A Unite the Union Proposed Rule Change Could Push Labour into Supporting PR

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unite rule change
There is a shift for AV and PR Starmer's on the wrong side of history again

AV and PR happening one rule change at a time…

In recent years, there has been a growing call for a fairer electoral system in the UK, with many arguing that the current first-past-the-post system does not accurately represent the diverse views of the electorate.

However many people that see AV and PR as a means of a fairer election system have been let down by Sir Keir Starmer’s rejection of Electoral Reform.

In a recent statement, Keir Starmer’s official spokesperson revealed that the Labour leader has a long-standing view against proportional representation (PR). The statement came in response to questions regarding the Labour Party’s stance on the electoral system.

The spokesperson clarified that Starmer is not looking to change the current system and that PR is not a priority for him. This position puts Starmer at odds with many Labour delegates who overwhelmingly backed PR at last year’s party conference.

The Party’s manifesto is ultimately controlled by the Labour Leader and his allies on the National Executive Committee. This means that any potential shift towards PR will depend on Starmer’s willingness to change the Party’s position.

Starmer’s refusal to commit to changing the system has been a point of contention among Labour supporters, with many feeling that their votes are not currently being properly represented. During his leadership campaign, Starmer acknowledged these concerns but has since maintained his opposition to PR.

This latest statement from Starmer’s spokesperson is likely to further divide opinion within the Labour Party and raises questions about the party’s commitment to electoral reform. While some argue that PR is necessary for a more democratic system, others believe that the current first-past-the-post system is the most effective way to ensure stable governance.

Regardless of Starmer’s stance on the issue, it is clear that electoral reform will continue to be a contentious topic in British politics, and it remains to be seen how the Labour Party will navigate this issue under Starmer’s leadership, not even Canute could stop this tide from turning.

However, all is not lost and the push for electorate change is gathering momentum.

USDAW, the UK’s fourth-largest trade union, has announced its decision to support the introduction of proportional representation (PR) for Westminster elections. The union’s general secretary, Paddy Lillis, argued that “working people know that politics isn’t working for them – and that the Westminster system is part of the problem”. He also noted that workers are feeling the impact of government failures, particularly in light of high inflation and falling wages. The announcement follows a similar move by Unite the Union in 2021.

The current first-past-the-post system used for UK elections has been criticised for being undemocratic and failing to represent diverse views. Instead, advocates for PR argue that it provides a fairer system by ensuring every vote counts equally and that no single party has an unfair advantage. PR would allow for a broader selection of candidates, reduce negative campaigning and reward policies that are popular among a broad range of members.

USDAW’s decision to support PR could pave the way for a wider change in the UK electoral system, particularly if Unite and affiliated unions continue to use their influence to push the Labour Party towards PR. A proposed rule change for Unite’s upcoming Rules Conference would amend the voting system for electing the General Secretary from first-past-the-post to an Alternative Vote system, with each voter having one vote but being able to rank the candidates in order of preference. The first candidate to secure over 50% of the vote would win, with rounds of transfers of preferences used if required.

Leading by Example.

“Every generation must fight for its own democracy, and proportional representation is the next frontier. Starmer may be on the wrong side of history, but the people’s voice cannot be silenced. The tide is turning, and it’s happening one rule change at a time.”

Now, a proposed rule change by Tanbir Siddique for Unite the Union could pave the way for proportional representation not only within the union but also in general elections across the country if Unite and affiliated Unions use their influence to push Starmer and the Labour Party into a PR system.

The proposed rule change, set to be debated at the upcoming Unite Rules Conference, would amend the voting system for electing the General Secretary from first-past-the-post to an Alternative Vote system, also known as a preferential ballot. Under this system, each voter would have one vote but could rank the candidates in order of preference by marking their ballot 1, 2, 3, and so on. The first candidate to secure over 50% of the vote, using rounds of transfers of preferences if required, would win. If a candidate wins over 50% on first preference votes, no transfers are required.

Currently, the Unite Rule Book states that all elections for the General Secretary shall be on the basis of a ballot of the whole membership of the Union, other than ‘ordinary’ retired members who shall not be eligible to vote. However, the proposed amendment would add that “voting shall be by preferential ballot,” and that “the candidate receiving more than half of the votes so apportioned shall be declared elected. If no candidate reaches this total on the count of first preference votes, a redistribution of votes shall take place according to preferences indicated on the ballot paper.”

The supporting argument for this rule change is compelling. It would encourage candidates to seek not only the votes of their own supporters but also the second and third preferences of others. This would reduce the need for negative campaigning and reward policies that are popular among a broad range of members. It would also provide members with a broader selection of candidates without the need for them to stand down to avoid “vote splitting” across multiple candidates. Moreover, it would reduce tactical voting as members could vote for their first choice without the fear of wasting their vote.

If this rule change is accepted, it could have far-reaching implications for proportional representation in general elections. Unite the Union is the largest trade union in the UK, with over 1.4 million members. Its influence extends far beyond the workplace, with many of its members also active in local and national politics. By adopting an Alternative Vote system, Unite could set an example for other organisations and political parties to follow, potentially leading to a fairer and more representative electoral system across the country.

The AV system is often seen as a stepping stone towards proportional representation, as it allows voters to express their preferences for multiple candidates, rather than being limited to just one.

Power concedes nothing without a demand

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” ― Frederick Douglass

However, it is important to note that the adoption of PR in the UK would require significant political will, and it is unlikely that the adoption of AV within trade unions would be enough to change the wider political system. The major stop at this point is Sir Keir Starmer, once an advocate of change he

PR has long been a contentious issue in UK politics, with many arguing that it would be difficult to implement and could lead to instability in government. However, with today’s government and the whole shebang of Westminster instability is the norm.

Nevertheless, the proposed rule change for Unite represents an important step towards fairer and more democratic elections, both within trade unions and potentially in the wider political system. By encouraging positive, broad-church campaigning and reducing the need for tactical voting, the adoption of AV could help to ensure that all voices are heard and represented in the democratic process.

It is important to note that the rule change is not without its critics. Some argue that an Alternative Vote system could lead to candidates who are less popular overall but more adept at securing second and third preferences winning elections. However, it is ultimately up to the members of Unite to decide whether they believe this system would benefit their union and potentially the wider electorate.

Neither is PR a panacea for all of the UK’s political problems, supporters believe it is a necessary step towards ensuring that every vote counts and that the complexion of parliament truly reflects the will of the people. Proponents of PR hope that each step made will add momentum to the campaign for electoral reform in the UK.

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