Isubmit that proportional representation is a fundamental socialist concept. I argue, furthermore, that no socialist seriously committed to democratic, accountable representation can advocate any other electoral system. My argument, however, is completely different from that put by the sdp/Liberal Alliance. When we look back across the century, we see that the Liberals’ interest in electoral reform only dates from the time they ceased to be a major parliamentary party. As for the leaders of the sdp, it is only since they broke away from the Labour Party that they have changed their tune and begun to support changes in our electoral system, harking back to the strategies of Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden. footnote

To someone like myself, an advocate of proportional representation since I was fifteen years old, their conversion is pure opportunism, and has nothing in common with the principles I have held for over thirty years. My views were formed by studying the policies of those who founded the Labour Party. I refer to the Labour Representation Committee, for whom proportional representation was a basic cornerstone of representative democracy. That was and still is the view of the Communist Party and many pressure groups both past and present within the Labour Movement. I see it not as a device for compromise and coalition but as the exact opposite: a means of polarizing political views around alternative programmes and class approaches, of clarifying the fundamental contradictions within capitalism and exposing the class nature of this society, thus involving more and more people in the struggle to transform it. I want an end to the cosy and corrupt relationship which has prevailed in British parliamentary politics for the past fifty or sixty years. I believe this relationship bears a great responsibility for the terrible situation in which Britain finds itself today.

We are debating this evening against a backcloth of four and a half million unemployed. Day by day, people struggle against the Government’s savage attacks on the National Health Service, against disintegrating social services, chaos for pupils and teachers throughout the education system, and housing problems of crisis proportions. Added to this is the butchery of our industrial and manufacturing base, and the ever-escalating arms programme which threatens the survival not only of humanity but of all life-forms on this planet. All this is the result not of ‘Thatcherism’, or even Tory ‘mis-rule’, but of capitalism—a system based on class oppression which cannot be amended or placated. It must be exposed and replaced.

However, the present electoral system inevitably produces a situation in which the fundamental issues are always fudged; parliamentary relationships between the parties perpetuate that fudging. The parliamentary leadership of the Labour Party has a long history of collaboration and collusion with policies which have now reached their apex under the Thatcher Government. We see today examples of what I mean in Labour’s preparations for the next General Election. We see Party leaders equivocating—despite Party policy—on the totally unequivocal need and demand to end Britain’s nuclear power programme. They are also prevaricating, dangerously, on the key question of anti-trade union legislation—again, despite Party policy. Today’s leaders thus continue the sad history of all previous Labour Governments which, once elected, have abandoned and betrayed commitments on the economy, the arms race, common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. What that betrayal reveals is that for Labour, winning an election under the present system does not mean winning political power. What I want is an electoral system which does just that: wins power for my class and its allies.

Looking back, we can see that a weakness facing previous Labour Governments (particularly those of 1964, 1966 and 1974) was the knowledge that a majority of electors had voted against Labour policies. The Labour Government was thus a hostage from the outset to international, multi-national capitalism. For the Tories, serving capitalism comes naturally: that’s what they are there for! When the Tories are elected into Government on a minority vote, there is of course no problem with the State machinery which underpins Government. When Labour can win at least a majority for its policies it will be much easier to implement the basic principles of Socialism. We therefore need an electoral system which gives an appropriate number of parliamentary seats in direct relation to the number of votes cast.