Electoral system is failing younger voters
There are three particular reasons– apart from the mandate given by Congress – why we need to have this conversation now.
First, in 2015 we had the most reactionary government in possibly a hundred years elected with less than 25% of the vote. That cannot be right or good.
Second, despite massive and highly creditable efforts by groups like Bite the Ballot, participation by younger voters actually fell in comparison to 2010 levels. We are clearly failing to engage this demographic in the electoral process, and that is worrying for the future.
Third, the devolution train has left the station. The “DevoManc” model has impetus and allure. We have crossed that particular Rubicon. How do we organise to ensure our interests are protected in a decentralised, more localised landscape?
Taking each of these in turn, we can see why some feel electoral reform could be a suitable remedy.
There is the argument of fairness. Is it not inherently unreasonable for electoral results to be so tangential to the votes actually cast? Yes, proportional representation would have given UKIP dozens of seats in 2015 – but it would also have denied the Tories their majority. Indeed, the combined Tory/UKIP vote was below 50%. If PR was the “cost” of a centrist or centre-left government, I suspect many would have been happy to pay it.
And maybe young voters are disengaged because they feel their votes don’t count for much. What’s the point if you feel you can’t affect the outcome? Or there is no-one on the ballot who you feel speaks for you? Young people do vote if the choice is clear – as they did in the Scottish Independence Referendum. There is an appetite for political activity – but if we can’t accommodate that within the electoral system, inevitably people will look outside of that system for satisfaction.
But for trade unionists, probably the biggest factor is the challenge – and opportunity – of devolution. We need to be able to exert influence over who runs the devolved authorities in order to protect our current members’ terms and conditions and ensure good employment standards for all. This was a key theme at last year’s Congress fringe event.
And all of this is happening in an environment where the odds are loaded in favour of people who, frankly, don’t like us very much. Or at all. We have a majority Conservative government with the zest of a new Prime Minister, the revised Parliamentary boundaries and Individual Voter Registration will cost Labour seats, UKIP is a threat in some parts. Scotland is a distinct challenge, assuming it stays as part of the UK
You can see why some improvement in our prospects is urgently needed. The material from the Electoral Reform Society is certainly high quality food for thought on one side of the argument.
But from the CWU’s perspective, we could not agree that First-Past-The-Post is an out-dated model. The limited PR in Scotland has not prevented one party having a commanding majority. Although younger voter engagement was high in the Independence Referendum, it fell back in the EU vote. And you could argue that no amount of electoral reform can take the place of diligent, imaginative organising campaigns.
But we do support the call for urgent discussion on this matter. The stakes are so high we need as much clarity as possible as soon as possible.