Unite To Back Proportional Representation

© Andrew Skudder/CC BY-SA 2.0

Last month so angry about the Labour conference I took pen to paper and wrote about how Labour failed to back Proportional Representation. This was perhaps a bit harsh since it was indeed the unions who had voted against it.

However, the good news is that Unite the Union at their conference on Friday has joined 80% of Labour party members in backing PR. The motion clearly states that Unite are now opposed to our first past the post system used in only three major democracies and now is “supporting moves to explore, select and introduce a new voting system for the UK”.

According to Labour List sources, the motion passed 32 to 20 against. Again according to Labour List Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham commented: 

“Today, Unite policy conference voted to support proportional representation for the first time in our history.

“Our members across this union already use PR to elect their representatives – it is high time that Westminster caught up. Our political class has failed working people and our system is broken. It is time to change our democracy.”

Is it just me who gets wound up by people like Sharon, that finally back the bleeding obvious, but tell us how they are leading the way all of a sudden? No, Sharon most of my campaign friends from across the political spectrum have been screaming out for PR years. Perhaps an apology for dragging Unites heels for years might be more in order and might have saved us from a whole generation of Tory rule, years of austerity and even Brexit. 

On Friday my Facebook and WhatsApp messages went off the scale from supporters of PR as the news broke. Are we now finally on a path to a fairer voting system? Why would the unions have blocked PR until 2021!

Why did it take so long to put PR to its members who wanted to vote for it long before now? Central Bylines interviewed Gareth Kearns who was protesting at the Labour conference with Steve Bray and SODEM when they had an encounter with a UNITE rep outside and he told us that: 

“One of their reps came up to us because we were loudly slagging them off for voting against, assuring us they wanted to vote for, but the labour leadership hadn’t allowed them to bring it before their membership first, so they were obliged to vote against. This [Unite news] suggests they were being straight with us when they told us that.”

Anyway; enough of the unions for now. Whilst researching this article I was rather surprised to see how confused the Guardian writers are on this subject!

These two articles articulate very well why Labour is so mixed up over PR. This is not about just Labour, this is about us all. Why should the UK act in the best interests of a party? Are they the Tory party in disguise (I joke)? But we need to act in the best way for the nation and in my view, the best way is to have a set of democratically elected MPs in Parliament that represent the whole of the country. And if that means Labour can no longer form a majority then so be it! The Germans have long since been far more capable of running their country’s economy, social welfare system etc. better than us, yet have to form coalitions each time. Each time needing to work with opposition parties to make agreements, normally having to trade something on the way. This reflects the real world not the world of ivory tower career MPs in parliament (yes I know it is not all of them, but many within all parties).

What’s more, how can I explain to my daughter that when she turns 18 her likely vote for the Greens is completely worthless. So much so that in 2019 The Green Party took a staggering 865,697 votes all for just one parliamentary seat. Why on earth would Labour support the ideology that conversely leads to the Tories requiring just 38,264 votes per MP?

But have they all got behind PR too late? This estimate from @ElectionMapsUK on Twitter of the impact of the proposed 2023 constituency boundary changes is simply terrifying. 

And if it is right then perhaps the only way in which we will ever get Proportional Representation is to form a one-off pact to stand down in key constituencies. Do we face the simple choice of never having anything other than a Tory government or never ever having another one for the rest of eternity? I know which one I would choose. What about you?

The Full motion text is shown below.

Unite motion: Preferential Voting

Conference notes that the UK is one of only three major developed countries to use a First Past the Post voting system for general elections.

There is a consensus among experts that First Past the Post has a strong right wing bias wherever it is used, leading to parliaments and governments that are on average much more right wing that the voters.

This corresponds exactly with the UK’s experience. Most votes went to parties to the left of the Conservatives in 18 of the last 19 general elections, yet the Tories have been in power for 63% of this time. Instead of building a society ‘for the many’, this has created one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, with some of the most restrictive trade union laws.

Conference notes that whilst Labour won more than 10 million votes in the 2019 General Election (more than Tony Blair received when he won in 2005), Labour nonetheless lost 54 seats to the Tories, giving them a large parliamentary majority. Conference further notes that the UK is one of only three major developed countries to use a First Past the Post voting system for general elections. Proportional voting systems are used in many other UK elections.

Conference believes we need a Labour government to reshape society in the interests of workers and our communities. But it is imperative to realise that the current voting system offers no protection against later Conservative governments tearing up these hard fought gains as they have in the past. The world’s most equal and progressive societies all use forms of proportional representation which prevent rule by a right‐wing minority and lock in the hard‐won victories of their Labour movements.

Opinion polling from just before the General Election found that 76% of Labour members believe the party should back a change in the voting system, with just 12% opposed. We believe that the time is right to campaign for change.

Conference therefore resolves:

  • to adopt a policy of opposing First Past the Post and instead supporting moves to explore, select and introduce a new voting system for the UK
  • to hold regional educational events to give members information about how different electoral systems can enable or hinder the left of politics, and how they impact on the kind of policies and outcomes a society ends up with, and to promote debate and discussion amongst members
  • to ask the Executive Council to consider reports back from these events which include feedback from members
  • to call for the Labour Party to support moves to explore, select and introduce a new voting system, to promote discussion and education amongst its membership, and to commit to including the voting system for general elections in the remit of its planned constitutional convention.

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