Introducing Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform

By Keith Sharp, the Chair of Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform

Giving the individual voter greater choice and voice – devolving democratic power to the individual and away from institutions – is integral to making the UK a truly liberal and democratic country.

That’s why it is important that new – and existing – party members join Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform (LDER) and help us campaign to make this essential change a reality.

Take a look at our historic Parliament, supposedly the model for others to follow. Of its two houses, the Lords is totally appointed and expressly undemocratic.

The Commons is elected in a way which distorts the democratic will of the people and freezes millions out of any say in the result. For many people in ‘safe’ seats, voting is an exercise in futility.

In the meantime, local government in England and Wales has been neutered through lack of local autonomy. It features a grossly undemocratic electoral system, which creates virtual one-party authorities, despite substantial votes for other parties.

And in European Parliament elections, we are reduced to voting for a faceless party. The actual MEPs ‘elected’ are left up to the internal machinery of the political parties.

The Liberal Democrats advocate changing our electoral system to one, which addresses these ills; which allows the voter to exercise ultimate control, in the ballot box, over parties and state institutions.

Of course this would mean proportional representation – parties would win seats in the Commons according to the proportion of votes cast for them across the country. But, desirable and badly needed though that it is, the democratic prize is far greater.

That’s why our party supports in principle the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. Already in use in Ireland and in Scottish local government; and used by many democratic organisations across the UK, STV uniquely delivers not just party proportionality, but also choice between different candidates of the same party. The voters’ wishes outweigh the chosen party list of candidates.

This is not a choice between electoral systems; it is a political choice about democratic outcomes.

Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform (LDER) campaign, inside and outside our party for:

  • a voter empowering proportional system (STV) for elections to the House of Commons. Given the current Conservative Government, the first step should be a Constitutional Convention or People’s Assembly to consider the democratic justice the current electoral system and what alternatives might be.
  • A democratically-elected House of Lords
  • Change England and Wales local electoral systems to the one in use in Scotland.
  • Increase voter choice for European elections, by ditching the fixed party list system.

A key to liberalism is breaking down concentrations of power that frustrate and stifle individual and community freedom.

Is electoral reform the all-purpose answer, on its own, to all these ills? No it isn’t. Will we achieve a liberal, people-empowered democracy without it? No, we won’t. It is a necessary condition for social and democratic progress.

Click here to join us to today

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:

2015-09-19 12.43.22

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:

p1486820582-5

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.

Newsletter: LDER at Autumn Conference

LDER will have a strong presence at our Bournemouth Autumn Conference.

 

Exhibition stall

We’ll be running our stall throughout Conference. You’ll find us at A19; so do drop by for the latest news and campaign material.

If you can spare an hour or two to help man our stall, please let Crispin Allard or Keith Sharp know. All offers appreciated.

 

LDER AGM

Our AGM will be held on Saturday September 19 at 4.30pm in the Marriott Highcliff – Blandford Syndicate 3.

We still have some vacancies on this year’s Executive so please contact Keith Sharp if you’re interested and want to know more about the role. We can accept nominations at the AGM itself.

 

Conference Fringe even

LDER is supporting the Electoral Reform Society’s (ERS) fringe event – ‘Like Minds to Change Minds’ – to be held on Sunday September 20 at 6.15pm in the main BIC Conference centre, Bayview 1. The session addresses a key issue for this Parliament: how to build cross-party and cross-organisation alliances for reform between now and 2020.

We know the Tory Government’s ears are closed to change; we know too there is more dissatisfaction than ever with our undemocratic electoral system. How to sustain momentum and mobilise for change, and the part Liberal Democrats can play, is the topic for debate.

 

Conference reception

ERS is hosting a drinks reception on Monday September 21, at 6pm at the Dean Park Inn. Entry eligibility – support for electoral reform!

 

And: Labour for Electoral Reform?

Jeremy Corbyn looks like the front-runner in the Labour leadership stakes. A Facebook page has been set up to ‘encourage’ him to embrace electoral reform if he wins. You can sign up here.

 

See you in Bournemouth.

Newsletter: Building momentum for reform

Spreading the word: The LDER exec, since the election, has been ensuring electoral reform stays high on the party’s agenda as we recover and move ahead. We secured pro-reform commitments from both leadership candidates*; and a Liberal Democrat Voice post placed reform firmly within the context of liberal principle, calling on our many new (and current!) members to join our group. We are also sprucing up our own promotional materials, including a new pull-up banner, which will hopefully be on display at our Autumn Conference stall.

