A vision for a better political system would be a vote-winner for Labour – LabourList


It’s no secret that trust in politics has fallen to an all-time low and that only a small number of voters believe that the UK’s political system is working for them. In many ways, dissatisfaction with our politics is one of the most unifying issues in the country today. Among old and young, rich and poor, left and right and even Remain and Leave, there is remarkable agreement that things aren’t working.
But what does that mean for Labour, and could this issue widen the narrow path to winning a Labour majority at the next general election? The size of Labour’s task to get that majority is well documented, with a swing needed that’s bigger than 1945 or 1997. Part of that task is persuading people who voted Conservative at the last election to switch to Labour. That’s something that Labour failed to achieve in 2019.
The good news is that the polls in 2022 have consistently shown a significant cohort of 2019 Conservative voters (at least one in four) who would not vote Conservative if a general election were held tomorrow. At present, only a small portion of these are saying they would vote Labour instead.
How can we change this? First, we need to understand why these voters are no longer inclined to vote Tory. The current run of Labour poll leads can be traced back to November 2021 when the Owen Paterson scandal rocked the government. In the nine months preceding this, Labour recorded only two poll leads. In early December, the ‘partygate’ scandal hit, and there’s not been a single Tory poll lead since.
Polling recently commissioned by Compass and Unlock Democracy revealed more about this group of Conservative defectors. Compared to loyal Tories, they are significantly more likely (63% vs 27% of loyal Conservatives) to believe the political system isn’t working. 
The data back up the polling. The biggest swing of votes since the last general election (so far) hasn’t been caused by soaring energy prices, rampant inflation, mishandling of the pandemic or NHS waiting lists. It’s been driven by sleaze, distrust and the failures of our political system.
Up until now, Labour has seen this as an offensive weapon, a stick with which to beat the government. But what if Labour added a positive alternative to the mix. What if Labour set out an agenda to make politics work for the people again? What if Labour offered a bold vision of a better politics, free from sleaze and cronyism – a politics able to tackle the big issues facing our country and to strengthen citizenship?
Could this persuade more former Conservatives to switch to Labour? Could it persuade more Liberal Democrat and Green supporters (who are currently polling at a combined 15% or more) to lend their support to Labour candidates where Labour is best placed to win? And if a non-Labour progressive candidate is best placed to win, could a shared view of a democracy fit for a 21st-century purpose move seats that Labour can’t win but the Tories can lose?
The polling suggests it might. There is overwhelming demand for Labour to show more of a positive vision of how we can build a better future for our country. Refreshing our political system so that people’s voices (particularly those of marginalised groups) are heard and our politics is fit to tackle the challenges our country faces can be the bedrock of that vision. 
That refresh must start with proportional representation as the first step in dispersing power. It should be followed by radical devolution and decentralisation (underpinned by a redistributive state), a democratic second chamber and a written constitution that codifies how our democracy works. These will be the building blocks for new forms of democratic engagement, such as citizens’ assemblies and workers’ representation, especially in the public sector. We call this ‘powering up as a critical addition to material ‘levelling up’ – democratic equality alongside greater equality of income and wealth.
It’s not simply enough to kick out the Tories. We need to modernise the creaking political system that puts them in power and allows them to get away with so much. And democracy is one issue that the Tories can’t even compete on if we are bold and true. The public needs little persuading that our political system is broken. What they need is hope that things could be better. That’s the opportunity for Labour, and we must seize it.
Ruth Lister is a Labour peer and vice-chair of the Compass board.
Luke Williams is a Labour Party member and council member of Unlock Democracy.
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