Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Why Labour should support electoral reform and how the environment could benefit

Make Votes Matter fringe at the Labour Party Conference this week
The Green Party came up against a solid brick wall at the General Election when it tried to get agreement with the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats for a 'Progressive' (Electoral) Alliance which involved a commitment to campaign for electoral reform in exchange for the other parties standing down in favour of the party best placed to defeat the Tory candidate. In the event neither the Lib Dems nor Labour made the commitment although Greens did stand down in a number of seats.

Some Labour MPs made individual commitments on PR and a number of them spoke at the Make Votes Matter/Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference. Locally Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) has supported proportional representation.

Coinciding with Conference the two organisations published a well researched paper making the case for the Labour Party to adopt electoral reform as policy. The paper has the non-snappy title The Many Not the Few Proportional Representation and Labour in the 21st Century. On line copy here LINK.

This is an extract from the paper addressing the issue of environmental policy:

The evidence

Studies have found that countries using proportional systems
 set stricter environmental policies and were faster to ratify the Kyoto protocol. On environmental performance, Lijphart and Orellana found
that countries with PR scored 
six points higher on the Yale Environmental Performance Index, which measures ten policy areas, including environmental health, air quality, resource management, biodiversity and habitat, forestry, fisheries, agriculture and climate change. 

Using data from the International Energy Agency, Orellana found that between 1990 and 2007, when carbon emissions were rising everywhere, the statistically predicted increase was significantly lower in countries with fully proportional systems, at 9.5 per cent, compared to 45.5 per cent in countries using winner-take-all systems. Orellana found use of renewable energy to be 117 percent higher in countries with fully proportional systems.


The UK has historically lagged behind its European peers when it comes to action on climate change and uptake of renewable energy. Depressingly, this is despite having by far the best off shore wind and marine energy potential in Europe. Successive governments have at best taken relatively limited action to move away from fossil fuels and reduce emissions, or at worst have actively resisted such progress (with the current government determined to begin shale gas production despite strong opposition from both local communities and the general public). 

Using data from the International Energy Agency, in his 1990 book, Electing for Democracy, Richard Kuper offers an explanation for this which remains true to this 
day. “Were the Greens”, he writes, “in a position to obtain representation in proportion to their vote, it is inconceivable that Labour would not already have in place a coherent and much strengthened range of environmental policies in order to head o the challenge.” 

Because a vote for the Green Party remains a wasted vote in almost every constituency, we in the Labour Party have little electoral incentive to worry about winning those voters back by competing with the Greens with our environmental credentials. On the contrary, since the swing voters in marginal seats may not be keen on the idea of a wind turbine at the bottom of their garden, an electoral agent may well advise us not to make too much of a fuss about climate change. 

Twitter links @MakeVotesMatter  @Labour4PR

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