How First-Past-The-Post caused “Brexit”

The EU Referendum demonstrated the extent to which the “First-Past-The-Post” (FPTP) system has allowed politicians to become distanced from the people they purport to represent and has contributed to a sense of powerlessness amongst large sections of the UK population.

Three key effects of FPTP were at work:

  1. Safe Seats
  2. Distorted election results
  3. Distorted politics

 

  1. Safe seats:

Under FPTP, safe seats (where a change in the party holding the seat would only happen in very unusual circumstances) account for the majority of parliamentary constituencies.

An MP in a safe seat does not need to worry about getting re-elected; he or she does not have to listen to their constituents and does not need to explain their position to them (for example why the UK’s membership of the EU is a good thing).

Voters in a safe seat are effectively powerless to make a difference to a General Election result.  All they can do is contribute to the national headline percentage of the party they support, or use their vote as a protest.  They have no responsibility for the result and, at some level, most realise this – they get into the habit of voting irresponsibly.

Consequently, when it came to the referendum, many “Leave” voters did not believe their vote would actually make a difference.  Of those that did realise this was the one opportunity they had to cast a meaningful vote, many saw it as an opportunity to rebel against the establishment – to “take back control” from the politicians.

 

  1. Distorted results:

FPTP leads to grossly disproportionate results, allowing single parties to govern based on considerably less than 50% of the popular vote.

In 2015 the Conservatives gained an overall majority in Parliament on less than 37% of the vote, leading directly to the EU referendum, because it was in their manifesto.  (It has been widely reported that Cameron was happy to have this commitment in the manifesto because he believed he would not win a majority, and so would not have to carry it out.)

Meanwhile, FPTP resulted in 8 seats for the Liberal Democrats (instead of the 50 or so warranted by our vote share), diminishing the strongest voice in favour of the EU (or at least the media representation of that voice) at precisely the time it was most needed.

Paradoxically, UKIP only gaining 1 MP did not diminish the representation of their views in the media (there were other forces at work).  We are left to speculate whether UKIP gaining parliamentary representation in proportion to their vote in 2005 or 2010 might have forced the pro-EU majority in Parliament to counter their arguments earlier.

 

  1. Distorted politics:

FPTP does not just distort the results.  The behaviour of politicians and parties trying to win under such a twisted system distorts every aspect of politics.

In order to win, the Conservatives are a broad coalition party, rather than the two (or more) parties they should be.  The result has been to give undue influence to the anti-EU right wing of the party.  Similarly, Labour is forced to be a coalition of multiple parties; this undoubtedly contributed to their ineffectiveness in the referendum campaign.

 

Does it matter which system?

It’s certainly true that some of the problems with FPTP that led to the Leave vote would be solved by almost any system of proportional representation (PR).

But the Single Transferable Vote (STV), which is existing Liberal Democrat policy, has a number of advantages over other forms of PR.  Under STV, every constituency has a reasonable chance of some change at each election – safe seats as they exist now would disappear.  STV would give voters more choice of candidates and hence more control over the result.  And if the party structure becomes disconnected from the changing views of the public, STV provides a safety valve, with voters able to exert a gentle pressure to re-align politics through their voting choices.

 

In summary

FPTP has multiple distorting effects – on the relationship between voters and MPs, on overall election results, and on the entire conduct of politics. This article gives just a few examples of how FPTP distorts every aspect of politics and government in the UK; its effects can be seen in almost every area of public administration and policy.

It is probably the single biggest underlying cause of the vote to leave.  An insistence on replacing it with a proportional system must be part of any response to the referendum result.

The Liberal Democrats should continue to promote the Single Transferable Vote as the system of PR that best delivers fair representation and power to people, and thus best solves the defects in FPTP exposed by the referendum result.

By Dr Crispin Allard, Chair of LDER

This article was originally published on Liberal Democrat Voice

New opportunities for proportional representation

The dramatic changes in the UK’s political landscape following the vote to leave the EU are opening up new opportunities for PR.

The referendum result demonstrated the extent to which the FPTP system has allowed politicians to become distanced from the people they purport to represent – strengthening the case for reform.  It has also provided an impetus to those arguing for realignment on the Left, with the potential for Labour to split over the leadership, which would make PR essential.

One example is MoreUnited.uk, set up by Paddy Ashdown among others.  Whilst they have not yet fully defined the policies they will back, a number of “examples” are provided, including “Take the big money out of politics and reform the voting system to ensure every vote counts”.  Policies will be decided by its members, so I would encourage you to join me in supporting this initiative.

Autumn Conference – an opportunity missed …

Federal Conference Committee has failed to select our motion on Prioritising PR for debate at Autumn Conference, despite it being supported by 12 local parties and over 140 members.  To quote their response:

“FCC decided that they did not feel that now was the correct time in the political calendar, and taking into account the current political environment and the recent referendum result, to discuss this motion.”

