by Labour MPs Chuka Umunna, Stephen Kinnock and Jonny Reynolds, see:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/02/13/need-change-landmark-event-brings-electoral-reform-step-closer-images-video/

http://www.unlockdemocracy.org/blog/2016/2/11/voting-reform-all-in-it-together

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/08/mps-activists-hold-conference-start-electoral-reform-campaign

Then there was the report to the Constitution Unit from the pilots of Citizens’ Assembly which could form the basis of Labour’s putative Constitutional Convention with ERS's Katie Ghose and the Unit's deputy director, Alan Renwick: see his blog:https://constitution-unit.com/2015/11/23/do-citizens-assemblies-work-in-practice-eight-lessons-from-a-pilot/  Although the pilots were in Southampton and Sheffield and asked about devolution rather than electoral reform, this could be the process by which citizens are involved in the way their democracy works in the future.

Some more MPs are turning their back on first past the post and willing to consider electoral reform.  More may if asked!

Jonathan Reynolds is writing about electoral reform at progressonline.org.uk?2016/02/12/         http://progrs/7u

Chuka Umunna MP at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/britains-political-system-will-stay-broken-without-proportional-representation-chuka-umunna-warns-a6861161.html

4.      CONSERVATIVE THINKING ON ELECTORAL REFORM:
At the Alliance4PR meeting John Strafford of Conservative Action for Electoral Reform (CAER) gave an insight into why the Conservatives at the present time will not support electoral reform.  Try this part of his presentation on your stubborn Labour supporters of the status quo. He said:

Ask your local Tory MP or candidate why they do not support a fair electoral system and I imagine this is what they will say:
“I am in politics to get things done.   In order to get things done I have to be in government.   To be in government I have to be in the Party that has a majority of MPs in the House of Commons.   So look at it like this, under First past the Post the Tories got 52% of the seats with only 37% of the votes.   Labour is in disarray. We have a big lead in the opinion polls. Just to make sure we win the next General Election we are implementing the Boundaries Commission proposals which will give us an extra 20 seats. We are passing legislation to harm the Labour Party through its funding by the Trade Unions.   We are cutting the “Short” money to all our opposition parties.   We are increasing the amount the Government spends on Special Advisers.   We are going to be in Government for at least ten years. Now why should we change?”

Arrogant – yes. Complacent - Yes.

Some Conservatives don’t support the Short Money policy as they benefitted from this when in opposition.  Some do not support the reduction of seats but will be bought off by being adopted elsewhere, undermining the logic of the first past the post which is to have continuity of the MP-constituency link.  You may want to check out CAER’s new website is http://conservativeelectoralreform.org/.  And think of all the Conservative voters in northern cities like Manchester, Newcastle where a bit more insight from informed MPs might benefit our politics and conversely more Labour MPs in southern and eastern England.

5.      The Queen and constitutional change:
We discover from the Independent (again) that Queen Elizabeth was opposed to changing the voting system but thanks to David Cameron that she “purred” about the result of the Scottish Independence referendum.  Let’s hope if she wants to keep the UK united that she is in favour of remaining in the EU.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/queen-elizabeth-was-opposed-to-changing-voting-system-to-proportional-representation-a6858051.html

6.      More Bad News on Funding:

83 per cent of the local council relief fund is going to Conservative led councils elected by first past the post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2016/02/09/tory-councils-south-north-funding-nothing-labour_n_9195108.html

http://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/election-spending-for-tories-could-be-four-times-more-than-labour/11/02/
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/09/cameron-buying-off-tory-mps-theatening-to-rebel-over-council-cuts

7.      Youth and electoral reform:
This weekend about 600 Young Labour members, Labour Students and Young Trade Unionists have been in Scarborough for this year’s Young Labour National Conference.  One resolution which failed to make the agenda was about electoral reform from George Aylett (@GeorgeAylett) the Labour candidate in South West Wiltshire in May 2015.  Standing in a seat where one comes third or fourth and which always loses under the current voting system is often the perspective that brings electoral reform on ones own personal agenda – although we are lucky to have many pluralists in the Parliamentary Labour Party.  George’s resolution came out for Single Transferable Vote, whereas most of LCER when consulted have supported some sort of top up system, additional member system, although the Jenkins Commission recommendation AV+ can be seen as incorporating both preferential and proportional principles. This is George’s resolution:
https://marchthefury.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/young-labour-may-back-proportional-representation-this-month-yl16/

