Liberal Democrats and electoral reform: a history

At an Islington Liberal Democrats Proportional Representation event in February 2020, Keith Sharp gave a (slightly personalised) account of the liberal fight for equal, proportional voting: the wins, the losses, the lessons and the current opportunities.

Origins and Beliefs

Electoral reform has deep, principled roots for Liberal Democrats.

The Reform Act of 1918 greatly extended the voting franchise (men over 21 were given the vote and women, albeit from age 30, had the vote for the first time). But it also saw the already-existing first-past-the-post (FPTP) narrowly defeat proportional representation (PR) / single transferable vote (STV) as the chosen UK electoral system.

The Liberal Party’s response was swift. Electoral reform (STV) featured in its 1922 election manifesto and has ever since (as the Liberal Democrats since 1988) remained firm, if not always prominent, party policy.

We talk today of the need for party proportionality – percentages of seats at Westminster should match percentages of overall votes the parties receive. And that’s right. Yet, while party proportionality is a vitally important result of a voter centric system, it is not the sole guiding value.

In a liberal society, power and agency reside primarily with the individual; and with the individual in her/his social context (such as family, neighbourhood, locality or community.) The job of the electoral system is to deliver demo-cracy (demos = people), not state-ocracy or even political party-ocracy. Party proportionality is a welcome result of a voting system which reflects the voters’ preferences.

Of course – a point often made – electoral reform alone isn’t a sufficient cure-all for our democratic deficit. Other important proposals include a written constitution, coherent devolution, votes at 16, a defined role for deliberative democracy, proper rules for holding any future referendums, Lords, local government.

But what can be more critical, in a functioning democracy, than the core relationship between electors and their elected representatives – defined by the way in which we elect and hold them accountable and the complexion of the resulting Parliament (or Council or Assembly)?

Stirrings — the ’70s and ’80s

The two elections of 1974 – when (in February) Labour won more seats despite getting less votes than the Conservatives; and a big jump in Liberal votes still left them with only a handful of MPs* – saw the first upsurge interest in electoral reform. (The earnest but in those days long-marginalised Electoral Reform Society (ERS) was so overwhelmed with public and media interest that staff took the phone off the hook to stop the incessant phone calls). And the 1975 European Referendum not only produced a healing near-unity in this country; it exposed the rigidity and voter-denial of FPTP as politicians of different parties and stripes cooperated according to their stance on Europe.

Literature sprang up in the ’70s

Heady times… all this converted me from a latent to an active PR campaigner. I tracked down and, years before joining a political party, became a member of ERS. Reading the emerging literature on the issue I soon realised that it wasn’t only a matter of seats matching votes. FPTP did not – could not – reflect late twentieth century social change. Without reform, voter disillusion and a sense of powerlessness was setting in. This was leading to a distrust of politics and its institutions; to a decay of respect for democracy itself. It was so obvious; and all it needed (so I thought, with the blind optimism of youth) was to alert people/politicians to the problem and reform would happen. I had a lot to learn about the addiction of power and cynical self-interest masquerading as public concern.

As for those warnings back then about disillusion and distrust? Look around you today. They have all come to pass…

In 1981, the Social Democratic Party (SDP – breaking from Labour over Europe) backed PR. After two elections in alliance with the Liberals where FPTP blatantly dissed the wishes of millions of voters and distorted the result**, the SDP and Liberals merged in 1988 into the Liberal Democrats, under Paddy Ashdown’s leadership.

Achievements — the ’90s and noughties

In the 1992 General Election, Labour suffered its fourth successive defeat. By 1994, Tony Blair became Labour leader. Ashdown abandoned ‘equidistance’, moving the LDs decisively towards Blair’s Labour. In the mid ’90s the two parties collaborated on political reform (known as the (Robin) Cook- (Bob) Maclennan agreement). A Lib-Lab pact was surely on the cards…

Not to be. The 1997 election, where just 43% voted Labour, nevertheless gave Blair a 179 seat majority. Labour did not need the Liberal Democrats. A Cook-Maclennan provision – an Independent Commission on the Voting System – went ahead but was still-born. Yet the Jenkins Commission as it is known (after its Chair, the great liberal Roy Jenkins) remains an ingenious, erudite, rewarding study. Its remit – proportionality, stability, geographic link, and… extended voter choice – still guides reformers.

