Ben Bradshaw

Working Hard for Exeter

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Proportional Representation Debate

Below is my contribution in yesterday's Westminster Hall debate on Proportional Representation. You can read the full debate here.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)

I shall keep my remarks very brief, Mr Gray. I do not want to rehearse the arguments for and against electoral reform, because they are always well rehearsed in this place and outside. My position is well known and long standing. I suspect that I will not convince the hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), some other hon. Members or indeed many people outside who are against electoral reform, but my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) put the case incredibly well.

I want to give some constructive and friendly advice to the people outside who campaign on this issue, and who have helped ensure that we have today’s debate, about the tactics of winning this battle rather than rehearsing the old and sometimes stale arguments of the past. We will only get electoral reform in Britain if a major political party stands in a general election with a manifesto commitment to introduce it, or if a general election throws up a hung Parliament and one of the coalition parties is in favour of electoral reform and can deliver it. Recent experience shows that the auspices for the second option are not good. I do not want to rehearse all the reasons why the AV referendum was such a disaster but, as we have heard, the people who still argue for electoral reform often refer to it.

The best chance we have to achieve electoral reform, which I have fought for my whole political life—before I was in the Labour party and since then—is to elect a Labour Government who have committed to it in their manifesto. To misquote Nick Clegg, just as people who want to stop Brexit need to join the Labour party, people who want to reform our electoral system need to join the Labour party. I have some good news for those people: although there are relatively few Conservative Members of Parliament who support electoral reform—a small but growing number who tend to be shy—there is a growing number of Labour politicians, trade union leaders and others in the Labour movement who recognise the arguments in favour. I am told that even our shadow Chancellor is an electoral reformer, which even surprised me. That is very encouraging.

To all those extremely well meaning and right people out there who share our passion for a fairer and just electoral system, I say, “Come and join the Labour ​party in that fight.” It is possible to get that commitment through the grassroots of the Labour party putting pressure on the leadership, through our motions at conference and our policy formation process. Only the Labour party has delivered constitutional and electoral reform in this country, as hon. Friends have said. We did it under the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown Governments, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for the European elections. We partially reformed the House of Lords. All the meaningful political and constitutional reforms in Britain have happened under a Labour Government. I am confident that we will have a radical manifesto for constitutional reform for the next election, so let us help to ensure that it contains a commitment to electoral reform.

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