With the elections to the Electoral Reform Society about to begin a few friends have asked me why I have decided to contest such an election. Normally I am more interested in the cut and thrust of a General Election or a by-election.
Some of this blogs readers will know that I came back into campaigning politics at the end of last year when Andy May employed me to take on the North West region for the Yes campaign in the referendum on AV. Although the campaign was at times totally ineffective and depended far too much on poorly founded concepts of campaigning, the people involved in it reminded me of why I became involved in politics 25 years ago. They wanted change and were going to work their hearts out to get that change. We were all disappointed by the result, that much is obvious, but we were also angry. Angry because the ‘strategic’ leadership of the campaign was poor and really blunted the campaigning effectiveness of the campaign.
I have been told many times by ‘experts’ that we were never going to win, but the problem with such a poor campaign I am not content to simply accept that electoral reform, however dry it may appear to the electorate, was not something that people were happy to support if a good argument was put forward. We did not. And we did not because the organisations which were founded to promote electoral reform were not fit for the purpose that the referendum required of them.
To make them fit for purpose we first start with the Electoral Reform Society, it is the foundation stone of the constitutional reform sector, but has little influence beyond its immediate supporters. The campaign to win the next referendum and to influence government to back STV for local in England and Wales must begin now, with a purpose of renewal in the organisation.
Firstly, ERS must become a mass membership organisation. Membership has increased massively during and following May, but with membership just over 5000 it can hardly be judged as a mass movement which is going to promote change in these areas.
Secondly, it must have a campaigning focus. ERS has historically been a research based and lobbying group. In an age where politicians are much more affected by direct campaigns aimed at them, rather than being promoted behind the scenes. Just look at how effective people can be in making politicians think again over issues like the sale of forests. It takes co-ordination and leadership and ERS must be the changemaker in this movement.
Finally, ERS must become much more mainstream. I joined the SDP in the 1980s and we slowly learned that going around just promoting PR would not win us the argument. I am committed to STV but we must also attract more people to the cause of constitutional reform and democratic change through other means. Lords reform and votes at 16 are obvious, but we must also engage people who want to see press ownership reform and party funding reform. If ERS can be at the centre of this national campaign of renewal, then ERS will have greater relevance and, as a consequence, there will be more chance of winning the argument for electoral reform when the next opportunity comes.
This is why I am standing for ERS Council.