Lewes campaigners call for reform of electoral system

Hazel Fell-Rayner in BarcombeHazel Fell-Rayner in Barcombe
Hazel Fell-Rayner in Barcombe
A new grassroots campaign group formed in Lewes is calling for proportional representation in UK elections.

At the weekend campaigners from Make Votes Matter Lewes took placards and posters to landmarks across the Lewes constituency, standing alone or two metres apart and posting pictures on social media to create a socially-distanced ‘virtual rally’ calling for electoral reform.

The group is part of Make Votes Matter, a national, cross-party campaign advocating proportional representation (PR) for House of Commons elections.

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Under the UK’s current first-past-the-post electoral system, MPs can be elected without a majority of votes in their constituency.

Make Votes Matter Lewes collageMake Votes Matter Lewes collage
Make Votes Matter Lewes collage

Critics of the system say this means that votes cast in ‘safe seat’ constituencies or for smaller parties carry less weight than votes in marginal constituencies for front-runner parties.

Make Votes Matter is pressing for a new PR system, which would mean the number of seats in Parliament matches the proportion of votes cast nationally while maintaining a ‘local link’ and role for constituency MPs.

The Make Votes Matter Lewes group was about to hold its first public meeting in March but was forced to cancel due to the COvid-19 crisis.

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Since then, the group has been meeting online and decided to pursue a ‘virtual’ campaign action to highlight growing local concern about the current voting system.

Kate Gold and Tom & Gina Hawthorne in PlumptonKate Gold and Tom & Gina Hawthorne in Plumpton
Kate Gold and Tom & Gina Hawthorne in Plumpton

Hazel Fell-Rayner, acting chair of Make Votes Matter Lewes, said: “The UK’s outdated first-past-the-post electoral system is unfair, undemocratic and failing people and communities across Lewes constituency.

“In the 2019 election, we saw our local MP elected despite the majority of constituents voting for other candidates and – in a community where people hold a diverse range of political views – a situation where some felt they had to choose between voting tactically or ‘wasting’ their vote.

“We need to change to a system of proportional representation so votes count equally, and so governments represent the diversity of people and views in our communities and society. It’s absolutely critical to people’s participation and faith in democracy.

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“The response to the weekend campaign action has been a fantastic cross-party effort with people overcoming the current Covid-19 restrictions by picking up placards and taking pictures from towns and villages across the constituency including Seaford, Plumpton, Ringmer, Barcombe and Hamsey as well as Lewes itself, and even some in our neighbouring Wealden constituency.”

Imogen Taylor, Maggie Wearmouth and Olivia Honeyman at Seaford BeachImogen Taylor, Maggie Wearmouth and Olivia Honeyman at Seaford Beach
Imogen Taylor, Maggie Wearmouth and Olivia Honeyman at Seaford Beach

She said that interest in the group’s activities was a ‘sign of the growing appetite for change’.

Emma Knaggs, grassroots leader at Make Votes Matter, said: “Joining a local campaign group to fight for such a fundamental change to the way MPs in Westminster are elected is vital for democracy.

“Last December’s general election shows that our current voting system skews the results in every constituency, including Lewes, which is why we need local people to call on their MP and their communities to back proportional representation.”

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The next meeting of Makes Votes Matter Lewes will take place online at 8.15pm on Thursday July 23. Contact the group at [email protected] for the link to join the meeting.

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