Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner listen as shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves gives her keynote speech at the Labour Party conference at the Brighton Centre. Picture date: Monday September 27, 2021.

Labour conference vote in favour of proportional representation

A motion calling for the labour party to drop the first past the post system was tabled at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool.

The vote came after electoral reform ranked in the top six items of the party’s priorities ballot.  The priorities ballot dictates the policy areas which members wish to see debated on the conference floor.

This is the first time that a major UK political party has suggested the removal of first past the post.

Reacting to the news, Laura Parker from the Labour for a New Democracy movement said, “This is a huge step forward in the campaign within the Labour Party for fair votes.  Today’s vote is confirmation of what we know – the Labour Party is united in its support for proportional representation”.

This year some 140 separate Constituency Labour Party’s submitted motions to the conference in support of proportional representation.

The 2021 labour party conference saw a similar debate on proportional representation, with 80% of constituency party delegates voting to support a change. However the motion was defeated after 95% of votes from affiliates, almost entirely unions, opposed the move.

This year though, the position was different. In the last 12 months, two of the larger unions affiliated to the Labour party, Unite and Unison, have both come out in favour of electoral reform

The Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford, and the former shadow chancellor John McDonnell are amongst leading party figures who backed a change.

Supporting the ‘Can’t Wait campaign’, Andy Burnham said, “Under our antiquated political system, the Conservative party has been in power for more than two-thirds of the last century without ever winning a majority share of the popular vote”.

However, despite the outcome of the vote, Labour’s leadership does not support PR.

In an interview before the vote with the Observer, Sir Keir Starmer said there would be no instance where we would see him back a change. Asked if Labour’s manifesto would include pledges on electoral reform, he said: “No, it’s not a priority for me.”

Although not everything decided at Labour party conferences has made its way into past labour party manifestos, under the party’s constitution, decisions at the Annual Conference are expected to guide the policy framework from which the next manifesto is drawn.