Keir Starmer is under pressure from all wings of the Labour party to include a commitment to backing PR in the next manifesto. (Photo: Ian Forsyth via Getty Images)
Keir Starmer is under pressure to embrace changing the UK voting system to proportional representation after Labour party members backed a conference motion to ditch first-past-the-post.
On the third day of conference Labour members passed a motion urging the party to back PR in the next manifesto with an overwhelming show of hands in the conference hall.
PR is the name given to the electoral system where the distribution of seats corresponds closely with the proportion of the total votes cast for each party.
The motion’s passing does not mean it will automatically become party policy — but it is likely to add weight to calls from other leading figures within Labour who say the party should back electoral reform.
Earlier at the conference, Manchester mayor Andy Burnham criticised Starmer for his opposition to PR, saying the new system could help keep the Tories out of power.
“I’m a little disappointed to hear the party say it’s going to rule out electoral reform,” Burnham told a fringe event.
“I would say to them ‘hear the mood of conference on that particular issue’.
“I hope conference will still vote in favour of that because we’ve got to maximise the chance of a Labour-led government.”
Referring to the Tory leadership race in which around 170,00 members were able to choose the next prime minister, Burnham said: “I would also say for people who don’t support the case for electoral reform, over the summer we have just seen the most graphic demonstration we’ve ever seen of how a small elite can manipulate the political system in their interests.”
Burnham was also backed by Wales’s first minister Mark Drakeford, who pointed out that the Senedd had “always been elected by proportional representation” and delivered “unbroken Labour governments”.
But Starmer has stuck to his opposition to PR, saying it was “not a priority” under his leadership.
He told the Observer: “There are a lot of people in the Labour party who are pro-PR but it’s not a priority and we go into the next election under the same system that we’ve got, first-past-the-post, and I’m not doing any deals going into the election or coming out of the election.”
Delegates from across the country spoke both in favour and against PR during a debate this afternoon at Labour’s annual gathering in Liverpool.
Seventeen-year-old delegate Oban Mackie spoke in favour of the motion, saying “our democracy belongs to everyone, not where your postcode determines your power”.
He said: “To quote Taylor Swift’s incredible song, Only the Young, they aren’t going to change this, we’ve got to do it ourselves.”
Jessie Joe Jacobs of the Unite union said the organisation would back PR, saying: “It shouldn’t matter whether you live in Cheltenham, Chiswick or Chester; whether you live in Surrey, Sunderland or Stafford, their vote should carry equal weight.
“If they want a new government with better pat, public railways, a greener, fairer future, then they should be able to have an equal stake, an equal vote and first past the post did not deliver this.”
However, another delegate spoke against the motion, saying PR was “deceptive” that was a “gift to smaller parties — some of them little more than one-issue pressure groups”.
“The majority of the popular vote does not lead directly to greater representation,” they said.
“It leads to coalitions, as we all know.
“When the Lib Dems went into the last disastrous coalition, what was their one flagship priority? Tuition fees. And where did that end up? In the bin.
“What would Labour be forced to sacrifice on the altar of coalition compromise?”
Following the result in favour or PR, Laura Parker of Labour for a New Democracy said: “This is a historic moment for the Labour Party as it votes unequivocally to scrap our broken First Past the Post system and in support of a proportional representation where every vote counts.
“This seismic shift in the Labour party has been driven by thousands of members and trade unionists demanding an end to an electoral system that leaves millions feeling forgotten by Westminster.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.