Peterloo 200: the path to Proportional Representation

16 August 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. To commemorate the massacre, I have been working on a report for Make Votes Matter, co-authored with the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform.

From the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, through the Chartist and suffrage campaigns, to the rise of the Labour Party, working people have always understood that political equality is the only way to reshape society in their own interests.

Peterloo 200: The path to Proportional Representation draws on evidence from academics to make the case that the democratic inequality caused by First Past the Post has created in the UK one of the most unequal societies anywhere in the developed world. It is increasingly clear that Proportional Representation is not only more democratic, but it is essential for creating an equal society that can rise to the challenges of the 21st century.

The report includes an introduction by leading academics who study electoral systems: Arend Lijphart, Research Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego; Salomon Orellana, Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Michigan, Dearborn; and David Soskice, Professor of Political Science and Economics at the London School of Economics and Fellow of the British Academy.

The report also includes a foreword by Labour MPs Jonathan Reynolds and Rupa Huq, calling on the Labour Party to support Proportional Representation.

Key facts from the report:

  • Among the 36 OECD member countries, the 13 with the lowest levels of income inequality all use PR. The three that use FPTP come 20th (Canada), 31st (UK) and 33rd (USA).

  • Countries with PR tend to have lower levels of poverty. In terms of the poverty gap, countries with FPTP come 19th (Canada), 32nd (UK) and 34th (USA) among 36 OECD countries.

  • Countries with PR tend to spend 2-3 per cent of GDP more on social security and welfare compared to majoritarian systems.

  • In countries with proportional systems, trade unions are more influential and are subject to more favourable trade union laws, larger shares of workers are in unions, and collective bargaining is conducted through far more centralised processes.

  • Countries with PR have a significantly better record on environmental policy and climate action. One study found that countries with a pure PR system could expect to have an 11 per cent improvement in CO2 emissions, towards a reduction in emissions, compared to countries with voting systems like the UK’s.

  • PR democracies are more likely to elect women MPs. The Inter-Parliamentary Union found that worldwide in 2016, women won 24.4 per cent of the seats in elections that used PR or mixed systems compared with 15 per cent of the seats in chambers elected through majoritarian systems.

The report will be formally launched in Manchester on Sunday 18 August at an event following the Peterloo Bicentenary March for Democracy.

The report is available in PDF format here: peterloo_web

Copy of Read the report

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