If Labour Is Serious About Winning Then It Needs to Get Serious About Electoral Reform

Pablo John makes the case for Labour to seize the opportunity to support Proportional Representation.

Picture the scene, it’s 2017 and an untested leader helms the Labour Party; starting out miles behind the polls they run a hopeful insurgent campaign. Whilst they secure a respectable swing over the campaign it isn’t enough and they ultimately lose the election. If you thought I was talking about Jeremy Corbyn then you fell for my devious and cunning trap. I was actually talking about the saviour of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern.

You might not know it by her 50% of the vote and 22 seat supermajority (out of 120) over her nearest rivals, but Jacinda actually lost in 2017, coming a full six points behind the centre-right National party.

If this is the case, how come Arden was able to lead New Zealand through the Christchurch attack, beat the wind out of Coronavirus and generally become a global superstar? Proportional Representation. Whilst Jacinda did lose, she was able to team up the cuddly Greens and slightly more dodgy New Zealand First party to form a government. Now the reactionary NZF are completely out of politics and a progressive Labour Government rules with one of the biggest seat totals in recent Kiwi history.

Because it doesn’t matter how good your policies are or how nice your chin is if the game is rigged against you. Make no mistake, First Past the Post is rigged against Labour politics. 

The most obvious point to make is there are between three and four progressive(ish) parties on your ballot depending on what nation you live in. Shockingly if the progressives split their vote four ways and the reactionaries only have one option, the reactionaries win every time.

Secondly Labour and Labour voters are concentrated in very small areas in the big cities, whilst Conservative voters are nicely distributed in towns and villages across the country. As nice as it is that Dan Carden and Kim Johnson sit on majorities of more than 37,000 in their Liverpool citadels, it doesn’t really help the rest of us who are trying to flip the 30-40 seats the Tories took with a majority of 3,000 or fewer. And I thought the Labour Party was all about equal distribution. Either a lot of scousers need to move to Kent, or we’ve got to stop playing a game we’re designed to lose.

Keir has made some good noises, he has pledged a constitutional convention to maybe possibly, look at Proportional Representation, only if we’re good. Groups like Labour for a New Democracy have launched to try to give the leadership a bit of a nudge but this shouldn’t be a debate, we should seize this opportunity with both hands. YouGov polling shows 75% of Labour Members support Proportional Representation, while an ICM poll shows 73% of Labour votes and 68% of Tory voters in favour of PR. 

For most of history Labour has supported First Past the Post as we thought it benefited us - making us the only socialist party in the developed world to do so. But for the first time ever Labour got more votes than seats, 32% of the vote, 31% of the seats, it might not seem like a lot but the fact remains we’d have objectively more power under a PR system. 

The Right isn’t afraid to change the rules to benefit them, why should we? By seizing Proportional Representation Labour could lock the Tories out of power for a generation and make our politics a little better in the process.


Pablo John is Co-Chair of Leeds Labour Students.


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