Hundreds of Brighton residents gathered to discuss building a progressive alliance to help Labour. Greens and Liberal Democrats said it is the only way to get a fairer electoral system in future.
Sussex Progressives have been campaigning for electoral reform for two years and the meeting at St George’s Church, Kemp Town on Thursday 19 May was the latest, in an uphill struggle for a fairer voting system.
Brighton Kemp Town is one of several conservative-held marginal seats across Sussex. Simon Kirby was re-elected MP with a majority of only 690 votes last year, while in Eastbourne Conservative Caroline Ansell beat Lib Dem Stephen Lloyd by 733 votes.
Green Party Candidate Davy Jones has already stood aside in Brighton Kemp Town in support of Labour’s candidate, Councillor Lloyd Russell-Moyle (East Brighton.) Lib Dem Paul Chandler has stood aside in Brighton Pavilion as a mark of respect for Green Candidate’s Caroline Lucas who has been the MP since 2010. Women’s Equality Party did not field a candidate.
Mr Russell-Moyle explained that Labour Party rules do not currently allow candidates to stand aside. But he conceded that in a few parts of Britain, one could make the case for Labour candidates to withdraw. Brighton Pavilion elected Caroline Lucas as their only Green MP in 2010 and it’s in the Isle of Wight or Bristol where the Green Party think they are most likely to elect their second MP.
In Hove, Labour MP Peter Kyle, has categorically ruled out an alliance with the Green Party and decided to defend his majority of 1236 single-handedly, to give voters maximum choice out of respect for them, he said.
Making his pitch to become Brighton Kemp Town’s next MP, Mr Russell-Moyle said: “It is often a mantra of the Tories that only they can produce a strong stable government and only first part the post can achieve this.
Citing Germany as a country with a stable government and a strong economy, he said: “I believe our current electoral system is not fair or fit for purpose and I support a new kind of politics where single seat constituencies remain but no vote is wasted and all votes are represented.”
Co-convenor of Sussex Progressives Georgia Amson-Bradshaw explained why the current electoral system is unfair and undemocratic. She said: “Our dysfunctional, binary, first past the post system gave us the referendum vote. It meant that the Greens have one seat for one million votes.
“It means that in the recent local elections Lib Dem vote share went up, while their seats went down.
“It is the reason that in Scotland, Labour had 25% of the vote in 2015 and only one seat.”
Ms Amson-Bradshaw criticised the culture of “political tribalism” in the United Kingdom which she said undermines the common cause of progressive people because archaic, rigid party rules prevent candidates standing aside.
She said she is often tempted to despair: “But here in Brighton, I see glimmers of light. I see people on this panel with me, in the audience, who come to our meetings, people who have that courage, that generosity and that foresight.
“Make no mistake, this, here, is the beginning of something big. Here, in Brighton, and in certain other places around the UK, people are rejecting that status quo and are finding a new way.”
Green Party’s Davy Jones, who stood aside in Brighton Kemp Town to help Labour, criticised the national response from Labour and the Liberal Democrats and acknowledged some voters’ frustration when “their party” was not represented.
In his defence, he said: “It’s not the decisions of parties to stand down that restricts choice – it is our antiquated first past the post system. So if we want to change the voting system to a fair one, we have to vote out as many Tory MPs as possible.”
Conservatives were elected to govern the UK with just 37% of the vote. He said: “First past the post is a disaster for the left and centre because our votes are split while those of the right unite behind the Tories.
“With imminent boundary changes likely to give the Tories even more seats, “fair votes” is not just an issue for “sore losers.” It’s a basic issue for democracy and for ending one-party (Tory) rule.
“If we want a system that allows us to campaign against each other safely – without letting the Tories in – we need some form of proportional representation. And Labour needs to back it.”