Supporters of voting reform joined demonstrations across Britain yesterday (15 May) to call for proportional representation. In London, around a thousand demonstrators dressed in purple rallied outside Parliament before marching to Downing Street to hand in a petition signed by over 54,000 people.
About three hundred others demonstrated in Edinburgh, where the Prime Minister, David Cameron was meeting the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond. Demonstrations also took place in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Nottingham, Oxford and Penzance.
The new coalition government has agreed to hold a referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote system for elections to the House of Commons.
But the Take Back Parliament (www.takebackparliament/hope) campaign, which co-ordinated today's protests, insists that Alternative Vote does not go far enough as it is not proportional.
Chanting “Fair Votes Now” and “No More Wasted Votes”, the campaigners outside Parliament heard from speakers including activist comedian Mark Thomas and writer George Monbiot.
“Democracy is about us,” said Mark Thomas to loud applause, “It is not about the traditions, it is not about customs. It is about what we want – and fair votes”.
Monbiot said that the cause of electoral reform, which “once was so patronisingly and so arrogantly dismissed”, is now mainstream. Making the link between democratic reform and economic equality, he said that the current First-Past-the-Post system perpetuates entrenched social divisions.
He added that the campaign for PR needs to be tied with the campaign to reform political funding, otherwise “this country still belongs to the bankers and billionaires”.
The demonstration drew a large number of younger people, with at least half being under thirty. One first-time voter, Mevan Babakar, said that her generation are often accused of being apathetic, but insisted, “The apathy doesn't resonate from us. The system breeds it.”
The campaigners wore purple clothes and waved purple banners to demonstrate their continuity with the women's suffrage movement and the Chartists.
George Gabriel of Power 2010 described the campaign as “part of a long tradition of people taking to the streets for hundreds, if not thousands of years”.
Parliament was faced with hundreds of purple shirts, purple skirts and even purple hair and purple boots. The campaigners tied purple ribbons on to the railings of Parliament to 'reclaim' it for democracy.
One very visible campaigner was dressed as a dinosaur as he held a banner opposing Fair Votes to demonstrate that only 'dinosaurs' support First-Past-the-Post.
“Let's have a purple banner in every street,” said Anthony Barnett, a longstanding campaigner for constitutional reform and the founder of Charter 88. He welcomed the new government's commitment to civil liberties, saying that this had come about in response to grassroots campaigning.
Barnett was cheered as he added, “There can be no liberty without democracy”.
Several speakers said that if there is no proportional option in the referendum, then they would campaign in favour of Alternative Vote as preferable to the present system. But they all emphasised that this would be only the first step.
“It is important for us that we do not falter at the first step,” said Ken Ritchie of the Electoral Reform Society, “Otherwise we might not have the chance to take the next step”.
Pam Giddy of Power 2010 added, “Once we get change [to Alternative Vote], it's not going to stop there”.
Reflecting the cross-party nature of the campaign, speakers included former Labour MP Martin Linton, former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris and Green MEP Jean Lambert.
The Take Back Parliament Campaign was founded by a range of organisations, including Unlock Democracy, Power 2010, the thinktank Ekklesia, the Electoral Reform Society and 38 Degrees. It is supported by groups including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Fawcett Society.