It’s hard to think of a plausible route for securing electoral reform for the House of Commons which does not involve significant, and committed, support for it from the bulk of the Labour Party (both to win votes in the Commons and, if a referendum is involved, to win that too).
As I wrote in Liberal Democrat Newswire last year:
Labour has a long and sorry record of talking the talk on reform but then when it comes to the crunch deciding that hating the Conservatives matters more. Hence the apathy over AV in 2011. Hence the decision to help sink House of Lords reform too when Labour could have got it through just by agreeing to a timetable for the legislation. Causing division in the then Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was just too tempting. And 13 years of Labour government never got round to PR for the Commons either.
But there was good news too:
“Momentum balloted its members last month to determine which policies it would push the leadership to adopt, with PR the second most popular suggestion after a £15 minimum wage.” This adds to the grassroots pressure in Labour for electoral reform, being skilfully supported by the cross-party Make Votes Matter alliance.
Yet when it came to the crunch at the last big Labour Party conference vote on electoral reform, reformers didn’t win the day, thanks to the trade unions.
Since then, however, there has been a steady flow of trade unions being won over to commit to backing electoral reform, including Unite late last year.
The latest is UNISON, as the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) reports:
The vote, which saw an overwhelming majority of delegates back the motion, marks a significant moment for the Labour movement, as Unite the Union, the UK’s second biggest union, voted to reject Westminster’s distorting and outdated First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system in October last year…
UNISON will now join a growing number of Labour affiliated trade unions in support of electoral reform alongside Unite, ASLEF, CWU, the Musicians Union and the TSSA.
There is growing momentum across the trade union and Labour movement for PR. The vote comes less than a year after a motion on electoral reform was narrowly defeated at Labour Party conference due to a lack of support amongst union representatives despite 80% of local party delegates supporting the change.