Labour needs to embrace electoral reform – but must handle it with care


IT’S rare for opinion polls to look rosy for the Labour Party these days.

In spite of the numerous crises facing the UK – from HGV driver shortages, supply chain woes, and, of course, the mounting Covid cases – Boris Johnson’s government still maintains a comfortable lead among many pollsters.

But even if Labour were faring better, the road back to majority rule for Labour looks steep and narrow.

For several general elections now, Labour’s once loyal heartlands in Scotland have decisively turned towards the SNP, and show few signs of turning back. The north of England, too, is looking considerably less secure following the collapse of the Red Wall in 2019.

Under first-past-the-post, it does not just matter how many votes a party gets, but where it gets them too. If Labour’s voter base becomes too concentrated in too few areas, its chances of securing government will substantially diminish.

The party’s electoral woes have led many to call for Labour to advocate electoral reform, standing on an explicit platform of abolishing FPTP and moving towards a proportional representation system.

Abandoning the UK’s incumbent voting system is not unprecedented in Labour. Ed Miliband supported to failed move to AV in the 2011 referendum.

On the surface, for Labour to advocate electoral reform makes sense. It is easy to rail against a voting system that sees parties getting majority government without the support of 50 per cent of the electorate – regardless of how well or poorly intentioned they may be.

Redaction Report fully supports a change to a proportional representation system in the UK, as outlined in a previous editorial.

However, Labour must be careful in its choice of system, or else the party risks being forced into irrelevance.

It is vital that a party exist in British democracy with a core purpose to advocate for workers’ rights, and whatever the flaws of the current leadership, Labour remains the best vessel through which to achieve this.

Labour is well known for being a ‘broad church’ party, harbouring various political worldviews within its walls.

If, for example, the UK were to move to a party list system, in which constituencies ceases to exist and seats were allocated purely on the basis of vote share, it is very possible that this alliance could fracture.

Even under first-past-the-post, Labour has witnessed sizeable splits within its own ranks, such as the formation of the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s or Change UK in 2019.

Under a voting system that allows for smaller parties to stand a larger chance, more and more factions of the Labour Party would no doubt be tempted to break off and form their own parties, stunting the Labour movement’s key political vessel in the process.

The loss of constituencies under such a system would also be disastrous, removing the on-the-ground touch that local constituency MPs gain with the electorate through their local meetings with voters in their area.

Instead, Labour should be specific in advocating a mixed approach, such as the Additional Member System used for the Scottish Parliament – in which constituencies would still exist alongside a separate bloc of proportional list MPs.

But whatever system Labour might choose, any moves towards the party questioning the future of first-past-the-post would be welcome. Too many voters in ‘safe seats’ feel like their vote doesn’t matter. Too much swing in elections is based in too few seats.

If Labour wants to be a party supporting democratic socialism, it should prove its commitment to both words of the label.

Featured Image: Pixabay

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