Why the Electoral Reform Society needs reform!

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.

Leave a comment


  1. I’m very glad to see you back on the blog, and I hope you’ll continue to blog (especially if you get elected to ERS Council). I am a member of the ERS but I will not be able to attend the AGM (I am in Sweden) so I don’t think I’ll be able to vote in the election; I seem to remember that only people attending the AGM can vote. But I do wish you the best of luck and I agree with your manifesto.

    • Niklas good to hear from you. No not at all ballot papers should be with you today or tomorrow I suspoect. You can vote either by post or on the internet. The AGM only votes on the motions not the Council. Hope that helps!

  2. p

     /  August 12, 2011

    Whilst I agree with your analysis of the poor performance of the Society in the recent debacle I am a little perplexed as to the your stance on voting age.

    There is good medical evidence that the responsible part of the brain – that is the part that forsees consequences of actions is the last to develop. Late teens being the relevant range. And in men it is later than females so 18 seems eminently defensible as a rational age.limit.

    • Thanks for your comment Patrick but I really think votes it 16 is perfectly sensible and in many ways the easiest position to defend, though i actually believe it’s a position of principle.

      I don’t regularly quote American revolutionaries but surely there is the principle of ‘no taxation without representation’? 16 year olds can work full-time and pay tax, they are already invested in the nation by this action, it is only fair that they should get a say in the election of the government that then spends that money.

      There is also the issue of service personnel – if one is the forces one can serve, fight and potentially die for Britain, but the democratic process does not allow these people a say in the way the country is run – I think both arguments outway the mental development of teenagers. It is a matter of equality – not capacity.

  3. Tern

     /  August 13, 2011

    and teenagers have their lives abused and lastingly wrecked by the authoritarianism of schools and arrogant teachers, by reason of not being dermocratic citizens. Enough is said about “past it” and old folk’s mental development going downhill, and there would be outrage at taking the vote away from them, including because it would increase care home abuses and get them heard less about. The same as the terrible permanent damage often done to children by schools is shut out of both politics and publishing.

    A political system with any fixed voting age deserves the hate it earns from the random victims of the traumatic abuse reaching the age very narrowly after an election that won’t recur for years. School reformer John Holt proposed that everyone be entitled to add themself to the voters’ roll at whatever age they are aware of it and wish to.

  4. p

     /  August 14, 2011

    JN- Then the solution is not to tax 16 and 17 year olds, and certainly never send them to war. Having done that then 18 is perfectly defensible.

    Thank you for your answer BTW.

    Tern- I went to 13 schools for my primary . secondary, and tertiary education here and abroad. I cannot say that in my extensive experience of being a pupil I found I felt abused or my life wrecked. Guess I and many others were lucky.

  5. Tern

     /  August 15, 2011

    I doubt many others went to 13 different schools. That’s how you were lucky. At that rate no one of them got to take control over a long term and impose high achiever ambitions, and you don’t have that experience.

    Besides, if you are against accepting teenagers’ own judgment, on what basis can you ask anyone else to accept the experiential judgments you made when you were one?

  1. 5 posts to read before casting your Electoral Reform Society council vote
  2. Reforming the reformers: the battle to run the Electoral Reform Society « Anders Hanson

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