We at LDER beg to differ!  We have decided to resubmit a cut-down version as an amendment to the Europe motion.

… and an opportunity to get pissed

Our friends at the Electoral Reform Society are holding a reception at 6pm on Sunday 18 September in the Gresham Suite at the Old Ship Hotel, King’s Road, Brighton BN1 1NR.

Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform – opportunities to get involved

As always, we will be running a stall at Conference.  If you would like to help out, just go to our Doodle poll  and indicate which slot(s) you want to do.  You don’t need to be an expert on voting systems – the main qualification is enthusiasm for the cause.

Our AGM will be at 2pm on Sunday 18 September at: The Quadrant (upstairs room), 12-13 North Street, Brighton BN1 3GJ.

In addition to an exciting constitutional amendment, we will be electing the LDER Committee for the coming year.  If you are interested in standing, or would like to know more about what’s involved, please contact me at crispin.allard@gmail.com.

Regards,

Crispin Allard
Chair, LDER

Volunteers needed to help on our conference stall

Fancy chatting to Lib Dem members about electoral reform? We’re looking for volunteers to help on our stall in the Exhibition Area at Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, 17-20 September.

Just click here for our stall rota.

You don’t need any special knowledge to help out – just a passion for a fairer and more democratic politics. We’ll be there to brief you on what to say and provide everything you need.

If you’d like to help, enter your name on the left-hand side of the poll, and click any time-slots which you can cover. It’s a great way to help raise the profile of electoral reform within the party.

2015-09-21 14.31.05

Conference Motion: Prioritising Proportional Representation

Below is the text of a conference motion which LDER have submitted for debate at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference this year. We are now waiting to find out whether the motion will be selected for this year’s agenda, and will report back to our members and supporters once this is known.

We would like to thank all of the individual Liberal Democrat members and local parties and who have supported the motion.

 


Conference Motion: Prioritising Proportional Representation

Conference notes:

i. The result of the 2015 General Election was even more undemocratic than usual, with the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and UKIP gaining approximately one quarter of the total number of votes cast, but only 10 seats out of 650, while the Scottish Nationalists won 56 seats with about 4% of the votes cast.

ii. Opinion Polls show that this result has led to a sharp and sustained increase in support for Proportional Representation (PR).

iii. The results of local elections in England and Wales continue to be even less democratic than those in Westminster; whilst the system for local elections in Wales is now a devolved matter, in England it remains under the control of Westminster.

iv. The House of Commons and local authorities in England and Wales are the only UK public bodies elected using First-Past-the-Post (FPTP).

Conference welcomes:

a. Support for insisting on PR for the House of Commons as part of any future coalition deal, from Tim Farron and Norman Lamb during the 2015 leadership election, and from Nick Clegg earlier this year.

b. That other parties, including the SNP, Plaid, UKIP, Greens and some in Labour, are increasingly vociferous on the need for PR and are regularly engaged in cross-party discussions on this issue.

Conference believes:

i. The Government of any nation should be “Of the people, by the people, for the people”; therefore, the test of an electoral system should be not how fair it is to political parties, but how fair it is to people.

ii. The continued use of FPTP distorts all aspects of government and politics and thereby undermines every other Liberal Democrat objective; its replacement with PR should therefore be the top priority for the Liberal Democrats. Insistence on PR is consequently justified, in light of its unique impact as an enabler for everything else the Liberal Democrats wish to achieve.

Conference further believes that the case for the urgent introduction of PR is now overwhelming following the EU Referendum, which demonstrated the extent to which FPTP has allowed politicians to become distanced from the people they purport to represent.

Conference reaffirms existing policy in favour of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) as the system of PR that best delivers fairness to people.

Conference calls for:

1. Liberal Democrats to make the campaign for PR a top priority, taking the lead nationally and making the case on the basis of fairness to people.

2. The Federal Party to ensure that in any future negotiation of a coalition government, the Liberal Democrats will insist on a clear commitment to the earliest possible introduction of PR for the Westminster Parliament and local authorities in England.

Newsletter: Maintaining Momentum

Tim and reform
Tim Farron continues to make electoral reform a leadership focus – most recently as the first signatory in an Unlock Democracy-sponsored letter to The Times, calling for English councils to have enabling powers to introduce fair voting in local elections.

Electoral Reform rally – May 7
Our President, Sal Brinton, was a key speaker at a major rally for electoral reform in Westminster on May 7, supported by Make Votes Matter, Unlock Democracy and the Electoral Reform Society. She condemned the present system as putting ‘a real stranglehold on … politics for decades, and where large percentages of people feel their votes are worthless.’

The Liberal Democrats continue to work with reform groups and across political parties to build momentum for a change to the voting system.

