By Michael Elms
In the run-up to Labour Party conference on 25-29 September, one area where the left (and the Labour right, too) remains split is on the question of Proportional Representation. There has been a major organised push to get PR motions on the conference order paper this year.
Some on the Labour left oppose PR on the grounds that it would make the process of getting a Labour government more complicated, and that the whole idea is often packaged with support for a “progressive alliance”, some sort of electoral non-aggression pact between Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP.
In a 5 August interview with the Financial Times, Starmer dismisses electoral pacts out of hand. Much as such a pact would drag Labour further right, he seems to calculate that promoting it now would only help Labour votes leak to other parties.
A minority Labour government might well find itself relying on the votes of other parties: but making a deal with them, rather than challenging them to back Labour or face a new election, could only have the effect of letting anti-working-class or nationalist parties dictate Labour policy, or giving Labour right-wingers a lever to prevail.
But if it can be separated from the question of a “progressive alliance”, the left has to support PR. The reason is simple: PR is a more democratic voting system than First Past the Post. Even if it is the case that a better voting system would complicate Labour’s path to forming a government, that is not sufficient grounds to oppose PR.
A reasonable person could see that the left only supports democracy “when it suits them”.
Any weakening of socialists’ principled and absolute support for democracy as a good in itself will ultimately hollow out and weaken the workers’ movement, which needs democracy like oxygen.