Great Gathering for Voting Reform outside of parliament - 25th July 2015
The dust from the General Election has settled. We knew that this election would be more disproportionate than the last, but we did not realise it would be by quite so much. Even the Conservatives were surprised when their 37% of the vote delivered them a majority. After all the talk of red lines and coalitions, it came to nothing. For voting reform campaigners, this was disappointing. The Conservatives, now resting on a majority gifted to them by First Past the Post, are hardly the most enthusiastic about electoral reform at the best of times. But don't be fooled. This isn't the end of the campaign for five more years, we don't have to wait for a more sympathetic government, we have to strike now. If we are going to succeed, our campaign is going to have to be inclusive, efficient and compelling.
1. Engage the people - be persuasive
Since the general election, partly due to the lack of MPs for popular parties such as Ukip, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, there has been a groundswell in support for electoral reform. People are angry about the results of the election and its time we thought to capitalise. Successful campaigns don't leave popularity to chance, they are engaging and capture the public's imagination. To do this, we need to embrace new methods of communication.
Social media is the key to a new era of politics and mass participation, it is now easier than ever to reach many millions more people than could ever have been reached before. The electoral reform movement needs a strong and effective voice on social media which should deliver regular updates about the campaign for electoral reform as well as shareable and interactive media. Let's make it as simple as possible for people to get involved! Clicking 'like', 'share' or 'retweet' is not going to change the world but it will at least get people interested and engaged.
I also think we shouldn't be afraid of old fashioned methods of campaigning. We need to be informative if people are going to understand why we should get rid of First Past the Post. Supporters of FPTP have a point when they say that the system is simple, but that doesn't mean that the alternatives are not simple too. We should be producing leaflets, talking to people and educating the general population. When we bang on about FPTP, STV, MMP, AMS, AV, AV+, PR, etc, people are bound to switch off. Our mission should be to firstly convince people of the faults of FPTP, and secondly explain the advantages and disadvantages of alternative systems. An informed population is a powerful one, and electoral reform will only succeed with their support.
Finally, we will have to work with parties that support electoral reform very closely. Nearly 10 million people voted for parties that explicitly support electoral reform (UKIP, Liberal Democrat, SNP, Green Party), these people should be specifically targeted by electoral reform campaigners and we should work with those parties to engage them. UKIP voters in particular are not typical supporters of electoral reform, we need to be making sure that UKIP are making the case for electoral reform to their own voters. There are not many issues that can unite these parties, we need to make the most of this consensus in order to be most effective.
With a Conservative majority, it is not good enough for our campaign to be insular. If we are to succeed, we will have to reach out to all corners of our society and be louder and more convincing than ever before.
2. Recruit and engage more members
Whilst it is important to engage the general public, there is also another group of people who often feel neglected by organisations campaigning for electoral reform: members. These are the people who will be fighting the ground war, winning the hearts and minds of ordinary people. We cannot afford to abandon or ignore them.
In the aftermath of the general election, 477,000 people signed petitions for voting reform and nearly 4,000 joined the Voting Reform Team Facebook group. Very few of them are members of the Electoral Reform Society. They all have useful skills, and are desperate to help out. They are the people who will win us electoral reform over the next five years. Now is the time to build a mass movement for electoral reform, one that is inclusive and dynamic. These supporters are the key to that.
The first step to building this mass movement is making the membership system simpler. It should be easy and cheap to join the Electoral Reform Society - we are not going to grow if it is too difficult to join. Why not adopt a registered supporter system similar to Labour's? For a small fee, anyone should be able to register their support for electoral reform and play a part in the campaign to change our voting system. Another way to recruit potential members is through working with other organisations and political parties. We know that the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats, Ukip, Plaid and the SNP support electoral reform, why not allow their members to opt-in to joining the Electoral Reform Society when they pay their membership fees. For a small extra cost to the member, they could sign up to support electoral reform, similar to the way that many unions allow members to opt-in to joining Labour. This would boost membership rates and ensure that more people get involved with the campaign.
The second step is to engage our members better. So that campaigners and members feel that they are having an input in our campaigns, it should be as easy as possible for them to get involved. There are simple ways to do this:
- local branches should be formed to meet regularly and campaign on a local level; lobbying MPs and canvassing locally
- members should have access to resources and products for use campaigning
- an annual conference should be held to discuss electoral reform and project our message
- new communication tools should be used to reach members including a members website with forums and resources
- events, demonstrations and action days should be organised to give members an opportunity engage the wider public and communicate our ideas
Engaging and growing our membership would provide us with assets that have never been accessed before, and provide a bedrock to our campaign for electoral reform.
3. Engage politicians - they call the shots
Politicians from the Green party, Plaid, UKIP, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats handing in petitions amounting to 477,000 signatures to Downing Street after the General Election
We may not like it, but if our voting system ever changes, it will be because of an act of parliament passed by MPs. For the next few years, we should be focused on targeting sympathetic MPs and encouraging the main parties to support us. Convincing MPs should involve members and local branches, pushing the issue to the top of the agenda and broadcasting the level of general support that electoral reform has. The Conservative's only have a majority of 12, it is vital that we convince Conservative MPs. We already know that Conservatism and electoral reform are not incompatible, 79% of Conservative voters back a more proportional voting system. Now is our opportunity to convince the parliamentary party.
Labour has had a fickle relationship with electoral reform. We should be the ones to remind them that they are not only socialists, but democrats too. A great start would be to encourage Labour supporters to discuss it with Leadership and Deputy Leadership candidates. The election of a Labour leader who supports electoral reform is key to our success, and key to having a majority in the House of Commons.
Electoral reform may seem like a distance dream, but it is entirely achievable during this parliament. With hard work, perseverance and an effective campaign, we can get rid of FPTP. That's why I am standing for election to the ERS council. It's an exciting time to be getting involved in electoral reform movement. I couldn't vote in 2015, but when I can vote in 2020, I want my vote to count. I don't want to have to vote tactically, or for my vote to be wasted. Let's get rid of First Past the Post once and for all.