Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

This is the speech that Liz Kendall could give that would make me join the Labour Party

If Liz Kendall* gave a speech similar to the following during her leadership campaign I would immediately join the Labour Party as a member and campaign internally for her to be the next leader. Then if she won the leadership I would remain a member and campaign for Labour during this parliament:

I would like to see the Labour Party achieve an overall majority at the next election. Of course I would. I have been a member of this party for over 20 years and passionately believe that it is the best vehicle we have in our country for social justice and to help people get on and get up.

However I think as a party we need to recognise the huge uphill battle that we face to do this. We are in a similar position to where we were in 1983 and we all know how long it took us to get from there to power again.

I don't know about you but I don't want to wait 14 years.

But there is something else lurking in the background following the general election. It is the growing feeling that great swathes of our country are left unrepresented in parliament. Some of this can be addressed by changing the House of Lords to be elected as we can and must do. But that will still leave the fact that a million people voted for the Green Party and they only got one MP. And UKIP got 3.9 million votes and also only one MP. To put that second one into perspective, if it had taken the same proportion of voters to elect a Labour MP we would only have 2 MPs. That is simply indefensible.

Now this is a difficult subject for us. The current electoral system has been in place for a long time and it has had some advantages for the country, but also if we're honest for our party too. For the country, the clear link between a constituency and their representative has been very important. And in the days when ourselves and the Conservative Party got well over 90% of the vote it usually picked the right winner. The fact it effectively gave a slight "winner's bonus" didn't matter so much when there were very few other parties and they were so much smaller.

But we don't live in the 1950s any more.

We have to face the fact that our electoral system simply cannot cope with a multi-party world. In this election just gone the Conservatives got 37% of the vote but over 50% of the seats. But we have to recognise that in for example 2005 we got 36% of the vote and even more seats than the Tories got this time. Neither of these results are fair in any conventional understanding of the word.

And that is important. Because we are the party of fairness. We want everyone in our wonderful country to benefit from great schools, hospitals and other public services. We want nobody left behind. We are the party of social justice.

But it is simply not good enough to say we want fairness in our public services and in our economy whilst at the same time defending a political system that gives parties over half the seats in parliament on barely a third of the vote.

The time has come to stand up for what is right.

Now I won't pretend that there isn't a little bit of self-interest for our party in this. The near wipeout we have suffered in Scotland with the SNP having over 90% of the seats on 50% of the Scottish vote means that without a more proportional system we will struggle to get more than a handful of MPs there in future given how radically its politics has changed. And there are huge areas of the country in the South East and South West in particular where despite in some areas 20% of the vote or more we have very few MPs.

So reform of the system would help us in some ways.

But we should also recognise it would not help us in other ways. We got just over 30% of the vote at the recent election but we got over 36% of the seats. The system has protected us against what could have been an even worse result. There is also the chance that over the next election or two as our opponents become mired in the difficulties of government that the pendulum swings back towards us and we can end up the largest party or perhaps even a majority government in the next decade or so.

But frankly those are simply not good enough reasons for us to accept such a manifestly broken system.

We need a system that allows all voices, across the political spectrum to be heard. I genuinely believe that there is a progressive majority in this country and that when all the tactical and negative votes cast under first past the post are stripped out we will see that our party is still one of the largest and I would strive to make it the largest. But we will then be able to forge alliances with other parties of the left and centre and govern as a truly one nation government.

I fully recognise this will be a difficult decision for us as a party to take. But we have had other times in our history when we faced a choice between the easy option and the more difficult but worthwhile one.

The 1945 government of Clement Atlee founded the NHS and the modern welfare state despite opposition from the establishment. The 1997 Blair government introduced the minimum wage and devolved power to Scotland, Wales and London. All of these were hugely progressive steps not all of which benefitted our party but which benefitted the country immensely.

We are the party of progress and there is nothing more progressive than ensuring everybody's vote counts.

For me now there is nothing in politics more important than electoral reform. The last election shows just how desperately needed it is. But I now also recognise that it is only going to come about if the Labour Party, partly with an element of self-interest but also partly because they begin to see it is the right thing to do get behind it. Without that I expect I will see no change to the system within my lifetime, hence my willingness to put any other ideological issues to one side and join them if they were willing to campaign for such a change.

*I am singling out Liz Kendall here because of the three Labour leadership candidates she's the only one I can imagine ever giving a speech like this, and even then I recognise how unlikely it would be given the huge opposition within her party to change there would be. But I cannot forsee Burnham or Cooper ever doing anything like this at all. If they did however I would also join up and fight for them.


L fairfax said...

"For me now there is nothing in politics more important than electoral reform. "
I agree although I would add the ability to call for referenda if enough people want it.
Do you think that the EU should also have electoral reform for the EU parliament?
At the moment party x in Britain can have a lot more votes than party y in a smaller country but get less MPs.

Anonymous said...

You're tripping if you think that Tory would move away from a Tory position on electoral reform.