Are electoral pacts the way forward?

Council Response to Proportional Representation Alliance motion

Policy Motion: Proportional Representation Alliance

Proposer: John Cochrane
Seconder: Martin Childs

Unlock Democracy should encourage and facilitate all the political parties in the UK who are in favour of PR to fight the next election in 2020 as an Alliance.

Response

Unlock Democracy is committed to cross party and collaborative working. We regularly seek to build alliances in our campaigning work and believe this to be a key strategy for achieving the fundamental changes we seek.  We took this approach to the promotion of the joint petition immediately after the election and in ensuring it was handed in to number 10 Downing St by representatives of political parties in favour of reform including the Greens, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, SNP and UKIP.  More recently we have been involved with the PR Alliance building day organised by Make Votes Matter as well as cross party initiatives for a constitutional convention.

We will continue to work with political parties to get public commitments, including in their manifestos, for the reforms we want.  While Unlock Democracy advocates cross party working and where appropriate creates forums and events to enable that to happen, we believe the exact nature of those relationships should be left to the parties themselves. It is not our role or within our power to determine how parties target their resources or plan their election strategy.  Our focus is on making a compelling case for the fundamental changes to our politics that we want to see, both to political parties and the wider public.

After defeat at the AV referendum and the election of a government that is implacably hostile to changing our voting system, we welcome innovative thinking about how to win fairer votes. 

The proposal specifically discussed by those who attended the AGM (though not seen by proxy voters) for an electoral pact, where parties agree not to stand candidates against each in key seats to win proportional representation, is a useful reminder that in order to secure a fairer voting system, we must deal with the realities of first past the post. 

However we do not see an electoral pact as a feasible or desirable way of achieving electoral reform. While the parties could decide to take this approach, we believe this is unlikely. There are a number of practical considerations that make the success of this approach improbable. Political parties are very unlikely to agree to stand down candidates, especially in areas where there is competition between the parties which would potentially form the pact and even if they do there is little evidence to suggest that voters would follow their lead.  Other considerations include that a pact may be perceived as being anti-democratic, how voters will react to less choice and a focus on an issue that may not be their highest concern. Ultimately, an electoral pact would fail because it denies voters the choice of a party that reflects their beliefs, the very choice we are trying to achieve through a fairer voting system.

There is no substitute for the hard work of convincing both the public and politicians that a fairer voting system is right for Britain. Unlock Democracy is committed to working with political parties to establish common ground on electoral reform but given the challenges with the specific proposal above, we believe it is crucial that other forms of co-operation between parties are fully explored. We will continue to work on a cross party basis to build broad based support for electoral reform. Our aim is for political parties to agree on a joint commitment to introduce a fairer voting system as part of their manifestos and that candidates in the general election can be asked to affirm their support for reform.