The Commons has a disproportionate number of privately educated white men - not exactly representative

There are many strange things about sitting on the green benches of the House of Commons – from the men in tights wielding silver-buckled swords (Sergeant at arms), to the fishing-net of tiny microphones dangling above your head. But the thing I never got used to was more prosaic yet profound: that the politicians don’t look like the society that puts them there. For a start four out of every five MPs are men. Of that, there are only two black women and not a single Asian woman amongst them. And since each party usually gets a number of MPs out of proportion to the votes they receive, our polity fails a basic test: it fails, in reality, to be a representative democracy. The result, massively compounded by the expenses scandal, is that voters now feel MPs are a breed apart, with little sense of how modern Britain lives. For many of the MPs I worked with, this perception is unfair, but it is contributing to the erosion of democratic legitimacy.

I support electoral reform on a point of principle. I don't support it because it means my party wins more seats - although it's likely the left would gain. I support it because I believe in representative democracy. But in making the case for reform it's important to consider whether 'fair votes' could let in the far right. This is a legitimate concern for all on the left who want a more democratic electoral system.

What I'm about to say isn't easy to write, not least because I value my colleagues in the electoral reform movement. But here goes: it's quite easy for a group of white people who have never experienced the terror tactics of BNP supporters or the sharp end of race attacks, to decide that the threat of the extreme right under PR is 'exaggerated'. Where I live in London's East End, the prospect of the far right winning power under any electoral system is extremely frightening. The death-threats I've received from extreme-right groups have done nothing to make me think they need a helping hand. And so I understand why many, if not most, people from ethnic minorities instinctively react against a PR system which might be seen as 'giving them a platform'. Let's be clear, the far-right has a profoundly anti-democratic message which strikes at the core of our democratic society. We must (and we do) impose limits on them peddling their vicious xenophobia.