The Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform (LCER) is an organisation formed of members and supporters of the British Labour Party, seeking to persuade the party to adopt in its manifesto a commitment to proportional representation in all UK elections.
|Labour Study Group for Electoral Reform|
LCER characterises the first-past-the-post voting system (FPTP) as "unfair and deeply flawed, leading to voter apathy, disaffection with politics, and parliaments which don't represent the people". It campaigns for its replacement with an electoral system which is "broadly proportional, and in which all votes matter".
The group works closely with other organisations promoting electoral reform in the UK, including Make Votes Matter, the Electoral Reform Society and Politics for the Many. LCER is distinct from these other organisations in that it focuses its efforts on promoting proportional representation within the Labour Party. This is driven by the belief that a change to the UK's voting system can only come about via Labour:
"We believe that the impetus for changing the voting system must come from the Labour Party. The Conservatives will never support PR, because First Past the Post gives them such a big electoral advantage. The smaller parties already support PR, but lack the influence to bring about change. Only Labour can drive the change."
LCER originated in the 1970s as the Labour Study Group for Electoral Reform. After Labour lost government to the Conservatives in the 1979 general election, the group changed its name to the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform. Early supporters included academic Ron Medlow; Robin Cook, Jeff Rooker, and Martin Linton, who went on to be Labour MPs; and activist Mary Southcott, who would later become LCER's parliamentary and political officer.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, during which Labour spent most of its time in opposition, support for LCER increased steadily among both Labour members and elected representatives, with motions on electoral reform being tabled at the party conference almost every year. In 1990, the party conference voted narrowly to commission an inquiry into electoral systems; LCER is widely credited in bringing this about. The inquiry, led by Professor Raymond Plant, recommended the introduction of the supplementary vote. Labour included in its 1997 election manifesto a pledge to hold a referendum on electoral reform; however, this pledge was never honoured, despite the work of the Jenkins Commission, in which Liberal Democrat (and former Labour MP) Lord Jenkins explored possible voting systems on behalf of incumbent Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair's government.
In 2010, incoming Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron announced a referendum on electoral reform in return for the support of the Liberal Democrats in a governing coalition. The referendum, which offered instant-runoff voting (branded as "Alternative Vote", or AV) as an alternative to FPTP, was held in May 2011. AV is not a proportional voting system, and as such many electoral reformers considered it no great improvement on FPTP: Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called it a "miserable little compromise", and some leading proponents of electoral reform considered AV to be such a poor system that they voted for the status quo. LCER did support AV in the 2011 referendum, via the Yes2AV umbrella group, but following the heavy and widely predicted defeat of the "Yes" campaign, LCER's activities fell into abeyance for several years, with activists exhausted and the organisation having spent almost all its money.
Activity increased again in 2015 and has been rising steadily ever since; Make Votes Matter notes that one third of Labour MPs, 77 Constituency Labour Parties, and two trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party have expressed support for proportional representation.
In September 2020, Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform joined with other pressure groups and Labour MPs to launch Labour for a New Democracy, a campaign to "build support for UK electoral reform in Labour with the aim of changing party policy by the time its next conference takes place". At the time, polling revealed that three-quarters of Labour members believed the party should commit to supporting proportional representation and adopt it as a policy. The COVID pandemic meant that the Labour Party conference of 2020 was held online. In the run-up to the 2021 conference over around half of all CLPs had passed resolutions in favour of PR, and over 150 CLPs submitted conference motions calling for Labour to back PR. 80% of CLP delegates voted in favour of the composite motion, but it was defeated owing to an overwhelming vote against by the affiliated trade unions, most of which at the time did not have policy on electoral reform. By October 2021, UNITE had changed its policy to back proportional representation.
Many Labour MPs past and present have supported LCER and its activities. In the past, this included such high-profile figures as Mo Mowlam, Robin Cook, Paul Flynn, Clare Short, Tessa Jowell, Rhodri Morgan, Stephen Twigg, Oona King and Janet Anderson.
LCER has prominent supporters from both the left and the right wings of the Labour party. It is currently chaired by former MP Sandy Martin, with former MEP Julie Ward and councillor Duncan Enright as vice-chairs. Former CEO of the Electoral Reform Society Ken Ritchie is the group's treasurer, whilst trade unionist Billy Hayes and former MP Willie Bain are also on the executive committee.
In 2017, Cat Smith co-wrote the foreword to a report jointly written by LCER with Make Votes Matter. Other current supporters include MPs David Lammy, Jonathan Reynolds, Tulip Siddiq, Stephen Kinnock, Alan Whitehead, John McDonnell, and, from the House of Lords, Baroness Lister.
LCER does not advocate the introduction of a specific system of proportional representation, believing that the selection of a new voting system should be the work of a Royal Commission. Rather, it campaigns for the Labour Party:
LCER bases its support for proportional representation on the belief that PR systems are more democratic than FPTP, but also on evidence that PR voting systems are associated with societies with higher levels of social and economic equality; with higher levels of public spending and redistribution; and with a lower propensity to engage in violent conflict.
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