04 March 2006

Labour are mad not to trust the voters.

Turnout is lowest amongst urban, ethnic, young and disadvantaged voters and these disenfranchised voters are much more likely to vote Labour. If we truly are a party that wants to help the disadvantaged then we will honour our referendum pledge on PR. Here are the facts;

General Election Turnout (2005) (Power Report).

18-24 37%
65+ 75%

Non-White 47%
White 62%

Social Class
D/E 54%
A/B 70%

Labour lead over Tories (2001) (Urban Renaissance).

18-24 14% Labour lead over Tories
65+ 1% Tory lead over Labour

Non-White 61% Labour lead
White 9% Labour lead

Social Class
D/E 31% Labour lead
A/B 9% Tory lead

It's quite clear from this (despite 2001 being latest figures I could find for the second bit), that the party that would benefit the most from improving registration and turnout would be the Labour party.

Not only would it be a boost to democracy by re-enfranchising these 'lost millions' of voters, it would benefit the Labour party electorally. Not only that, the addition of these voters would also enable the Labour party to move to the left.

For more on this, see my article on how PR will help alleviate poverty.

And see how turnout has risen in New Zealand since they moved from a Westminster system to PR. This rise in turnout has been most sharp amongst the young, ethnic, and lower socio-economic background voters. The Labour government has just won a third term under PR and has increased it's vote at each election, over and above the rise in turnout.

As the Power Commission correctly pointed out, electoral reform is only part of the answer (along with more devolved power, less concentration of media ownership and reformed party funding), but it is an important part.

Even the Tory vice chairman of the Power Report, Ferdinand Mount came round to PR;

"People may still be deterred from voting if they feel that their vote does not make any difference, which in safe seats it doesn't. (Nothing was more off-putting at the 2005 general election than the spectacle of Conservative and Labour strategists boasting that they needed only to canvass the 2% of voters in marginal seats who were going to make the difference and whose names they had locked away in their "voter vaults".) The only answer is to introduce some form of responsive electoral system in which every vote cast goes towards helping a candidate to get elected. I have spouted all the arguments against proportional representation myself in the past. David Cameron and Ken Clarke are spouting them still. But I have been converted to reform, not so much because it is fairer than first-past-the-post but because it is the only way to galvanise the parties to canvass every ward in every seat."


  1. I'm not anti-PR, just looking out for the best possible arguments for support it, rather than, say, fixing politics as a whole; and Mount's "only way to galvanise the parties to canvass every ward in every seat" point sounds like just the kind of point we should be making.

    Must say I haven't studied the Power report - is it massive?

  2. Well it's 350 pages long, it took me several hours to read. The executive summary is only 24 pages and that tells you most of the information.

    There are legitimate reasons to have PR that ALL parties should support.

    I am focussing on the advantages to Labour, because realistically it is the Labour Party we have to persuade, they are the ones in government with all the power. I have no faith in a future Tory government doing anything, as none of their MPs support PR and David Cameron is dead set against. This is despite being a student of one of the most famous advocates of PR, Vernon Bogdanor.

    I refuse to believe that Cameron doesn't understand that PR is fairer than FPTP. He obviously supports FPTP for cynical reasons (the Tories even use PR to elect their leader precisely because they know how unrepresentative FPTP is).

  3. These "disenfranchised voters". Who are they? I have never met anyone who is both a voter, that is to say, enfranchised, and simultaneously not allowed to vote, that is to say "disenfranchised".

  4. New Zealand did not move from using the Westminster system to PR as you say. NZ still uses the Westminster system (indeed, is one of the more notorious examples of it). You're confusing the electoral system with other aspects of the constitutional setup.

    Does not the Power report pour some cold water on the claim that PR helps boost turnout? Why do you not quote that as a caveat for your views?

  5. Anon: You are behind the times. New Zealand switched to a Mixed Member Proportional system in 1996 (the one use in Germany).

    The current Labour government in New Zealand was elected for a third term under this PR system last year. I suggest you check your facts.

