The future of the left since 1884

Restoring Trust

Introducing PR would change the way people feel about politics, writes Jessica Toale



As a parliamentary candidate, I spend hours knocking on doors each week and, with my team, I speak to thousands of people every month. Over the past year this has given us a keen insight not only into the local issues that people care about, but also how they feel about politics in general.

There has never been a better time to be a Labour candidate. The reception is warm. Most people we speak to know the Conservatives have left the country in a mess. They talk about NHS waiting times, sky-high rents or mortgages. They worry about crime in their neighbourhoods and sewage being pumped into our rivers and seas at an alarming rate. Many tell us they have voted Conservative their whole life but can’t do it again. This is an exciting window of opportunity for Labour – but it doesn’t mean people will automatically vote for us. We still have a job to do to convince them that we are the credible alternative with a plan.

More worrying is the number of people who tell me they are not going to vote at all. They feel disillusioned with politics and the political classes. They do not feel represented or that their vote matters. They often say: “You’re all the same.” Come the next election, the greatest trick the Conservatives could pull is to convince voters that we are all as bad as each other and that no one will do a better job.

But we are not powerless to address this growing sense of disenfranchisement amongst voters. If Labour is fortunate enough to serve in government, we have the opportunity to improve the lives of working people and address complex challenges such as the cost of living crisis, health and social care, education and the environment. We also have the opportunity to address this growing sense of disenfranchisement and restore trust in politics with a package of electoral and constitutional reforms, including by introducing proportional representation.

There is a growing drumbeat for PR. At October’s Labour party conference, prominent figures from across the Labour movement spoke in favour of PR, from trade union general secretaries, NEC members, Labour mayors, MPs, MSPs and a wide range of my fellow prospective parliamentary candidates. A whopping 80 per cent of Labour members back PR and 90 per cent of CLPs in the South West region, where my constituency is based, have passed motions in favour.

And it is not just political types that favour PR. It is popular with swing voters and the general public. It certainly comes up on the doorsteps. According to polling by Labour Together, most voters think a proportional voting system would be the best way to improve trust. And it wins favour with a particularly important group – the key swing voters dubbed ‘Workington Man’ and ‘Stevenage Woman’.

By changing our electoral system and introducing PR we will be giving power back to local communities and restoring trust in politics. People will be able to see the direct impact of their vote and feel better represented by the outcome. This must go hand in hand with a programme of change that is core to getting Britain’s future back.

Of course, Labour will have to win this election on a first past the post system. So for those who argue turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, a change to our electoral system will actually benefit Labour and progressive parties. In 19 of the past 20 general elections, most people voted for parties to the left of the Conservatives, but FPTP has meant that the Conservatives have governed for two-thirds of that time. It is easy to see why people don’t feel represented. FPTP has a built-in bias towards the Conservatives that means we end up with governments the majority did not vote for.

PR has longer term benefits as well. It leads to greater political stability – meaning projects like the HS2 rail project would get the stable governments they need to be delivered. Countries with PR have better outcomes in terms of income inequality, poverty reduction, climate action and gender and minority representation in their governments. And we know it works in Wales and Scotland.

To truly deliver transformational change in this country, Labour must address the flaws in our voting system and build greater levels of trust with the electorate.


Image credit: Descrier, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Image credit (pinned, News and Insight): SaffyMiso, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jessica Toale

Jessica Toale is the Labour parliamentary candidate for Bournemouth West and a Labour councillor in Westminster


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