8.      Labour parties start discussing electoral reform:
Askew Labour Branch meeting of the Hammersmith Constituency invited LCER to their meeting which their MP Andy Slaughter attended.  After the discussion with Terry Ashton, the branch agreed the following to be forwarded to their General Committee this week: calls upon the Labour Party to “Change the current undemocratic election system to a proportional system in which every vote counts and which includes the office of a constituency MP".

LCER can supply speakers for meetings who want to discuss our future voting system. This is not a systems discussion but one about the principles which determine the politics of the future, the political culture, the way we work with other parties or allow parties to exercise monopolistic power at Westminster.

9.      Supplementary Vote (SV) again:
Understanding that the voting system determines the way we campaign is important.  We are currently electing our Mayors and our Police and Crime Commissioners by Supplementary Vote (SV).  We need to recognise the difference between SV and first past the post elections.  This can influence what we say on the doorstep.  We should of course always exercise our first vote for Labour.  If Labour is in contention, ends up in first or second place, that vote will count.  If not we need to decide if any of the remaining non Labour candidates are more likely to listen to us.  The most important thing where Labour is in contention is when talking to undecided or voters voting for another party not likely to be in the second round with Labour. We need to reach out to those voters for their second vote. This maximises the vote for the Labour candidate and increases the mandate for the Labour Mayor when they win.  Ask the question when canvassing and in telephone calls and when in knocking up you
  find someone you are speaking to is not voting Labour first.  If not Zac in London, if not George in Bristol, ask for their second preference.

10.     Actions from Labour Members:
What we need is for as many branches, constituencies, trade unions to discuss the way forward for electoral reform and suggest the following might be adopted in part or whole or in their own wording:

This (……) recognises that the current voting system used for electing MPs is passed its due date and no longer works to deliver good government with majority support in the country.  Concentrating resources on marginal seats and swing voters has damaged our appeal and encouraged us to take our core vote for granted. It also damages our prospects in the current round of review of boundaries.

We note that the 2015 TUC conference voted to examine the case for electoral reform.  Labour should do the same and involve its members in discussing the way our voting system encourages a winner takes all, adversarial political culture, monopolistic power without a mandate on 24 per cent of the potential electorate.

We believe that many Labour members, supporters and politicians could come behind a 2020 manifesto commitment to a voting system which retains the single member constituency but has a top up mechanism to bring seats broadly in line with votes cast or a promise to work with others to enact change via a constitutional convention.

11.     Ann Black, NEC and LCER member:
Ann advises that we need to get a resolution out for circulation to CLPs which they can discuss and if carried, submit it to the Your Britain website at yourbritain.org.uk along with other thoughts which have come up in the discussion.  To get onto the conference agenda a resolution has to relate to an event on or after 1 August 2016 and then have to be in the top four priority subjects in either the trade union or the CLP section.
Although it is easy to make a motion contemporary by finding a relevant hook, the chances of electoral reform being prioritised this year are very low, even if the May elections produce some really illogical results in local elections.  So better to go for discussion in CLPs.  Motions are more likely to be read and taken seriously if they show signs of independent thought, rather than just photocopied or forwarded as an attachment.

Ann is seeking nominations for the NEC, as is another LCER member Luke Akehurst.  When people stand for positions or as candidates, locally or nationally, this is the time to approach them about their views on Electoral Reform.  So if you know people or could write to them, feedback their views to LCER please, lcerinfo@yahoo.co.uk

12.     Worth reading:
https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/stuart-weir/review-political-turbulence-how-social-media-shape-collective-action?utm_source=Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=5804eb345a-DAILY_NEWSLETTER_MAILCHIMP&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_717bc5d86d-5804eb345a-407388917

Threat from boundary changes

1.      EU REFERENDUM:MPs and Peers were back from Recess last week. We had the announcement of the EU Referendum for Thursday 23 June, and of course the countdown...

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