Unions start electoral reform debate

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date: 14 January 2010

embargo: 00:01 hours Friday 15 January

The TUC has today (Friday) launched a debate within the trade union movement on whether the UK should move towards a proportional system for electing the House of Commons by publishing a new Touchstone pamphlet Getting it in Proportion? Trade Unions and Electoral Reform.

While the pamphlet is designed to provoke discussion rather than come to a conclusion, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber says in its introduction:

'Whatever the strengths of our present system it encourages the major parties to concentrate their efforts in marginal seats, and on the floating voters within them who are most likely to switch their votes. Safe seats and core voters end up getting taken for granted... voting systems can have a real impact on the lives of ordinary people. This is not just a 'chattering class' issue.'

The pamphlet says all electoral systems have strengths and weaknesses and that there is no perfect system that suits every elected body in every country. The case for sticking with the status quo is that the arguments for change are not strong enough and that there 'needs to be a very strong case before we scrap a system which voters understand and has remained unchanged for many years'. However as Brendan Barber says in the introduction, something needs to be done to reinvigorate our democracy:

'The MPs expenses scandal, the declining turnout and the relatively small share of the popular vote required to form a government, while the vote for third and other parties rises, all point to something wrong with our democracy.

'Parties can become dependent on limited numbers of super-rich donors, who do not even have to be resident for tax purposes.

'The evidence suggests we need a major clean-up and reinvigoration of our politics. It is very unlikely that there is a single measure that can do this, and it will take action in a number of areas. Electoral reform may or may not be part of what is required, but unions - as the largest mass democratic organisations in our society - must make their contribution to analysing what is wrong and helping reinvigorate our political system.'

The pamphlet says that voting patterns have changed significantly since the Second World War, with many more people now voting for parties other than the big two, and turnout falling significantly. The practical alternatives in the UK to first-past-the-post are the alternative vote (AV), now favoured by the Prime Minister, or AV+, which adds extra top-up MPs to ensure a more proportional result.

However, as the report points out, although AV has the advantage of removing the need for tactical voting and ensuring every MP has majority support from voters in their constituency, it can produce results that are even less proportional than first-past-the-post.

The pamphlet, which has been published as a free downloadable Touchstone Extra, has been produced after a motion passed at last year's TUC Congress called for a trade union debate on whether to move to a more proportional electoral system.


- Getting it in Proportion? Trade Unions and Electoral Reform is available to download at www.tuc.org.uk/extras/touchstoneelectoralreform.pdf

- All touchstone pamphlets and blogs are available at www.touchstoneblog.org.uk

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

- Register for the TUC's press extranet: a service exclusive to journalists wanting to access pre-embargo releases and reports from the TUC. Visit www.tuc.org.uk/pressextranet


Media enquiries:
Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248 M: 07778 158175 E: [email protected]
Rob Holdsworth T: 020 7467 1372 M: 07717 531150 E: [email protected]
Elly Brenchley T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: [email protected]

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