The need for trade unionists and Labour to back fair votes is now overwhelming

Britain's electoral system delivers swings that are bad for workers - and polls suggest Labour could win the next vote but still lose the election. Trade unionists are calling for radical reform.

Image: Rally for Jeremy Corbyn, 2016. Paul NUK/Wikimedia, Creative Commons.

Trade unions have long been at the forefront of demands for political reform – dating back to the Chartists' fight for universal suffrage. Now they’ve launched a new campaign for fair votes.

But in the centenary year of
expanded suffrage, few could deny that there is still plenty of work to be done
to enhance democracy.

Westminster’s voting system
has allowed governments to form with very little popular support. In 2010, the
Conservatives secured 36% of the vote – but 47% of seats. In 2015, they secured
37% of the vote – and 51% of the seats. And last year, they won 44% of the vote
but just a whisker-off the majority of seats.

 This isn’t about mere statistics though. The
polarisation and swings we see under Westminster’s disproportionate voting
system mean any gains Labour make are often swiftly undone by the next
right-wing government – as we have seen this past few years with the attacks on
workers’ rights.

There are broader inequities
too. Our 16 and 17-year-olds are denied a voice, while millions of eligible
voters are not registered.

And while people struggle to
earn a decent living, nearly 800 unelected peers in the House of Lords treat
our Parliament as a private members’ club.

Trade unionists have started
to believe that enough is enough. Building on Jeremy Corbyn’s rhetoric of a
party ‘for the many’, we believe it is now time for a Politics for the Many.

With each impediment to
political equality – from voter ID to rigged boundary reviews – the need for a
democracy fit for the 21st century gets ever stronger.

For those of us on the left,
there is a growing realisation that this kind of political injustice breeds
alienation and only aids negative forces. 

But now new analysis shows
that Westminster’s voting system could actually lock Labour out of power – even
if it won the most votes.

Last week,
influential election website Electoral Calculus
projected a ‘wrong winner’ scenario if a General Election were held now.

Under the
projections, Labour would secure the most votes in a GE – yet would win fewer
seats than the Conservatives.

The analysis,
based on polling from the end of February, predicts the Conservatives would win
40.5% of the vote and 297 seats, whereas Labour would win 279 seats on 40.7% of
the vote.

That would mean
Parliament’s outdated electoral system would be failing at its most basic
requirement: ensuring the most popular party won the most seats.   

And while they
are only initial projections, these figures show just how broken Westminster’s
voting system is. A ‘wrong winner’ scenario would be an absolute scandal for
our democracy – and the fact it is even on the cards is an absolute indictment
of the Commons’ current set up.

For a long
time, proponents of the status quo have suggested Westminster’s
disproportionate voting system is ‘simple’ and ‘easy for voters to understand’.
It’s hard to see how that argument holds any water anymore – not least when a
party can be penalised for having the most support.

Nor would a
‘wrong winner’ scenario be a first for the UK: in 1951 the Conservative Party
won 48% of the vote to 48.8% for Labour, yet the election saw a Conservative
majority.

Internationally
there are other precedents under disproportionate voting systems, with New
Zealand seeing two wrong winner elections in a row in 1978 and 1981.

These
democratic disasters set them on the path to electoral reform. New Zealand now
uses Holyrood’s Additional Member System – backed by the current Labour
government and figures across the well-represented progressive spectrum.  

The mechanics
of the electoral college in the United States are also similar – delivering
Presidents who did not win the popular vote in 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016. We
know only too well the disorder and disaffection – not to mention the sheer
absurdity – that this has caused.

There has long
been a campaign for Labour to back fair votes in the UK. But unions have a
significant role to play as the voice of workers on the ground. Indeed, it was
unions swinging behind the pro-PR movement that proved crucial in ensuring
reform in New Zealand. 

Trade unionists
have now launched a new campaign, ‘Politics
for the Many
’ to call
on Labour and unions to back root and branch democratic reform, in the light of
both the centenary of suffrage – and the urgent need for proportional representation.

Politics for the Many has support from senior figures from
the UK’s leading trade unions, including Howard Beckett, Assistant General Secretary at Unite and the PCS’
Mark Serwotka.

Day after day
we see more evidence the current system is desperately broken. We need a
democracy fit for the 21st century. Trade unionists and Labour should get on
board.

See
the new Politics for the Many
websiteand join its dedicated Facebook page here.

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