Coming event: There’s a rally outside Parliament planned for July 25 – The Great Gathering for Voting Reform, being supported by civic reform groups. We’re keen to see a strong Liberal Democrat presence on the day, so if you can make it, please sign up at the Facebook event page here.

Ammunition: The Electoral Reform Society’s Election report (A voting system in crisis) has great analysis, facts and commentary on just how undemocratic May’s result was – e.g. the Tories gained a seat for every 34,000 votes; we had to secure over 300,000 votes per seat! (And of course, even worse for the Greens and UKIP, who needed votes in the millions for every seat won). Go to www.electoral-reform.org.uk for a free copy of the report.

Our AGM; and executive membership: With so much opportunity, we are looking for new Executive members to be elected at our AGM, to be held in September during Bournemouth Autumn Conference. It’s a fundamental cause for our party; and highly relevant given the distorted election result and pressing devolution debates. The Exec meets, via conference call, some six times annually as a core time commitment. Other activities are taken up as needed on a volunteer basis.

Help at our Conference stall – and a free pass! We are looking for enthusiastic members to help on our Bournemouth stall – this includes set up and the highly sociable activity of manning the stall for a few hours during Conference. And, we get three FREE exhibitor passes for helpers. Please contact Crispin Allard or Keith Sharp if you’re keen – please note though that July 24 is the deadline for registering for free exhibitor passes.

Keith Sharp

Chair – LDER Executive.

* Congratulations to Tim on becoming our new leader. We know his belief in electoral reform and look forward to working with him and his to create change.

Tim Farron on electoral reform

In relation to the party leadership election, Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform wrote to both candidates to ask whether we could count on them to make electoral reform a priority if they were elected. Tim Farron wrote back to us with this reply:

It is becoming increasingly clear to the population at large that our current electoral system does not reflect the voting preferences of the people. The system has allowed the SNP to turn Scotland virtually into a one-party state. It has elected a majority Conservative government which polled only 37% of the vote. We Lib Dems should now have 51 MPs. And – perhaps ironically – we find ourselves aligned with Nigel Farage as he highlights the inequities of the voting system.

The only good thing about this situation is that it is becoming clear to a largely disgruntled electorate that all is not well with the status quo where First Past The Post is concerned.

The conversation in the local of one of my staff in the days following the election was that it seemed no-one had got what they wanted. And whilst we – in common with every other political party and commentator – were in shock at the inaccuracy of the predictions, it would in fact seem that those predictions more accurately reflected the predilections of the electorate than did the real result.

So where do we go from here? Well, obviously the Tories aren’t going to whoop with joy and plunge in to change the system which has supported them so outstandingly for so long. So it’s up to us to work to change this.

I suspect that in the months to come the position of the SNP and the majority rule of the Tory party will cause the FPTP system to come under increasing scrutiny in the press. Indeed, Nick took the opportunity of taking a shot across the bows of the Tories in his final speech as leader to the House.

We will be ideally situated, with our long history of campaigning against it, to keep this issue on the agenda. 

Newsletter: A Fightback for Freedom and Democracy

Barely two weeks on from the dreadful Election results, four things are clear for our electoral reform movement:

  1. With a majority Tory Government, decisive moves on electoral reform are virtually certain to take place after 2020 at the earliest.
  2. There are now more parties than only us stinging from the results of our anti-democratic system (welcome all – we know how you feel!). A variety of different voices are now calling for change . Also, by its polarising over-exaggeration of support for SNP in Scotland and the Tories in England, first-past-the-post is putting artificial but tangible strain on the union.
  3. From Nick’s resignation speech on, there has been an uprise in support for liberalism – our 11,000 new members for instance. We know that individual and civic freedom lies at the heart of liberalism; and that electoral reform, in increasing the choice and voice of the voter, is core to enhancing that freedom. The principled argument is ours to make.
  4. Continuing devolution and constitutional change mean opportunity for electoral change, After all, despite the ongoing blind support for FPTP, no-one in living memory has been stupid enough to inflict it on any of our new assemblies and parliaments.

So surprisingly perhaps, only one of those four factors is a negative.

LDER is renewing the power of its message within and outside the party in the coming months, leading to the Bournemouth Conference. We will maintain our push for local government and Lords reform; and make the case for replacing the undemocratic FPTP.

Here’s what you can do —

  • JOIN us — if you are not already an LDER member
  • send this mail to your friends within the party; encourage them to join us
  • do you know any of our 11,000 new members? Some of them will have our cause as priority; get them aware and joining up too.
  • Lobby Tim’s and Norman’s campaigns to ensure our new leader knows the importance of electoral reform to our party and its core stance
  • Send us any ideas you have about other steps to take.

Keith Sharp

Chair – Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform