For Labour, improving both public safety and our electoral system must go hand-in-hand

On Thursday, Yvette Cooper said what anyone who’s paid attention in the past 13 years could tell you: the Tories have fallen down on the job of keeping the UK safe.

The Shadow Home Secretary’s address to the Institute for Government pledged that Labour would hire 13,000 new police officers, commit to rebuilding relationships between police forces and communities, put cops back on neighbourhood beats, and swiftly act on allegations of misconduct against officers.

As Labour’s crime week comes to an end, contrast that with 13 years of Conservative failure: 14,500 officers have been removed from neighbourhoods since 2015. Less than 1% of rape cases end in conviction, and heinous abusers are sheltered within our police forces and given free reign to commit unspeakable crimes against citizens they’re meant to protect.

With such dismal statistics, it’s no wonder the public now trusts Labour over the Conservatives to bring crime down and make communities safer. A report last month by More in Common revealed that 58% of voters now favour Labour on that front. 

The Conservatives know it, too. In lieu of improving their shambolic performance, and aware that they’re running low on public support, the Conservative Government has launched an all-out assault on our civil rights under the guise of law and order. Their widely-condemned Public Order Bill gives the police Orwellian powers to arrest people based on suspicion of attending disruptive protests and kettle in whole groups of people accused of deliberately vague “protest-related offences”–powers police say they don’t need.

Voters have taken notice of how badly the Tory Home Office has failed to keep us safe. Public trust in police has fallen from three-fourths to barely half the public. Sexual violence, misogyny, and homophobia run rampant within the UK’s police forces. Cooper is right–everything does feel broken

But there’s a simple way to fix it, and it really could fix almost everything: electoral reform. Though six in ten voters now think Labour is better-placed to right the ship on public safety, our first-past-the-post electoral system has kept the Conservatives in power. It could allow them to make even more devastating cuts to our public services. 

Best for Britain has been raising awareness of the everyday consequences of our unbalanced electoral system, which routinely hands the Conservatives 100% of the power with a minority of votes. We’ve told harrowing real-life stories that emphasise the direct link between our unfair first-past-the-post elections and the ambulances which don’t show up, the nurses who are overworked and, yes, the burglaries that go uninvestigated.

These crises are the direct result of our electoral system. First-past-the-post has installed a Tory Government that has demonstrably failed to keep its citizens safe, and it could prevent us from dislodging them and undoing the damage. Even if Labour’s commanding poll lead, which may be slimmer than it appears, wins them the next election, first-past-the-post, which structurally favours the right, could put the Tories right back into power at a subsequent election - and their police cuts with them. 

Ignoring electoral reform could reverse Labour’s public safety reforms in their tracks, even though voters broadly agree with the plans Cooper set out. The maddening reality of first-past-the-post places public opinion subordinate to the Tories’ ability to ram their extreme policies through Parliament.

At Best for Britain, we’ve seen this process unfold firsthand. Last year, working alongside former Attorney General Dominic Grieve and peers in the House of Lords, we successfully introduced an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill–the precursor to the Public Order Bill–which blocked a ban on demonstrations around Number 10 and the Houses of Parliament. Despite 79% of the public agreeing that protest at the centre of our national government was a democratic right, the House of Commons’ artificially-inflated Tory majority struck the amendment down.

Just as there’s a clear link between the Government’s attack on our civil liberties and our antiquated elections, there’s also, for Labour, a straight line between fairer elections and safer communities. With a truly representative democracy, a Labour government would have space and time to tackle the Tories’ decade-plus of failure to make the UK’s cities, towns, and villages safer. 

Yvette Cooper’s speech was a promising glimpse into how a Labour Home Office would address the consequences of 13 years of Tory failure brought on by our electoral system. Her plan to make Labour the party of true public safety–as opposed to the Tories’ clampdown on dissent–is an encouraging one. If the party leadership commits to electoral reform in their manifesto, it can become a lasting reality.

For communities right across the UK, change can’t wait.