    Voters are effectively disenfranchised if they live in a safe seat. Voters in marginal seats know their vote is worth much more, and the political parties know this as well, which is why they tailor their policies towards these voters and campaign and canvass these voters more and have 'voter vaults' etc to help target them. How is this fair?

  6. "Does not the Power report pour some cold water on the claim that PR helps boost turnout?"

    Nobody (not even me) is claiming that PR solves everything, it doesn't.

    International evidence suggests an increase in turnout of around 7% by switching from FPTP to PR.

    This is not enough on its own.

    Of course there are other factors suppressing turnout as well as the electoral system and the power report points this out. This is why PR is only 1 of its 30 recommendations.

    The report points out that declining turnout is a worldwide phenomenon (even under PR systems). This is most likely due to national democracies having limited and declining powers in controlling multi-national corporations and wealthy individuals who can avoid taxation and regulation by basing their wealth and activities in the least taxed and regulated country. This is why supra-national organisations (like the EU) are increasingly the way for individuals and communities to regain democratic control, while at the same time devolving power down to communities.

  7. Neil,

    you have totally misconstrued what I was saying.

    Well may you suggest that I check my facts. I humbly beseech you to do me the courtesy of reading what I wrote. NZ still uses the Westminster system and PR. You can have both.

  8. Anon, sorry it was a little confusing.

    When I said 'westminster system', I thought it was clear I meant 'westminster electoral system' as that was clearly the context in which the sentence was written.

    However changing the electoral system also changes the dynamic of the executive because it is now made up of more than one party which is directly influenced by a majority of voters rather than a minority. It is much more difficult for this executive to ride roughshod over the majority's wishes. Of course it's also preferable to devolve power down from the executive as well as change the electoral system.

  9. Oh, I hadn't realised you thought this was the first time you'd made this mistake. Sorry.

  10. "And see how turnout has risen in New Zealand since they moved from a Westminster system to PR."

    It's clear I'm just talking about electoral systems. If I was talking about the whole system I would have mentioned subsidiarity.

  11. Ah, but:

    "If we truly are a party that wants to help the disadvantaged then we will honour our referendum pledge on PR."

    Then you would also privatise higher education, open up education, scrap the welfare STATE, and actually lock criminals up.

    Of course, I forget the Labour party's aim is not really helping the disadvantaged... It's aim is to maximise votes, maximise donations to party coffers (through lots of peerages to rich white men), and keep the poor poor to ensure they keep voting for the supposed party of the poor.

  12. raw carrot: The Labour party is all the disadvantaged have got. The introduction of a minimum wage and the way Labour has increased it year on year by more than wage inflation, is worth voting Labour.

    Both the Tories AND the Lib Dems opposed the minimum wage, and more importantly have opposed these increases.

    Then there is the extra funding of the NHS, education, welfare etc...the plummeting waiting lists, unemployment, inflation etc..and then there is the best economic growth on record.

    This Labour government has its faults, but what do you suggest would help the poor, voting Tory?

  13. No, it wasn't clear you were just talking about electoral systems, because you were using the term "Westminster system", which isn't an electoral system. Look it up.

  14. And I suppose this article's headline is wrong as well.

    To avoid any confusion, I WAS just talking about electoral systems.

    Since we both agree, I'm quite happy to change the relevant line to specifically mention 'electoral' system of you want, though I think that it is clear enough in the context of the sentence. I mean how can the overall system be changed to PR? It is obvious I'm talking about electoral systems.

    Just to clear up any confusion, I agree also that the overall system where too much power is concentrated with the executive should be devolved to parliament and local government on the principle of subsidiarity.

    Though this was a separate point to the one I was making.

  15. No, the headline of the article you cite need not be misusing the term "Westminster" in a like manner to yours.

    The article seems well-informed, so I assume they were not an intentional solecism. Why won't you give them the benefit of the doubt?

  16. So I put 'moved from Westminster system to PR' and that's misleading but someone else puts 'Westminster democracy switches to PR' and that's ok?

    Do the words 'flies' and 'picking' mean anything to you? I can't actually believe we are having this discussion. It's like you couldn't actually find anything you disagreed with about this article but had to 'find' something. Party politics is SO petty!