Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

ERS – The Wrong Kind Of Reform Slate? #yes2stv

Posted in politics by Andrew Hickey on August 13, 2011

This is an honest question, and a request for information.

I’ve been a member of Unlock Democracy for a few years, and took part in the disastrous AV campaign (though thanks to a lot of work by activists in Manchester, we did much better than the national campaign). Straight after that, I joined the Electoral Reform Society.

That may seem a strange, even perverse, decision, but the AV referendum is not the end of electoral reform in the UK. Just look at Scottish devolution – failed referendum in 1979, successful in the late 90s. But it probably *is* the end of AV as an option, and I wanted to campaign vigorously for STV (a better option in any case).

If nothing else, the AV referendum showed that this isn’t just a Lib Dem issue – twice as many people voted Yes as voted Lib Dem. It’s something that can be built on, horrendous as the result was. And I wanted to push harder to get STV.

The ERS is the only organisation that *just* campaigns for STV (though it agreed to take part in the AV referendum as being a massive improvement). Unlock Democracy, for example, is now campaigning to keep Lords reform at the forefront (we’ve got a stall on Saturday the 27th in Manchester, if you want to come and help out), but the ERS is strictly about STV, so I joined.

However, I’m not *at all* happy with the way the AV campaign went – millions of pounds, and tens of thousands of supporters’ hours, were pissed up the wall by the campaign, which was led by the ERS and Unlock Democracy. So I want to see some real reform of the ERS.

The ERS council elections are happening (by STV) at the moment, and a slate of candidates are standing as the reform slate. My initial instinct was to give all of them high preferences. But looking at their manifestos I feel worried.

Almost none of them actually state that they support STV. This shouldn’t be a reason to worry – it could well be assumed – but it still seems odd. Many of them refer to ‘PR’ or ‘fair votes’. On top of that, many of them talk about ‘expanding the ERS’ mission’.

The cumulative impression – especially since so many of the reform slate talk about their experience working for the Fabians or other talking shops – is that the reform they want to see is to change the ERS from an organisation dedicated to STV and broaden it into a more amorphous campaign for, y’know, fluffy good stuff and against bad things, but that they want to keep the essentially talking-shop nature of the organisation. It *looks* like the reform they have in mind is something like the way Blair ‘reformed’ the Labour party – which is the exact opposite of what I want to see.

BUT

This is just my gut impression, and is based less on what these people are saying than what they’re not saying – in a very short space for personal manifestos. I’ve not been involved in the organisation long, and of the fifty-three candidates, I’m personally acquainted with two, know one more by reputation, but otherwise have only these manifestos to go on. It could be that the reform slate are passionate, committed activists for STV and everyone else knows this. I’m just getting a hunch, and I never trust those.

If the reform slate want real reform of the type I want – making the ERS into a truly effective grassroots-led campaigning organisation for STV – I’ll gladly give them all high preferences. If what they want is to be another think-tank with unspecified ‘progressive’ aims then I’ll give them the lowest possible preferences. Does anyone actually know which is the case?

(I understand that some people I know may not want to say anything publicly, because they know people standing for the council. If you have anything to confirm or refute my hunch but want it to stay private, please either email me or post a comment under a pseudonym – first-time commenters get held for review, and I’ll not publish anything from a new commenter that doesn’t say “OK to publish” in the body).

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