24 July 2009

Labour Campaign For Electoral Reform AGM

I attended the LCER AGM in commitee room 13 of the House of Commons on 14th July.

Speakers were Brighton Pavilion PPC Nancy Platts, Streatham PPC Chuka Umunna and Liverpool West Derby PPC Stephen Twigg. The Chair was Selby MP John Grogan.

The consensus seemed to be, if we don't get a referendum included in the Queens speech - i.e by November 5th, then any real chance of reform is scuppered for yet another generation. Pretty depressing stuff really. Nobody there underestimated how difficult it would be to persuade the current Labour leadership under Gordon Brown.

Stephen Twigg was the most upbeat about our chances and said we should unite around AV+ - our best hope. He talked about reaching out to ordinary voters and making electoral reform real for them by relating it to pensions, wages, public services, taxation etc etc - things people really cared about. I spoke to Stephen afterwards and told him that I believed reform will only come if Gordon Brown is deposed. He rolled his eyes and said he 'couldn't possibly comment'.

Chuka said he had always been a PR junkie since his youth, and talked passionately about how unrepresentative our parliament was (I can see why he is tipped for the top). He continued to argue for ethnic minority quotas which sort of undermined what he said. I didn't get to point out to him that the real problem was class not race and gender. Improving lower socio-economic representation would necessarily solve lower representation in other areas as well. More middle class women MPs and middle class non-white MPs would be an improvement, but the real solution is a PR system that naturally improves representation for the lower socio-economic groups rather than a shortlist which is no more than an inadequate sticking plaster over a dysfunctional system.

Nancy said that Brighton Pavilion was unusual in that electoral reform did come up as a topic on the doorsteps. Brighton is an unusually politically informed area. She said she has become convinced of the need for change because people no longer mostly vote just Tory or Labour and it is completely undemocratic to pretend that a system that caters for just two parties is fair now such a large number of people vote for parties that are never going to get represented in parliament - Freemania above - click pie chart and ( Mark Reckons also makes this point).

I asked Stephen before I left, if it would be impossible to get reform if the November deadline was missed. He said emergency legislation could be passed but is an extreme measure unlikely to happen. He also said he thought the Lords would not block a referendum. So it seems it is Queens speech or nothing. Both Stephen and myself both left probably praying that Alan Johnson becomes leader sooner rather than later and takes the party by the scruff of the neck on this issue. Hopefully Brown is so weak and Johnson is so motivated on reform that we get 'something' in the Queens speech, but I have to admit I am not confident while Brown remains at the helm and Jack Straw has a stranglehold on the Ministry of Justice.

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