Bravo to Polly Toynbee for her continued efforts in flying the flag for electoral reform (A pact with the Lib Dems may be the only way Labour can win, 25 February). She is right to highlight most of the voting public supporting a system of proportional representation. The main obstacle is the politicians elected under the current system, who put their own interest first.
The Tories throw the word democracy around when it suits them, but will never change a system that gives them a free rein on a minority of the vote. Unfortunately, in recent years, it seems that Labour would rather its own members voted tactically for the Lib Dems than commit to a system that negates the need for this. Keir Starmer has made some encouraging comments on PR, and appears to be more open to reform than any Labour leadership candidate for decades. Rebecca Long-Bailey is also open to PR. Lisa Nandy is more enthusiastic about progressive alliances, which would be unnecessary under a new system. However, all three leadership candidates find it an easier win to talk up abolition of the House of Lords, which is already party policy. All three also have safe seats, but would do well to remember those Labour voters in safe Tory seats, currently unrepresented.
Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform
• I share Polly Toynbee’s enthusiasm for a tactical alliance between Labour and the Liberal Democrats to obtain a majority in order to drive through electoral reform as one route to unblocking our malfunctioning politics.
However, her suggestion that pure proportional representation is the solution is less convincing. Some of our near neighbours use different systems that offer attractive features, not least the French two-round voting and the Irish multi-party constituencies. Rather than guessing the answer, and rushing into another poorly designed constitutional referendum, a Labour-led coalition in 2024 should first convoke a citizens’ assembly to study the options in depth and recommend how and why our electoral system could be reformed.
• May I remind Polly Toynbee, who says Lib Dems stay unforgiven by Labour voters for coalition austerity, that Blairite Labour stays unforgiven by many Lib Dems for the Iraq war?
As someone who can see both sides, who has been a member of both parties, I’m relieved that no one in the Labour leadership election was involved, although it would have ruled out Yvette Cooper, for instance, who is frequently cited as someone who should have stood.
Labour has tried hard to remind young voters of the Lib Dem U-turn on student fees. Canvassing for the Lib Dems in a traditionally Labour area of Winchester last December, I found that the traditional Labour voters were largely not interested, but the council houses that had been privatised through right-to-buy and are now student housing were now occupied by interested young people who were keen to vote Lib Dem. Analyse that if you can.
In the end the Lib Dem candidate knocked 90% off the Tory majority, which, although a magnificent effort, was sadly not enough. If Labour had not fielded a candidate, we would not now have a Tory MP.
• Much as I agree with Polly Toynbee on the potential benefits of a pact between Labour and the Liberal Democrats at the next general election, she seems to have overlooked the need for the SNP and Plaid Cymru to be involved too, for the figures to add up. Perhaps she could explain how such a wide pact might work?
Bo’ness, West Lothian
• Polly Toynbee unfortunately underestimates the challenge Labour faces in the next election when she refers to the need “to beat a majority of 80”. That is the government’s overall majority. Its majority over Labour is, alas, 162.
Labour, House of Lords
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