Labour
Talking of other parties – John McConnell, Shadow Chancellor, has renewed his call for Labour to formally support electoral reform. Here is part of what he said in a national newspaper:

“It should be no surprise that there’s massive opposition to so many of the present government’s flagship policies. The stark reality is that most voters explicitly rejected the Conservative manifesto last year… If we are serious about democracy…we can’t accept this. Parliament draws its legitimacy from representing the will of the British people.”

The link to this on our LDER Facebook page scored over 6,000 hits. We all know that the route to electoral reform needs one of the major parties to join the cause. Labour’s traditional fence-sitting (Jeremy Corbyn claims to be undecided on the issue) has until now resulted in eventual rejection of change. Is Labour finally coming to its democratic senses?

What we can do
Reform will come about through grassroots and local as well as through national level campaigning. Remember to lobby your MP and Councillors – as individuals, with the local party or with a group of friends (not necessarily LDs) – on local and Westminster reform. A focused set of emails will do the job.

David Rendel
LDER would like to add our own tribute to the many others already paid to David Rendel who sadly passed away in May. David was of course a staunch, outspoken Liberal throughout his life. For us, electoral reform was his top priority – he was one of the founding members of LDER, and served on our Committee until standing down to concentrate on contesting a parliamentary seat in the 2015 election. He will be greatly missed.

A memorial celebration of David’s life will be held in Newbury’s Corn Exchange on Monday 4 July from 1.00pm. All members are invited to attend.

Crispin Allard
Chair, LDER

Newsletter: Join the Demo for Democracy

The Demo for Democracy is being held to demand Proportional Representation for elections to the House of Commons. Organised by Make Votes Matter, it is on the anniversary of the most disproportionate election result in modern times.

As Liberal Democrats, we should be in the forefront of the campaign for electoral reform – so pass this on to your local party and get as many people as you can to come along.

Demo for Democracy 2015
Last year’s rally for electoral reform saw a strong Lib Dem presence

 

Conference Report

A lively Spring Conference at York saw us recruit several new members, with over 50 party members signing up to our mailing list.  Thank you to all those who visited the stall, and particularly to those who helped out: Crispin Allard, John Cochrane, Lisa French, Cliff Grout, Denis Mollison and Richard Lawrie, plus Ed Molloy from ERS.

We decided not to run a fringe event this year, instead supporting events organised by others:

  • The Electoral Reform Society held an event to present the results of their Citizens’ Assembly pilots and discuss how a Constitutional Convention might work.
  • Pro PR, a new organisation in the electoral reform field, hosted a debate on the merits of an electoral pact on the single issue of PR for the House of Commons.

Crispin Allard
Chair, LDER

Newsletter: March news and see you in York!

New Year, Renewed Fight

LDER members are creating an updated reform campaign pack for 2016’s elections. We will connect how we vote to the quality of Governments and local Councils we get. Our pack will set the need for reform in the 2015-2020 context, underscore what a fair system would mean for individual voters and provide campaigning material.  Send us any ideas you have on this – or chat with us at the York Conference.

See you in York

LDER is on stall 5 of the exhibition at York Conference, so come and see us there.

Fringe meeting dates for your diary:

1-2pm, Saturday March 12

Pro –PR  cross-party alliance meeting. What are the prospects for a cross-party electoral reform pact at the 2020 election? LDER exec member Denis Mollison is speaking.  Venue: Hilton Hotel; Micklegate Room

Also, our allies, the Electoral Reform Society, have a fringe meeting:

6-15-7.15pm, Saturday March 12

 ‘Paths to Democratic Renewal.’  As well as speakers, the Society will present findings from two (Southampton and Sheffield) recently held Citizens Assemblies.  Venue: Novotel Hotel; Riverside Room

16-year-olds enfranchised – we tried (part 2)

Early contender for Liberal Democrat peer of the year must be John Shipley, who tabled an amendment to the Cities and Local Government bill, which would have enabled 16-year-olds to vote in local elections. Sadly and revealingly, the amendment fell because Labour Lords failed to back us. It shows that Jeremy Corbyn’s brave ‘new politics’ is only spin-deep; given the chance to support change, Labour’s tribalist, command-and-control traditions shine through bright as ever. As we said last time, further democratizing the franchise is also a crucial progressive steps towards fairer, representative elections. Shame Labour doesn’t see it that way.

Newsletter: Liberal agenda 2020 – and electoral reform

Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform (LDER) are currently focused on ensuring electoral reform is re-cemented as a key element of the party’s liberal philosophy and values; and as a key policy for the future.

