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Members of the Labour Party are currently gathering in Liverpool for the party’s annual conference. In a major shift in the party’s position, delegates have voted to support scrapping the first past the post electoral system and replacing it with a proportional representation (PR).

The historic vote is the first time either of the two largest parties has unequivocally supported implementing a system of PR.

The motion was passed with overwhelming support on a show of hands – with support from trade unions key to its passing.

Laura Parker, from campaign group Labour for a New Democracy said, “This is a historic moment for the Labour Party as it votes unequivocally to scrap our broken First Past the Post system and in support of a proportional representation where every vote counts. This seismic shift in the Labour party has been driven by thousands of members and trade unionists demanding an end to an electoral system that leaves millions feeling forgotten by Westminster. Today’s vote makes clear that the party and our movement knows that for any Labour government to deliver a fair and more equal society we must have a fair voting system too.”

A similar motion was proposed to the party’s 2021 conference, but was voted down as a result of opposition from some trade unions. Since then, some of the largest unions including Unite and Unison have shifted their policy to be in favour of electoral reform.

Proposing the motion from conference floor, David Ward of Ashford Constituency Labour Party said, “Labour’s voice, Labour’s voters and Labour’s purpose – to defend ordinary people – are being strangled by First Past the Post. We have a Tory government which – as we saw with last week’s obscene budget – prioritises protecting bankers bonuses and cutting taxes for the rich. The Tories can get away with this because our current electoral system lets them. Their trickle-down economics are underpinned by trickle-down democracy. It falls to Labour to stand up for the millions of ordinary people who so desperately need a government on their side – with a voting system which no longer leaves them behind.”

The move has also been welcomed by the Green Party of England and Wales. The Greens’ deputy leader Zack Polanski said, “It’s promising to see Labour members vote overwhelmingly to join with the rest of Europe and embrace modern, fair and proportional elections in the UK. However, it’s disappointing that Keir Starmer appears to remain unmoved by the democratic rights of his own members. The Labour leadership needs to honour the wishes of members – as well as a growing number of unions and many Labour MPs – by ending their defence of a broken first past the post system. Two party politics is long dead. We are in an era of multi-party politics, particularly for those who support progressive centre-left policies. It is in the interests of both Labour and the majority of the British public for their Party to embrace PR.”

While the move has been celebrated, it remains unclear what its impact will be. The Labour leader Keir Starmer stated in advance of the debate that he would not include changes to the voting system in the next Labour manifesto.

This was acknowledge by Polanski, who added, “If Keir Starmer does not listen to his members and back PR, it will leave him ensuring future Tory victories. We should have done away with the current completely undemocratic voting system long ago. As the former shadow chancellor, John McDonnell said today, ‘we can’t go on like this because the system is so unfair’, while Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, pointed out that PR has worked just fine for Wales.”

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Image credit: Max Montagut – Creative Commons