Remit of the Jenkins commission

Failure to get PR for Westminster, however grievous, shouldn’t mask the fact that significant progress was made. Devolution produced a parliament for Scotland and assemblies for Wales and London. The 1998 ‘Good Friday’ agreement created devolved government in northern Ireland. The European Parliament electoral system was reformed.

Every single one of these innovations rejected FPTP in favour of PR – not necessarily the best systems available (Jack Straw’s late decision to use ‘closed regional lists’ for the Euros was particularly regrettable) but the bottom line remained: FPTP was out, PR was in.

Scotland went further. A Lib-Lab Scottish government agreed to introduce PR (single transferable vote) for local Council elections from 2007.

I was lucky enough to be an Electoral Commission observer at the 2007 Scottish elections, spending a day visiting various polling stations and attending the overnight count in Galashiels. Everywhere I found quiet comfort with the voting system change. I remember in an Edinburgh cafe asking local customers if they knew about voting 1,2,3 rather than marking a cross. I didn’t finish – ‘You mean STV? Oh yes we know all about that. We’re fine with it’, said one lady, politely but
firmly.

So: what worked? There were three main conditions for progress and success:

  • Negotiation (not referendums) in:
  • Alliance or coalition (not ‘equidistant’); with a
  • ‘Non-threatening’ Labour (’90s Blair-style not ’10s Corbyn-style)

And the voters? They had not clamoured for voting change, but once they’d got it they liked what they saw and were keen to keep it.

History need not repeat itself, but surely there are clues there as to what works…surely.

Reversal – the tens

A referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) was the political reform concession for the Liberal Democrats on going into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. This was only ever a Labour party commitment (in their 2010 manifesto – no-one else’s) and yet AV became badged as a Liberal Democrat policy. Coalition partner, the Conservatives ruthlessly opposed it; policy-owners Labour were publicly split. AV was heavily defeated in the 2011 referendum.

Embarrassed, humiliated, defensive, the Liberal Democrats then hid away from electoral reform. While the Tories even advocated returning all public elections to FPTP, the LDs kept quiet, with the manifestos of 2015, 2017 and 2019 (see page 83 of the 2019 manifesto…) pushing reform to the margins.

2020 — out of despair comes…?

The December 2019 election was an unmitigated disaster. But out of it, maybe a renewal of hope:

  • January 2020: a front-bench Commons spokesperson appointed (Wendy Chamberlain MP)
  • Unite to Remain evolves into Unite to Reform, including electoral reform.
  • The party proposes a pro-electoral reform motion for its Spring Conference (York, March 13-15).
  • LDs for Electoral Reform, in York, stages a fringe meeting with Wendy Chamberlain and panellists from Wales LDs, Unite to Reform, ERS and Make Votes Matter. Theme: how to make reform happen this time.

Finally – the voter today

The downside (source: ERS research):

  • Many voters think we already have a proportional system, so don’t respond to calls for change.
  • Voters get democracy; and non-democracy (dictatorships) as concepts. But they don’t differentiate between levels or different shades of democracy. If there is a vote, it is democratic. End of story. So, saying ‘it’s not democratic enough’ doesn’t resonate.

The upside:

While voters may be not crying out for a new electoral system, in December 2019:

  • 61% of voters said they were dissatisfied with the state of UK democracy (University of Cambridge)
  • 32% of voters said they had voted tactically (Electoral Reform Society, p31)
  • Only 25% of seats were regarded as marginal i.e. where any change of party was possible. (BBC website report) ***

Surely these numbers show that PR is hugely relevant to voters in 2020? They should guide us towards our call to action.

 


Keith Sharp has long campaigned for an equal, proportional voting system. He was an elected Council member at ERS for 20 years until standing down last December. He was an Electoral Commission observer at the 2007 Scottish elections (held under PR systems) and is currently Vice Chair of Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform. Keith is also a member of the Make Votes Matter Alliance-Building Committee which engages with both party and non-party activist groups.