We have submitted two contributions to the party’s current reviews: one on governance and the main one on Agenda 2020, where we are calling for:

  • the role of a fair electoral system in empowering the individual and ensuring all votes count equally;
  • a Constitutional Convention to explore the shortcomings of the current system; what sort of democracy people want; and what is the best new system to deliver that improved democracy
  • continue to press for local government reform in England and Wales
  • advocate an elected (ideally fully elected, but at least majority elected) House of Lords, to replace the current over-large appointed house. Learning from last time, a reform package would need to define the role of a renewed Lords in relation to the Commons.

We’ll continue the dialogue with the party leadership to get our policies properly prioritized.

We are also evaluating approaches to, with a view to collaborating with, other pro-reform parties.

Enfranchising 16 year-olds – we tried

Congratulations to our peers, who were instrumental in defeating the Government in a vote which was set to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the upcoming EU referendum.  We usually think of electoral reform in terms of voting systems, but further democratizing the franchise is also a crucial progressive steps. The decision was of course ultimately overturned in the Commons but at least the argument has been made and the issue discussed. Next time…

Over in Canada

The Liberals’ stunning October victory in Canada has ushered in new hope for electoral reform. A manifesto commitment is to set up an all-party committee to make legislative recommendations within 18 months on the conduct of elections. Premier Trudeau is known to back ‘ranked ballots’ (preferential/STV voting to us). Needless to say, sceptics are now questioning whether reform will happen… watch this space.

Want to help support what we do? Click here to join us today.

Newsletter: The route to reform – Bournemouth Conference report

The movement grows

Over 100 new members and supporters – many of them new party members – joined LDER during the Autumn Conference. That’s a great response to the disastrous May election result and any of our opponents who glibly assumed the Liberal Democrats and the Electoral Reform cause were sidelined by a single party Conservative Government (elected on a shameful minority of votes cast, of course).

There are now several parties, not just us, and a growing civic movement which is simply tired and disgusted at the state of our democracy. We need to firm up our policy priority within the party – and be prepared to work with others in common cause.

The thrust of policy thinking was to keep up the fight for local government voting reform, while arguing the case for an enquiry – a Citizen’s Assembly or Constitutional Convention – into public dissatisfaction with the gross distortion of democracy and abuse of power that the current Westminster electoral system propagates.

Any thoughts and ideas? Now’s the time to air your views – write to us.

Activities

LDER supported the Electoral Reform Society fringe about cross party and civic collaboration. NGOs and Green party members spoke; a statement from Stephen Kinnock MP (Labour) was read out – and a prominent Conservative commentator joined the standing-only packed floor of the meeting! We also promoted a Make Votes Count session on local government reform.

15/16 Exec

At our AGM, we elected the following exec: Chair – Crispin Allard; Vice-Chair – Keith Sharp; Secretary – Penny Goodman; Membership Secretary – Michael Kilpatrick; exec members – Denis Mollison, Helen Parker, Simon Pike and Gareth Wilson. Joe Otten will support our on-line work and member mailings. Thanks go to outgoing members Mark Pack and Chris Carrigan for all their support.

HELP!

The Treasurer role is not yet filled. Please let us know if you can help.

Finally

Thanks to everyone who helped sign up those 120 new supporters on our stall – that’s Crispin Allard, Helen Belcher, Penny Goodman, Chris Harris, Denis Mollison, Simon Pike and Keith Sharp. And special thanks to ERS staff: Katie Ghose, Darren Hughes and Charley Jarrett who also worked on the stall. Great teamwork!

You can see some pictures of our stall, including a visit from new Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, here.

LDER at Autumn Conference 2015

Electoral reform was very much a hot topic at Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference 2015. At usual, LDER had a stall in the Exhibition Hall, modelled here by our secretary, Penny Goodman:

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Hundreds of visitors stopped by to talk to us, including a couple of well-known faces. Here, new party leader Tim Farron shares his passion for electoral reform with incoming LDER chair Crispin Allard:

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And here is Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, deep in discussion with visitors to our stall:

2015-09-21 14.31.05

We had the pleasure of hearing Katie Ghose speak, too, on the Sunday evening as part of the ERS-sponsored fringe event, ‘Like Minds to Change Minds: building alliances for electoral reform’. Katie, Owen Winter MYP and Katherine Trebeck of Oxfam all spoke about the practical prospects for persuading people across all parties of the need for reform, and building alliances to achieve it.

The evening didn’t end there, though. Another fringe event on the topic of electoral reform followed, this time entitled ‘Changing the Political Map of Britain’, and concerned with the practical impact of STV for local government:

2015-09-20 19.45.27-2

STV for local government has been a campaigning priority for LDER over the past few years, so we were pleased to have the opportunity to find out more about the work which Lewis Baston and Martin Linton have done to model its effects in practice for every local authority in England. Our incoming chair Crispin Allard also spoke about the benefits of STV at local government level, as a means of ensuring better voter representation and more effective opposition on local councils. You can download your own copy of Lewis and Martin’s report here.