When the card vote was lost in 2021 the Conference campaign was indeed confirmed to be a two-year process, as experienced members of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform (LCER) had foreseen.
The challenge now was to keep the Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) engaged while building sufficient union support to succeed at Conference 2022. L4ND ran a series of zoom Road Shows for members, with guest appearances by prominent Labour proportional representation (PR) supporters like Andy Burnham, and Mark Drakeford.
Moving the unions
L4ND Coalition member Chartist Magazine issued a Trade Union Supplement commissioned and edited by Mary Southcott, and L4ND set up trade union groups, held Zoom meetings and helped delegates get motions through union conferences.
The first victory came almost immediately at Unite the Union’s Policy Conference in October 2021, which passed a resolution to drop first-past-the-post, followed by the CWU. Finally, Unison adopted a resolution calling for PR, so by July 2022 the union numbers were looking good because Unite and Unison are by far the largest unions affiliated to the Labour Party.
A second wave
CLP motions were still needed and CLPs rarely submit a motion on the same topic two years running. Some had passed a PR motion, but not submitted one to the 2021 Conference. They were the initial target, until it quickly became apparent that the determination of the membership to make PR Labour Party policy was driving a second wave. In the event, some 140 PR motions were again submitted to Conference by CLPs in 2022, and 126 were accepted, only 11 fewer than in 2021. The topic of Electoral Reform again topped submissions by far.
LCER steps in
In the midst of this successful activity on CLP motions, Make Votes Matter (MVM) which had been acting as the employer of Labour for a New Democracy staff, decided it could continue such direct support for a single party campaign because MVM is cross-party.
The Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform took over the role on the assumption that the four L4ND staff (Joe Sousek, Caroline Osborne, Laura Parker and Sam Kind) could fundraise from supportive groups, which they did. LCER launched a campaign calling on all PR supporters in the Labour Party to join, to boost its own funds.
Everything but the Commons
Shortly before Conference 2022, and anticipating the launch of Gordon Brown’s as yet unpublished Constitutional Commission Report, L4ND launched its own report – Everything but the Commons – demonstrating the need for PR to elect the House of Commons. Especially as PR will be needed for the regional councils Brown is known to be advocating, and probably for the elected Senate of the Nations and Regions to replace the House of Lords. This was one of Keir Starmer’s ten pledges in the leadership election. There was no pledge on electoral reform, only the replies to questions quoted in part 2.
Déjà vu for LCER
Another part of the campaign is to persuade Labour MPs, the Labour leader and his advisers, to support PR. However, in July 2022 Keir Starmer told LBC‘s Andrew Marr that electoral reform is not a priority for him; this has meant MPs are less ready to engage and shows that Starmer’s closest advisers are opposed to PR, fearing the left would split to form another party.
Keir Starmer has rightly said his job is to win the next election and he is naturally taking advice from Labour Party members with experience of winning, including some who steered Tony Blair away from PR in 1998, much to LCER’s dismay.
‘I will ignore the vote’
In Liverpool that Sunday morning, just before the 2022 Conference opened, Keir Starmer stated on TV that he would ignore a Conference vote in favour of electoral reform and it would not be included in the manifesto. He also said “I’m not doing any deals going into the election or coming out of the election.”
Starmer is clearly been convinced electoral reform will not help him win the election, whereas PR campaigners believe that a PR pledge will encourage LibDem and Green voters to lend their votes to Labour candidates in target marginal constituencies where they are needed to beat a Conservative. It suggests Labour voters will vote tactically too, for the last time.
In his Conference speech Starmer said of the Scottish National Party (SNP): “We won’t work with them. No deals under any circumstances”, but he did not specifically rule out post-election arrangements with other parties, which he may need if the election result is close, and that would require a shift on PR.
Priorities and compositing
For the Labour Party Conference 2022, L4ND again ran an advice cafe and organised three packed fringe meetings, with a small army of volunteers leafletting delegates before the crucial Priorities Ballot. The number of debates on topics chosen by CLPs or unions had been reduced from ten to six, and LCER/L4ND knew that the influential pressure groups Labour to Win and Momentum were not calling for a PR slot, saying it would be chosen anyway. They were right, although the topic of electoral reform fell to fifth.
Compositing turned out to be more complicated than in 2021 and lasted from 8-10:30pm. As delegates arrived Joe Sousek from L4ND handed out a well-drafted composite motion calling for PR in the next manifesto, but when the Chair opened the meeting an ‘Office composite’, was distributed in an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass of a membership consultation, as if the motions already submitted were not evidence of two years consultation!
The delegates were having none of it. LCER Secretary Maria Iacovou denounced the ‘Office composite’ in a rousing speech and called on delegates to support the ‘Campaign composite’ which they did, virtually unanimously.
Conference ignores the leader
Composite 8 on Electoral Reform was proposed by Ashford CLP delegate David Ward and called for Conference to resolve that:
- Labour must make a commitment to introduce Proportional Representation for general elections in the next manifesto.
- During its first term in office the next Labour government must change the voting system for general elections to a form of PR.
- Labour should convene an open and inclusive process to decide the specific proportional voting system it will introduce.
When the vote came the show of hands in favour of Composite 8 was overwhelming, certainly at least two-thirds, and no card vote was called. It was now a Resolution of Conference, a huge historic victory, and the celebrations began in earnest.
PR in the Labour Manifesto?
It may be a long way from a Conference vote to a Manifesto pledge, but the Labour for a New Democracy Campaign, regarded by many as the best campaign ever run in the Labour Party, has definitely succeeded in convincing the majority of Labour Party and affiliated Trade Union members to support a proportional electoral system. It is party Conference policy, it is the will of the Labour movement, and it should not be ignored.
Lip-service is paid to democracy, but party leaders decide on the content of manifestos and events drive decisions. Even as Keir Starmer gave his conference speech, the polls were showing a huge lead for Labour after the new Tory leader and chancellor crashed the pound.
Now that both have resigned and the Conservative Party has chosen its third leader in four months, a general election is possible at any time. Starmer told BBC Newscast last week that the Labour Party manifesto is already written. No pledge on PR will be included unless the result of the general election is expected to be very close, and that looks unlikely from here, in the Autumn of 2022.
However “a week is a long time in politics”, to quote former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, and Labour for a New Democracy continues its campaign.