How Keir Starmer can save the UK from elective dictatorship
Smith’s pledge to hold a public relations referendum was included in the 1997 Labor Party election manifesto, but was never honored. Tony Blair’s government introduced proportional representation for the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, as well as elections to the European Parliament after 2009. To deal with the House of Commons, an independent committee on the voting system was created, chaired by Roy Jenkins. He reported in 1998 and, like Plant’s review, proposed to remove FPTP. He recommended a version of Alternative Voting (AV), with an additional “complementary” list similar to the mixed PR systems used in Germany and New Zealand.
Blair has never been persuaded of the merits of public relations. Rather than keep the promised referendum, he agreed to implement a review of its use in deconcentrated assemblies. It ended in 2008, but made no suggestions for further action, thus killing his government’s commitment to public relations. Gordon Brown, also a public relations skeptic, then made a last-minute offer just before the 2010 election to hold a referendum on the AV.
Ironically, Brown’s bet was later included in the coalition government deal brokered by Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrats, although they saw the VA as a poor substitute for more properly proportional systems, accepted a referendum, which took place in 2011. Unsurprisingly, given the lack of enthusiasm for it. particular system, the AV proposal was rejected by 67.9% to 32.1%.
How different could things have been if Blair’s government had used its post-1997 majority to enthusiastically promote public relations? Labor could have fully modernized our electoral systems, not only in devolved assemblies, but also for local authorities and the House of Commons.
Despite all the talk about modernization, New Labor was clearly non-modern on voting reform – a huge missed opportunity that left the way open for more than a decade of conservative rule, more to the right than voters it did. represented. This is exactly the outcome feared former Labor Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, a staunch supporter of public relations, who warned in 2005 in a speech at the annual meeting of the Labor Campaign for Electoral Reform. , just a month before his death: “My nightmare is that we will have been in power for 12 years, with the capacity to reform the electoral system, and that we will not do so until we have [are] back in opposition, perhaps during a decade of Conservative government, regretting that we left in place the electoral system that allowed Conservative governments to vote in a minority.
I hope Starmer gives careful thought to the story of Labor’s half-hearted engagement with public relations. It should examine the arguments for further electoral reform at an early stage and study the evidence for the conservative bias of SMU. And when looking at the experience of other countries with PR, he should especially take the time to compare the UK experience with New Zealand, where the adoption of a PR system for parliamentary elections resulted in unprecedented success for the country’s Labor Party.
Reform has benefited New Zealand
New Zealand has used PR since 1996. This reform followed a period of tumultuous debate, sparked by clearly unrepresentative FPTP general elections in 1978 and 1981. Both results empowered the center-right National Party , although he won fewer votes than Labor. These elections were also particularly unfair for the smaller Social Credit Party (which won only one seat in 1978 with 16% of the vote and only two seats in 1981 despite a 20% share).
This prompted New Zealand’s next Labor government, led by David Lange, to set up an independent royal commission to review the country’s electoral systems. He reported in 1986 and, to the surprise of Labor and nationals, recommended replacing the SMU with a form of additional membership system called the proportional mixed member system (MMP). The commission proposed increasing the size of parliament to 120 deputies, elected from single-member constituencies and chosen from party lists. Voters would have two choices on the ballot: first a party vote and then an electorate vote, which is a vote for an individual MP in an electorate or constituency (chosen by FPTP). List seats would “complement” the electorate seats to ensure greater proportionality.
Despite Labor opposition to the committee’s proposals, the party promised to hold an indicative referendum. But just as the Blair government would years later, it has failed to deliver on that commitment. Sensing a political opportunity, the nationals then supported the referendum, succeeded in resuming their duties and duly organized the ballot in 1992, which overwhelmingly supported the MMP. A binding referendum was then held in 1993 and the first general elections based on the RPM were held in 1996. Another indicative referendum was held in 2011, which showed that support for the RPM had increased over the past 15 years. years since its introduction.
The impact of the MMP in New Zealand has been overwhelmingly positive. The diversity and representativeness of parliament have improved. There are more women and Maori MPs, which has been attributed in part to the presence of list MPs. For example, the current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, first served as a List Member in 2008 before becoming an Electorate Member in 2017.
As expected in a proportional representation system, there has also been an increase in the number of parties and coalition governments. However, in this changed political environment, nationals and Labor have retained their major role in governance. Indeed, Labor has held office on several occasions, first through a coalition deal with smaller parties (New Zealand first and the Greens), then on its own after a landslide. in the 2020 elections.