Labour members vote to scrap first past the post in party first

Sir Keir Starmer has said electoral reform is 'not a priority' for him. Credit: PA

Labour members have backed a motion calling to replace first past the post with proportional representation at general elections in a first for the party.

The Labour conference passed a series of motions on electoral reform on Monday afternoon, which included demanding the party scraps first-past-the-post (FPTP) and introduces proportional representation (PR), abolishes the House of Lords, and strengthens the standards for MPs.

It will pile the pressure on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who over the weekend rejected calls to include a change in the electoral system in the party's election manifesto saying it is "not a priority" for him.

But after Labour members voted in favour of three electoral reform motions at the party conference on Monday, trade unions including Unite and UNISON urged him to change his position.

The motion, which passed on a show of hands and to cheers in the conference hall in Liverpool, says: “Labour must make a commitment to introduce proportional representation for general elections in the next manifesto.

“During his first term in office the next Labour government must change the voting system for general elections to a form of PR.

“Labour should convene an open and inclusive process to decide the specific proportional voting system it will introduce.”

Sir Keir told the Observer over the weekend: “There are a lot of people in the Labour party who are pro-PR but it’s not a priority and we go into the next election under the same system that we’ve got, first past the post, and I’m not doing any deals going into the election or coming out of the election.”

Under the current “first-past-the-post” system, voters choose from a list of candidates in their local constituency, and whoever gets the most votes is elected as their representative.

Under a PR system, the distribution of seats corresponds more closely with the proportion of total votes cast nationally for each party.

Those in favour of PR argue it is a fairer system than FPTP as it follows the idea that the seats in Parliament are in proportion to the votes cast.

Despite the motions being carried over, there is no guarantee they will be included in the next manifesto as the party is not bound by policy passed at its annual conference.

Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham, along with former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford, has been vocal about supporting electoral reform and also backed PR at the party's conference in Liverpool.

He told members it is “just the right thing to do” and indicated he would go even further, replacing the House of Lords with a body representing the region and “maximum devolution”.

Mr Burnham described Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s tax-slashing budget last week as the “most graphic demonstration you could possibly imagine of how our current political system can be manipulated in the best interest of a tiny, tiny minority of people”.

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He went on: “For me, if you are to get more regional equality, and just more fairness, if you are to get more durable social reform, I think you’ve got to rewire Britain completely.

“And to me that means a proportional system for the Commons, you abolish the elected Lords and replace it with an elected senate of the nations and regions, so every part of this country has an equal voice in Parliament, which it doesn’t currently have.

“And then you put maximum devolution out to Wales, at national level, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but beneath that you devolve down as well."

Green Party deputy leader Zack Polanski welcomed the news that Labour members voted in favour of ditching FPTP, saying: “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.”

Several Labour members spoke in favour of electoral reform during the debate on Monday afternoon.

Maureen McDaid, of Garston and Halewood Constituency Labour Party (CLP), said: “For many years I actually opposed proportional representation and electoral reform because I believed it would let in extreme right-wing parties.

“Well conference what do we have?

“Under first past the post we have the most right-wing Conservative government ever."