John McDonnell at TUC 4
Credit: PFTM,

Nancy Platts

Campaign Coordinator

The former Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, addressed a packed room at our event to promote proportional representation at the TUC Congress in Liverpool.

A growing number of unions are now backing a proportional voting system (PR) because they can see the current system isn’t working for working people. Most recently public service workers union Unison and shop workers union Usdaw, with a combined membership of over 1.5 million people, have joined the call for change.

“I genuinely do feel that people have a sense of unfairness and there’s such disillusionment now with politics overall that relates to the electoral system. The atmosphere is there for change.”

John McDonnell MP

The event, which focused on how PR can unlock economic equality offered an opportunity for people to question a panel of experts in the field, campaigners and leading trade unionists.

The event covered the experiences of Wales and Scotland who already have proportional representation following devolution. It also explored how New Zealand changed its voting system resulting in much greater support for trade unions and workers.

“PR is about ensuring that workers’ rights and pay improve over time. It’s about reversing the trend where First Past The Post (FPTP) over-represents governments hostile to working people and as a consequence, sees their rights and conditions eroded over time.”

Changing the way we vote is a big change and quite rightly people have lots of questions. We wanted people to feel comfortable asking about the issues that mattered to them, so a lot of thought went into the organisation of the event. The speakers mingled with people and chatted over tapas and a drink before everyone took their seats in small groups at candlelit tables, creating an intimate atmosphere.

Speakers sought to give straight answers to people’s questions and concerns about new voting systems. Two key issues were raised that are common to most audiences we meet in this campaign.

People wanted to understand how the constituency link would be maintained between them and their MP under PR and were satisfied that some forms of PR enabled that accountability to be retained.

Others raised their concerns about the Far Right. It was explained that FPTP does not keep extremists out of politics but allows them to remain hidden until it’s too late, whilst PR creates greater visibility and transparency of political viewpoints early on. It was also flagged that Scotland and Wales have had PR for more than 20 years and there is not currently a single far-right party represented in either parliament.

The event was organised by Politics for the Many and brought together leading democracy organisations including the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, Labour for a New Democracy, Make Votes Matter, and Unlock Democracy.

It was chaired by Lynn Henderson and speakers included:  John McDonnell MP, Dr Justine Mercer, Prof. Maria Iacovou, Caroline Osborne and Prof. Rob Ford. 

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