Getting it in proportion? Unions and electoral reform
At the last TUC Congress a motion on electoral reform was passed. It began by noting that the Conservative ‘majority’ government elected in 2015 in fact secured the support of just 24% of the British electorate.
Since that election, we have had to campaign hard in defence of jobs, services, and even our fundamental democratic right to organise. The sustained attacks on trade unions, the only independent democratic organisations representing working people, have shown this government’s true colours when it comes to respect for British democracy, and since the UK voted to leave the European Union we are now entering a period of even greater political and economic instability.
The referendum debate highlighted just how disenfranchised many people feel. It brought to the fore some of the points many in the union movement have been making for a long time: the growing inequalities between the regions and nations of the UK, and the impact that uncontrolled globalisation and years of deregulation, cuts and underinvestment have had on communities.
Trade unionists should be at the heart of the political debate on how we deal with this crisis and this will involve all of our campaigning, educational and lobbying work, but we also have to look at the political and constitutional structure within which we are operating.
The motion on electoral reform passed at out last Congress called for the active engagement of trade unionists in the discussion on what kind of electoral system will best engage people. Today we’re updating and reissuing our report ‘Getting it in proportion? Trade unions and electoral reform’, and will be hosting a series of blogs on this website to help inform and generate discussion.
When the first iteration of this report was published in 2010 it referred to the growing tide of dissatisfaction with our political system and said there was a need for action and ‘a major clean up-up and reinvigoration of our politics’ saying that while no single measure could achieve this, electoral reform might be part of the answer. The nature of the debate in the build up to the EU referendum has shown both that this tide of dissatisfaction has intensified and we are still looking for answers.
Trade unions have democratic traditions built into our DNA. Members elect their workplace representatives and their national leaders and we also vote on policy and on when to take industrial action
In our campaign against the Trade Union Bill, we campaigned hard for the right to be able to conduct ballots online. We managed to secure a commitment to an independent review into how electronic voting could work in practice, but our commitment to increasing democratic participation goes much further than this. As the largest mass democratic organisations in British society, it is clear that unions must be part of both assessing the problems with that system and helping to come up with solutions to re-engage people.
Debate on electoral systems can seem like a very technical and sometimes abstract one, but the type of system we use fundamentally affects the nature of our politics. This means change cannot be taken lightly and debate can’t be limited to political scientists and policy geeks. Our movement has powerful advocates both for change and for retaining the current system and it is important that all of these voices are heard.
Our revised and updated report does not seek to reach a conclusion on what a new system could or should look like, but it does try and set out some of the advantages and disadvantages of various possible electoral systems and to discuss the practicalities of how change might come about in practice in a way which we home is accessible.
The TUC believes in a strong and vibrant civil society with trade unions at its heart. As part of that role, some of our unions have already begun to discuss how our national democratic structures can be changed to more fully engage and empower people. The TUC aims to foster this debate as widely as possible and we hope that this report will encourage more people to join the discussion.