This was a speech to Labour List at the Labour Conference fringe on the theme: one specific thing you’d really like to be different in Britain in 2030 after 5 years of Labour government.
Hello, I’m Ann Black. I’m in my 21st year on the NEC, ten years in government, ten years in opposition, and I can tell you that government is always better. During that time I’ve been called Hard Left, a Blairite stooge, and everything in between. I’d like a lot of things: properly funded social care before I’m as old as my mother; ending the two-child benefit cap; and stop punishing people who happen to be unemployed or fleeing war or persecution.
To get all these things we not only need to elect a Labour government – which is not a done deal – we need to keep Labour in government.
Five years is just the start, and we cannot risk the most vicious rightwing Tory party in living memory getting back and unpicking all our work all over again. That means electoral reform as a first term priority. If we’d had proportional representation in 1992 Neil Kinnock would have been prime minister and the railways would never have been privatised. If we’d had PR in 2010 we could have avoided the pain of austerity. If we’d had PR in 2015 the divisive Brexit vote and everything that followed might never have happened.
The late great Robin Cook said that parties in power never change the system because they think they don’t need to.* And when they lose, they have no power to
change it. We should have learned that lesson after 1997 – let’s not make the same mistake again.
Yesterday conference agreed the NPF [National Policy Forum report which states that flaws in the current voting system contribute to the distrust and alienation which we see in politics.
The Scottish and Welsh parliaments have been elected by proportional systems from the start. The sky hasn’t fallen in, they still have constituency links, and they have stable government. Let’s learn from them and from our past failures, let’s change British politics, put an end to wrecking Tory governments, and make first-past-the-post history.
Robin Cook said in May 2005, a month before he died:
“My nightmare is that we will have been 12 years in office, with the ability to reform the electoral system, and will fail to do so until we are back in opposition, in perhaps a decade of Conservative government, regretting that we left in place the electoral system that allowed Conservative governments on a minority vote.”
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