March 2020

Notes:
* In February 1974, the Liberals won 14 (2%) seats with 19.3% of the vote; in October an 18.3% vote share produced13 (2%) seats (Butler, p268/269)
** in 1983 the SDP/Liberal Alliance won 23 (3.5%) seats with 25% vote share. With just 27% of the votes, Labour won 209 (32%) seats (Butler p269)
*** In fact, only 79 seats (12%) of seats changed hands (Electoral Reform Society, p34)

Sources:
Voters Left Voiceless: Electoral Reform Society (March 2020)
British Political Facts: David and Gareth Butler, Palgrave Macmillan (10th edition 2011).

Conference motion amendments, fringe event and stall

Electoral Reform Motion

In our January newsletter we reflected on last year’s general election, calling for the Liberal Democrats to stand up and campaign boldly for our core liberal and social beliefs – including electoral and associated political reform.

We are pleased that the Federal Policy Committee has put forward a policy motion on electoral reform for the upcoming Spring Conference in York. The motion will be debated on Saturday 14th March at 14:10 and you can see full details here. If you will be joining us in York, please come along to support the motion.

The deadline is looming for the submission of amendments to the motion and both LDER and other friends across the Party are doing so.

LDER amendment

Members of Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform Executive Committee will submit the following amendment. Please email info@lder.org by Sunday 1 March with your name, local Party and membership number if you are happy to lend your name to the amendment.

After line 48, insert new paragraph:

Conference recognises that restating the party’s principled commitment to electoral reform is important, but that, historically, efforts to bring the policy about have failed. And yet reform is ever more urgently needed, due to the evident, deepening crisis in our democracy.

Remove item 7, lines 72 – 75 and replace with new item 7:

7. The implementation of a system of automatic voter registration using existing databases.

Insert new items 8, 9 and 10:

8.The Party to view electoral reform as a key strategic issue for our democracy and party, and to create a fresh campaign strategy, focused on millions of voters’ dissatisfaction with their undemocratic predicament;
9. Take the lead in seeking non-party and cross-party alliances, recognising that we cannot achieve this goal on our own; and that there are others who also want reform;
10. Refuse to cooperate with or sustain any future national government unless it commits to enacting legislation to bring in voting reform for the House of Commons and for English local government.

The purposes of this amendment are:
To convey the importance and urgency of fully endorsing electoral and constitutional reform for the Party at this time, sentiments we feel the motion lacks. This amendment if passed will help to reverse what we see as neglect over recent years. This in turn will alter our campaigning, messaging and internal priorities.
To enable the Party to adopt a policy of moving to fully automatic electoral registration (AER) and campaign on this at every opportunity. The present system of annual electoral registration is time consuming, inefficient, ineffective and increasingly costly.

Helen Belcher’s amendment on the Good Systems Agreement

Helen Belcher, a long-standing advocate for electoral reform, will submit the following amendment. Please contact her at ld.helenb@gmail.com by noon this Friday 28th February with your name, local Party and membership number, if you are happy to lend your name to the amendment.

Replace lines 50 to 52 with the following (bold type indicates proposed additions):

1. Proportional representation by the Single Transferable Vote system to elect all MPs UK-wide and local councillors in England, being one of the voting mechanisms that would meet the Make Votes Matter Good Systems Agreement, signed by the Liberal Democrats in April 2019, which would:

Purposes of this amendment:
Make Votes Matter is a cross-party campaign, started after the 2015 general election, to introduce proportional representation for electing MPs. In 2018, the Liberal Democrats worked as part of the cross-party Make Votes Matter Alliance to create the Good Systems Agreement, which outlines the various criteria that need to be met for a voting system to be considered proportional. The party signed this agreement in April 2019, along with other political parties and campaign groups. It is aimed to assure agreement for PR in principle rather than getting bogged down in technical discussions about any particular voting system, thereby making it easier for other political parties to agree to.

