THE BLOG

We Need to Get Together to Deliver Electoral Reform

08/02/2016 17:41 GMT | Updated 08/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Today in a room near Westminster, I'll be joining representatives from six other political parties for a Make Votes Matter organising meeting, a way of joining up party and non-party efforts to produce a voting system fit for the 21st century, one in which every voter will know their vote can count.

It's no surprise electoral reform has leapt to the top of the political agenda after the least proportional election result in British political history in 2015. Some parties needed to win little more than 23,000 votes to elect an MP, for another it was more than four million. For the Greens, if our 1.1million votes (more than we've won in every previous general election put together) were in a proportional system, we'd have 25 MPs in Westminster.

We saw a major change in the structure of government, yet that happened with the Tories winning only a 0.8% increase on their vote in 2010, while Labour who "lost" increased their vote by 1.4%. For the Greens, our increase was about 2.5%, a result that maintained our one MP in Westminster.

But since the election, the support and pressure for electoral reform has grown even stronger, followed by the extreme actions - from the Trade Union and Housing Bills to the imposition of even further swingeing austerity - of a Tory government that doesn't have a mandate for its actions, having won the support of just 24% of eligible voters.

There's also been practical action - two citizen assemblies, conducted in Sheffield and Southampton. They were experiments focused on local government - where electoral and other reform is also urgently needed.

Speaking to participants at a sum-up event, it was clear that these individuals, from a broad range of social backgrounds, with views across the political spectrum, some with little previous experience or interest in politics, had felt empowered and engaged by the chance to discuss - the potential to have a say - in our political structures.

But how do we get to electoral reform, to, ideally, a full process of citizen engagement and assemblies producing a new constitutional settlement for the UK?

One thing that's clearly needed is for political parties to sit down to talk to each other, to work together to focus on the main issue, the need for reform, and, I'd argue, the need to encourage maximum public involvement in the process.

The Green Party is well used to working with other parties to get our values and principles into policy. Green MP Caroline Lucas is working with others on the tremendously important NHS Reinstatement Bill, and she'll be joining representatives from other progressive parties on the platform at the CND's upcoming big London march opposing the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons.

We're used to working with other parties in the European parliament, a parliament with a very different culture to our own, where cross-party working on issues is the norm.

We know that Westminster's yah-boo, Prime Ministers' Question-style approach to politics has put off many from even enrolling to vote, let alone voting.

There's 74% public support for the change to a proportional election system - this is an issue whose time has clearly arrived, as today's meeting helps to demonstrate.

Of course the defenders of the status quo are loud and vocal - they're the status quo after all.

So let's answer a couple of their arguments.

"It's too complicated for voters." Nonsense - voters in Wales, London and Scotland are about to go to the polls in proportional elections. They're coping, I think the rest of England can also. And a proportional electoral system means voters don't feel they have to make complicated and inadequately informed guesses about how other people in their electorate are going to vote. Under a proportional system, you can vote for what you want, and get elected representatives reflecting that.

"Voters want a local representative." Both the additional member system (AMS) and AV-plus system allow for elected constituency representatives and a proportional result achieved through a top-up list. You still have a local MP.

"You've already had the chance for electoral reform in the AV referendum in 2011 and the voters said 'no'." The Alternative Vote (AV) system on offer in that referendum was not proportional, it is a slight improvement on our current first-past-the-post system, but not, as I recently had to correct a Today Show presenter, proportional.

These arguments don't stand up - the arguments for a political system that's genuinely democratic, that produces a government reflecting the will of the people that encourages a more constructive, effective politics are overwhelmingly strong.

Britain needs to do this. It needs to do it soon. That requires parties, campaigners - the people - to get together and demand the change. Today's one step in that process.