At a recent event hosted by Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform, I was asked to speak about two topics that I feel very passionately about: democracy and diversity. In terms of democracy, I have been actively involved with the campaign for Proportional Representation for many years because I believe that our current system of First-Past-The-Post means that all votes are not equal: a vote in a marginal seat has a much bigger impact than a vote in a safe seat. In terms of diversity, I believe that we should welcome people from many different backgrounds to the campaign for PR by making an effort to be inclusive and open.
With this in mind, it was great to have the opportunity to be a panel speaker with someone so experienced as Lord Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Constitutional and Political Reform in the House of Lords. Paul has given so much to the campaign for electoral reform, both as an MP and in the House of Lords.
I was really inspired to hear Paul speak about how the change from FPTP to PR in New Zealand has had a profound effect on the diversity of their parliament and how politics have become much more collaborative. His words at the event that ‘every citizen in this country is in my view equal and therefore they should have an equal voice’ resonates tremendously with the work that I do, both within the Liberal Democrats as a London Assembly member and when working with others in cross-party collaborations.
His words are so powerful because my own experience has meant that I have sometimes felt like an ‘Other’. For me PR means that the ‘votes that matter’ will come from diverse communities. Many Black and ethnic minorities are reluctant to vote for a variety of reasons that include feeling that their vote makes no difference, that politicians often don’t represent their views or even look or speak like them. When I was elected as a local councillor in Merton in 2018, I was shocked to learn that I was the first Muslim woman elected, and I became one of the first Muslim women elected to the London Assembly this May.
Women from ethnic minority groups often are the most difficult for me to persuade to stand. The feeling of politics not being a place that they will feel included or even welcome is a common concern – and you can’t blame them. With PR, the system would be fairer, more diverse candidates would have a greater chance of getting elected and then finally diverse voices will be heard, encouraging others to stand and participate in politics. But first we must reach out to the diverse communities and convince them that PR will mean their vote will matter, their voices will count and that politics will start to represent them.
What should we do to reach new communities when we campaign? If you live in a city, then perhaps your next street stall for Proportional Representation could be next to a local Hindu temple or a mosque to reach people from these communities. It may not be as obvious to find the local place of worship in more rural societies (there might not be one), so the first step could be to understand more about the minority groups from speaking to local business owners.
If you are one of the many Liberal Democrats who support Proportional Representation but haven’t yet had an opportunity to join a campaign event for Proportional Representation, then please consider signing up to LDER or our cross-party alliance partner Make Votes Matter who organise national Days of Action. When you get out there at a street stall together with activists from other parties and no party, you might be surprised how many people in your community want their vote to matter.