Labor must support proportional representation in Westminster elections to enable greater cooperation between political parties on a program of urgently needed social reforms, says Andy Burnham.
Writing for the Observer in the wake of two midterm election defeats for the Tories, caused in part by tactical voting by Labor and Liberal Democrat supporters, the Mayor of Greater Manchester says PR should be at the center of an entirely new approach to politics and policy-making.
Burnham insists he is not talking about any sort of “election pact” involving Labor and other parties, and that his intervention is not part of a leadership bid against Keir Starmer. “This is nothing like that,” he says. “I’m doing this because I want Keir to seize the moment.”
But after the midterm elections, he says there is now an opportunity for Tories opponents to cooperate more. By doing so, they could create a political system in which power is more evenly and fairly distributed, rather than being concentrated in what he describes as a “small Whitehall elite” as a result of a first-past-the-post election system, which traditionally favors the Tories.
A change in the voting system, a move likely to boost small parties and increase the likelihood of coalitions, would foster a spirit of consensus and agreement on other radical and necessary elements of political modernization, such as the replacement of the House of Lords with a elected second chamber and more devolution.
“What I propose now is to work together on a political reform program. At the grassroots level, Labor is moving towards support for PR,” he says.
“If the party as a whole embraced it, it would pave the way for agreement with other parties on broader reforms: an elected Senate of the nations and regions to replace the Lords and maximum devolution of power from Westminster.”
These new structures, where the number of MPs from different parties better reflects the votes cast, would pave the way for cooperation and consensus on the key challenges facing the country, the Mayor of Manchester said.
Instead, the current Conservative government has been an example of paralysis and dysfunction, with the ruling party seeking divisions with its opponents in a desperate attempt to stay in power, rather than focusing on the pressing national issues of concern to the British people. .
“Just when we needed a mature government, we got one that doesn’t rule, but campaigns for its own survival by fomenting divisions and fighting,” Burnham writes.
A spirit of cooperation was needed in housing, social care and public services, with the same urgency as after the Second World War.
Burnham adds: “My starter for 10 would be good housing as a human right in UK law and a major municipal housing program to make it a reality; a higher basic minimum income for everyone and the end of precarious work; social care on NHS terms and a substantial increase in mental health spending: and the renationalization of rail and the re-regulation of bus services.
“Whatever the precise policy program, the sheer magnitude of the change needed is undeniable and will require consensus and political foundations to last for a generation or more.”
Labor policy is not to support PR for Westminster elections, although several motions on the issue will be tabled at the party conference in September. The country’s largest union, Unison, recently backed the PR for the Westminster election at its annual conference, a move hailed as a “huge boost” by electoral reform campaigners.