Trade unionists escalated the emerging battle between themselves and the Tories on Tuesday in an attack on the British electoral system that referenced the slim mandate the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority rests on.
Debating at the Trade Union Congress’s annual meetup, the club backed a motion demanding a switch to a more proportional electoral system that would bring House of Commons membership in line with the national vote.
At present elections are fought through first-past-the-post, which gives each constituency seat to the candidate with the most votes in that area without consideration for how voters are dispersed across the country.
In the last general election in May this left the Tories with just over half the seats in the Commons despite netting a mere 36.8 percent of votes cast, whilst at the other end Ukip gained only 1 MP in a chamber of 650 despite capturing more than 12.7 percent of votes.
In the motion the TUC also pointed out that the “Conservative majority government was elected with the support of just 24 percent of the electorate”, a figure that includes those eligible but who did not vote.
The disparity between votes and seats was highlighted at the time of the election by the Electoral Reform Society, which campaigns for a change towards a proportional voting system.
Commenting on the TUC motion, Katie Ghose of the Electoral Reform Society said:
“Unions getting behind change was a key factor in New Zealand’s shift to proportional representation in the 1990s, so this could be the start of a major move away from our outdated voting system for local and Westminster elections in the UK. We hope that the Labour party under new leadership will take note of today’s vote and get behind real reform so that seats will truly match votes in future elections.”
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union which proposed the motion, added:
“Far too many voices are shut out by our voting system. First-past-the-post writes off those who aren’t in swing seats, leaving millions on the electoral scrapheap. We urgently need a fairer voting system where everyone’s vote counts and so that the political diversity which now exists in the UK can be reflected in Parliament and in council chambers across the country.”
The move by the TUC coincides with parliamentary debate on the Trade Union Bill, a bill pioneered by the Tories which could curb workers’ right to strike and in turn weaken the power of the unions.
Whilst the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Ukip are generally supportive of a proportional system, all of the parties standing to benefit from it, Labour has in the past been more equivocal on the issue, with some MPs opposing a change in a referendum in 2011.
First-past-the-post is one of the means by which the Tories have maintained themselves as the natural party of government in the postwar era, with most Conservatives campaigning against a change in that referendum.
Image Credit – The Commons Chamber, November 2007 by Herry Lawford, edited by the Right Dishonourable