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Most voters backed parties to the left of the Tories - so why are the losers in power?

First past the post distorts our whole political system. It's time for Labour to join smaller parties in calling for change. 

The UK has a progressive majority - it’s our broken voting system that hands power to the right

Last week’s general election was full of surprises, but in one important way it reaffirmed a well-established fact of British politics: there is a clear progressive majority in the UK.

More than 52 per cent of voters backed parties to the left of the Conservatives - whether Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru or the Greens.

These people - 14 million of them - rejected Tory austerity and divisiveness. They all voted for a more equal, compassionate society; in short, they voted for hope.

But while there is a clear progressive majority among the people, it’s the opposite in parliament: there’s a regressive majority. The Tories and Democratic Unionist Party command a majority of MPs in the House of Commons - despite the fact that their combined vote share was just 43 per cent.

Why does a regressive minority get to run roughshod over the progressive majority? There’s one simple reason: our primitive and dysfunctional voting system, first past the post.

Eight in ten developed democracies use some form of proportional representation - systems that aim to make sure all votes matter equally and seats match votes. The UK does not, and as a result we are blighted with parliaments that don’t reflect the people, usually to the benefit of the Conservative party.

None of this is new. The Great British Progressive Majority has been an enduring fact of our modern history. Of the last 15 general elections, most people voted for parties to the left of the Conservatives in 14 of them. This was true even during the darkest days of the Thatcher era. Only once since 1964 has there ever been a small “c” conservative majority of voters: in 2015. Yet the Tories have been in power for most of this time.

Not that this is the only way FPTP distorts our politics. As Make Votes Matter - the cross-party campaign for PR for the House of Commons - points out, over 68 per cent of votes in this general election were wasted, meaning they didn’t affect the make up of parliament in any way. Nor were votes equal. It took 18 times as many votes to elect a Green MP as it did to elect one from the SNP.

This broken system distorts our whole political system. If it weren’t for local pacts and tactical voting on an unprecedented scale - spearheaded by Compass and the Progressive Alliance - Parliament would be far more skewed to the right. Progressive votes would have been spread thinly across more parties and candidates, handing many marginal seats over to the Tories by default. One in five people intended to vote tactically in this election according to the Electoral Reform Society.

PR would empower people by making parliament fairly reflect their votes. We can be certain, for example, that the Thatcher era as we know it simply could not have happened if we’d had PR. A large majority of people voted for parties to the left of the Tories throughout the entirety of her reign.

There’s also strong evidence that the coalition governments of proportional systems tend to perform better than winner-takes-all regimes like those used in the UK and US.

Researchers have found that proportional systems lead to significantly better levels of income equality. Of the 35 OECD democracies, the top 15 in terms of income equality all use PR. These countries are more likely to have welfare states and invest on average 5 per cent more in social expenditure. They are what the academic Arend Lijphart calls “kinder, gentler democracies”.

PR also enables better gender and black and ethnic minority representation in politics; every country with more than 40 per cent women in its parliament uses PR. They have higher turnouts and stronger political engagement. The countries assessed annually by the Economist as being the world’s best performing democracies all use PR.

Of course, progressives have to fight for the things they believe in whatever their voting system.

There are many things that only the Green party stands for - a transitioned, localised economy that understands resources are finite and doesn't bow the knee to illusory growth. Redirecting dangerous, wasteful, and unnecessary expenditure like renewing Trident nuclear weapons and subsidising new nuclear power, and investing instead in resilience and sustainability through a Green industrial strategy. Education and health care that allows the next generation to truly flourish, by doing away with the damaging culture of markets, testing and leagues tables, and providing instead people-centred public services fit to meet the needs of the 21st century. Bold ideas such as a universal basic income and a four day week, to prepare us for the future bearing down on us.

But the evidence is that they are far more likely to succeed when they do so in a fair, proportional voting system. 

Most Tories support FPTP - and that isn’t likely to change. The real question now is for the Labour party. Do they continue to support a voting system that does so much harm to their own voters, or do they commit to a modern, proportional democracy in which all votes truly matter?

It should be an easy question to answer and I’m delighted that so many Labour MPs - from John McDonnell to Jess Phillips - are calling for PR. For those who are not yet convinced, I encourage you to read the report jointly published by the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and Make Votes Matter last month, which makes a compelling case for Labour to embrace PR.

We may have another general election before too long. If Labour goes into that election in agreement with the other progressive parties on the single issue of a fair, proportional voting system, there is no doubt in my mind that our political future will be brighter than our past.

On the other hand, if Labour stands by FPTP, we should expect the future to mirror the past: a conservative minority ruling a progressive majority most of the time.

A major demonstration and summit will take place outside Parliament on Saturday 24 June to call for Proportional Representation: #SaveOurDemocracy.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion and the co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. 

Jon Bartley is the co-leader of the Green Party. 

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.