Placard reading "Make every vote count"

If you spend any amount of time talking to people from the Green Party of England and Wales about electoral success, it is only a matter of time before ‘PR’ – proportional representation, or the lack of it in the UK, comes up.

Some form of proportional representation has been a key part of Green Party policy for many years. There is a campaign started by party members – “Get PR Done” – which talks at length about the benefits of proportional representation. Caroline Lucas proposed a Bill to amend the Representation of the People Act to introduce proportional representation for the House of Commons.

The issue is that as a party, we don’t trust proportional representation in our own governance. Almost none of the main committees in the party are elected using proportional systems. New proposals which have been dragging themselves around the party for the last couple of years take the overall governance of the party even further away from any kind of proportional system than what we have now.

Caroline Lucas wrote in 2017 “if democracy is about fairly representing the views of the people, we are failing at it with first past the post.” The current structures in the party are failing because they take all the failings of First Past the Post and keep them – with the minor glossing over with a preferential voting system to give the impression it is somehow better than First Past the Post. Lucas goes on:

“As a country, we pride ourselves on our strong commitment to democracy, yet the vast majority of votes cast up and down the land simply do not count. In June’s General Election, 68% of votes made no difference to the outcome.”

This could just as well have been written about the party and our annual ballot – 42% of ballots cast for the leader made no difference, 49% of the votes cast for the Chair of the Party Executive made no difference, 50.6% of votes cast for the elections coordinator made no difference.

When it comes to democratic decision making, even before we get to the fact that turnout for our internal elections is very low, the fact that we routinely ignore peoples’ votes and our governance is structurally set up to do this speaks volumes about our commitment to proportional representation. When we talk about proportional representation, we say ‘under PR we’d increase voter turn-out’ yet this doesn’t seem to be part of the discussion for the problems we face internally.

The so called “Holistic Review” proposals which are to get their own conference in 2021 only make this process worse. The committee which makes the bulk of the important decisions in these proposals “the board” isn’t even elected by members directly. It will be appointed by a group of people elected by the members. So 50% or the votes of members will be disregarded in the first part of the process. Then once that has been implemented and the council appointed, 50% of the votes from the members of the council will be disregarded to appoint the board. It will be possible to appoint the board on the basis of support from significantly less than 50% of the whole membership.

The current process of governance in the party makes a mockery of our support for proportional representation. The “holistic review” proposals make that even worse. If we want to be a party which is genuinely supportive of a proportional system of governance then we should start at home, practice what we preach and propose an actually proportional system of governance for the party, not the winner takes all farce we have at the moment which drives a factional, division ridden politics we are supposed to be better than.

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Image credit: Ryan Hodnett – Creative Commons