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Klina Jordan, far left, brings the Make Votes Matter message to Hastings.

Klina Jordan, far left, brings the Make Votes Matter message to Hastings.

Make Votes Matter establishes a local presence

Make Votes Matter held its first public meeting in Hastings this month as it sets out to build local support for a momentous change in our democracy – switching to an electoral system in which the number of votes cast for each party is reflected in the number of seats won. Nick Terdre reports.

Taking in the late-comers, there were eight of us present, in addition to two representatives of Make Votes Matter, a cross-party movement working to have the current First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system ditched in favour of proportional representation (PR). That was not a bad turnout for a first meeting, according to local organiser Surrinder Chera. He previously lived in north London, where in the aftermath of the 2015 general election, a thriving MVM group has developed from similarly modest beginnings.

The general election of 2015 marked a watershed in skewed election results. The Tories polled 37% of votes but gained just over 50% of seats in the House of Commons, while Labour received just over 30% of the votes but took over 35% of the seats. Meanwhile Liberal Democrats, Ukip and the Green Party, despite polling a combined 24% of votes, ended up with 10 seats between them, equivalent to 1.5%. It was a vivid demonstration of how FPTP benefits the two biggest parties, leaving smaller parties sidelined.

MVM was set up to channel the widespread dissatisfaction and frustration created by the 2015 election into a campaign to bring in PR. It espouses the principle of PR but not any particular form, Klina Jordan, co-facilitator for the national MVM organisation, told the meeting.

We tend to think of FPTP as the natural choice of voting system, and it can be found in several of Britain’s ex-colonies including the US, Canada and India. Most developed countries, however, have gone for PR, including several former colonies such as Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, which all dumped FPTP.

Advantages of PR

The majoritarian system, Klina said, leads to the emergence of two dominant parties and adversarial electoral politics. If we want collaborative politics, PR is the way to get there. Again we tend to think that adversarial politics is natural, but it doesn’t have to be this way – under PR parties tend to work together to find mutually acceptable solutions or compromises.

Local organiser Surrinder Chera.

Local organiser Surrinder Chera.

PR is associated with a range of positive outcomes: greater income equality, less corporate control, better long-term planning and political stability, fairer representation of women and minorities, higher voter turnout, better environmental laws and a significantly lower likelihood of going to war – in fact, First Past the Post is the single strongest predictor that a democracy will go to war.

And what does it say for FPTP that 20 to 30% of electors, according to which poll you read, voted tactically in last year’s general election? That means they didn’t vote for the party whose policies they preferred, but in favour of the party which they thought had the best chance of winning, or perhaps the best chance of keeping out the party they really didn’t like. That isn’t what voting should be about!

National alliance

Another fact probably not widely recognised, but identified in polls, is that most people favour electoral reform. MVM itself, Klina explained, is part of a national alliance comprising nearly 50 organisations and high-profile individuals working together to change the electoral system. Most political parties are involved, including Ukip, the Liberal Democrats,the Green Party, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

Electoral reform has support across the political spectrum – the alliance is supported by such disparate figures as Ukip’s Nigel Farage to the right and the American radical Noam Chomsky to the left.

One major party is notably missing from the list – Labour, which as one of the Big Two is a beneficiary of FPTP and does not officially support PR (apparently it has in the past). But most Labour voters do, as well as some 80 of its MPs. MVM reckons that if electoral reform is to succeed, it will need the support of one of the Big Two, and obviously that is going to be Labour – the Tory party, including our local MP Amber Rudd, is a fierce defender of FPTP. Klina says she knows of only one Tory MP who favours PR.

The Labour party is therefore an important target for the campaign. MVM has produced a report specifically aimed at it which presents in some depth the arguments in favour of reform and against maintaining FPTP.

There was one Labour Party member present at the meeting and two Greens – only two Greens, surprisingly, although PR is a major plank of their platform.

Parliamentary debate

Parliament is naturally an important focus for MVM. On 30 October a Parliamentary debate on electoral reform was held in response to a petition launched by MVM co-founder Tim Ivorson and signed by more than 100,000 people. There was a huge turnout for the debate in Westminster Hall, with 26 MPs from five different parties advocating PR and seven – but only one non Tory – defending FPTP.

Next year marks the centenary of the extension of suffrage to women for the first time, at least those over 30, and to new categories of men. Our democracy has been hard won at every stage, Klina said, and winning the battle for PR won’t be any different.

In addition to its work in Westminster MVM is encouraging the formation of local groups – there are some 20 so far – and raising funds through a crowdfunding exercise. Shortly it plans to launch the Friends of MVM to make it easier for individuals to get involved.

Next year it plans a programme of action by local groups to mark the centenary of the extension of suffrage and push for further progress. In Hastings Surrinder hopes to get a core group established which will consider how to take things forward. Another meeting will be convened in the New Year.

Make Votes Matter website, including link to crowdfunding page (the crowdfunding appeal ends on 3 December).

Campaigning for PR on the occasion of the Parliamentary debate (photo: MVM).

Campaigning for PR on the occasion of the Parliamentary debate (photo: MVM).

Posted 12:32 Wednesday, Nov 29, 2017 In: Politics

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