Labour members have voted in favour of making a manifesto commitment to proportional representation at the next election even if Sir Keir Starmer has ruled out the idea.
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.
The vote to put PR in the next manifesto will undoubtedly add more pressure on the Labour leader, who recently insisted the issue is not a priority for him.
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.”
Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham are among those who have expressed support for PR.
Mr Burnham praised members’ “historic decision” to back proportional representation, when speaking at a New Statesman event on the fringes of the party conference.
Labour shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds, who argued for proportional representation when a backbencher, told an Open Labour fringe event afterwards that issues relating to how people are represented in a democracy can “not and never can be an ancillary issue”.
Mr Reynolds, addressing the motions on proportional representation but acknowledging his Cabinet responsibility, said: “You cannot separate out how a country functions, how power is represented, how the democracy of that country works, from those questions about inequality and prosperity and the funding of things that are dear… of course the two things are linked.”
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.
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.
Sir Keir told the Observer this 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.”
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.”
Mr Polanski insisted that “if Keir Starmer does not listen to his members and back PR, it will leave him ensuring future Tory victories”.
Delegates at the Labour conference also backed a motion urging Labour to commit to the abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement with an elected second chamber or senate.
The motion reads: “Conference believes that Labour should now commit itself to the abolition of the current House of Lords and its replacement with an elected second chamber or senate and should legislate to that end in the first term of the next Labour government.”
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.”
Moving the motion on the abolishment of the House of Lords, Paul Cruikshank, a delegate from Glasgow Anniesland CLP, told the exhibition centre: “A senate of the nations and regions, a senate as a revising chamber, not just for English regions, but for the Scottish and Welsh regions as well, having distinct regional national voices involved in a national forum will strengthen our democracy, genuinely.”
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