Electoral reform group seeks £1m to back MPs who can beat Tories

The Guardian - Sat Aug 6 07:00

A grassroots campaign is hoping to raise £1m to bring more supporters of electoral reform to the Commons at the next general election.

The group, called Win as One, will work with candidates from progressive parties who are well-placed to beat the Tories and are in support of proportional representation (PR).

Coordinated by campaign group Compass, the project’s aim is to urge candidates from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens in England and Wales to sign up to support PR – and to coordinate more closely.

With the Labour leadership sceptical about electoral reform, and having ruled out any agreement with the Lib Dems ahead of a general election, Win as One is described in a presentation seen by the Guardian as a “citizens’ pitch invasion, to change the government and the political system”.

“Instead of waiting for party leaders, who may be too cautious to do what’s needed, we will build a national and local movement based on the strengths we already have: our activism, our voices, our votes,” the presentation says.

Win as One hopes to channel resources and activists to support reform-minded candidates from any progressive party; and, more controversially, to help broker agreements about which party is more likely to win and where – what was previously called a “progressive alliance”.

Candidates would be asked to sign up to a pledge supporting electoral reform. The campaign would then aim to help support a caucus of pro-PR MPs in the House of Commons who could work together to press for change.

The group aims to encourage dialogue between activists of the different progressive parties at local level – a challenging task where tribal loyalties run deep.

The long-serving Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, Jon Cruddas, said Win as One could tap into a desire for change he compared to the early 1990s. “Every so often, there is a sense of an anti-Tory movement – I think we’re approaching one of those moments, and this is to maximise and capitalise on that,” he said. “People are so frustrated with politics that they want something different.”

Labour and the Lib Dems are extremely wary of any formal pact that would require them to stand down candidates in particular seats in favour of their rivals – or hint at a coalition if Labour failed to win outright.

Keir Starmer recently said he would not strike any agreement with the Lib Dems or the Scottish National party even after the next general election.

Labour and the Lib Dems are wary of the “coalition of chaos” argument that was widely felt to have damaged Ed Miliband’s prospects in the 2015 general election.

A Lib Dem source said the two recent byelection results in Tiverton and Honiton, and Wakefield – won by the Lib Dems and Labour respectively – showed the electorate was capable of voting tactically anyway, without the need for backroom deals.

But if Labour win without an outright majority, support for PR would be a likely condition of Lib Dem backing for Starmer’s governing platform.

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Coalition negotiations between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems after the 2010 general election resulted in a referendum on the alternative vote system (AV) – which is not full-blown PR – but it was defeated by 68% to 32%.

Starmer is coming under mounting pressure over electoral reform from within his own party. A motion supporting PR at last year’s Labour conference was backed by 80% of constituency delegates but failed to pass without trade union support.

Since then, Unison and Unite have shifted their position. After Unite’s conference voted to support PR last October, its general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “Our political class has failed working people and our system is broken. It is time to change our democracy.”