LDER Fringe Event

With the support of Wendy Chamberlain MP, our parliamentary spokesperson for political and constitutional reform, LDER will host a participatory fringe event to discuss the ways in which we, as Party members, can take meaningful campaign action to bring about PR.

Is it time to “Unite to Reform”? And other ways to win PR.  
Saturday 14th March, 19:45 – 21:00, Novotel (Meeting Room 6)
Join Wendy Chamberlain MP and guests from the Electoral Reform Society, Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and Unite to Reform for a lively workshop on what it will take to win proportional representation for Westminster – and how each of us can play our part. Refreshments will be available.

LDER Conference Stall

Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform will be hosting a stall in the Exhibition at York. Our stall will be active throughout the Conference. Do come and say “hello” to find out more about our campaign for electoral reform.

We’re also looking for members willing and able to spare an hour or two to help staff the stand. It’s great fun and don’t worry if it’s your first time – we’ll make sure an experienced member is there with you. If you can help, fill in our doodle poll here.

What do we do now?

Prioritising reform

For the past three elections (’15, ’17, ’19) the party has relegated electoral and linked political reform to the back pages (literally — see page 83 of the 2019 manifesto).

This has proven a big, strategic mistake.  If the idea was that we would be more successful if only we played down boring constitutional stuff, then our wretched performance in these three elections shows that was plain wrong.

At LDER, we are not naive enough to claim electoral reform as a stand-alone election winner.  But we do better as a principled party if we stand up and campaign boldly for our core liberal and social beliefs. Otherwise, our manifestos are reduced to well-intentioned, random-looking shopping lists of things we hope will please the voter. Electorate as Consumer is not what we are about. And it doesn’t work.

 

Any positive signs?

Well there are a few, and LDER is following up on all of them:

  1. Public and even media disgust that the Tories, with their undemocratic Commons majority, are now forcing the UK out of the EU, on 44% of a 67% turnout, far less than voted Remain in 2016.
  2. Whether we like referendums or not, the 2016 referendum did mean that everyone’s vote counted equally toward the result and this has been noted as a positive. This is why we must call for an equal as well of course as proportional voting system when we advocate PR/STV. The word ‘fair’ (or ‘fairer’) hasn’t resonated and is also forever associated with the massively unsuccessful 2011 AV referendum. We need this new messaging to reinforce and communicate our argument.
  3. Acting Leader Ed Davey has upgraded electoral reform to a shadow cabinet position. Newly-elected NE Fife MP Wendy Chamberlain has the Political and Constitutional Reform brief in the Commons. She has already advocated electoral reform in a Commons speech. LDER Chair Denis Mollison is in contact with Wendy, to help reinforce the arguments and give her all possible support. We continue of course to work with Paul Tyler, our indefatigable Lords spokesperson on reform.
  4. Federal Policy Committee has put forward a policy motion, embracing electoral reform, that will be on the agenda of the York Spring Conference. This is a key step forward. LDER has summarily and wrongly had attempts to put motions to Conference rejected in the past – even being informed on one occasion that PR was already party policy! As with Wendy Chamberlain, LDER exec is keeping close to the progress of this motion and will propose content as its shape becomes clear.
  5. Our alliance partners, Make Votes Matter, plan a major ‘Congress’ type public event in the near future. This will involve all parties, but excitingly also non-party movements such as Extinction Rebellion. LDER exec member `Keith Sharp is on the Congress working party and we’ll keep you informed.

 

On to the York Spring Conference (March 13-15)

LDER has an exhibition stall booked for Conference.

Here are some key questions we want to hear from you about – either at our stall in March or via our Facebook page:

  1. Do you agree electoral reform needs to be higher on our policy priorities than in the last three elections? Or do you think it’s right to play it down in favour of more ‘voter-eye-catching’ policies (what would those be?).
  2. How can we link electoral reform, make it enablingly relevant, to other key changes that need to happen? For example, in Germany, PR has seen Greens in Government. Is that a route to addressing the climate emergency in political terms?
  3. To win, we need the right policy and we need to win the argument. Our key messages in the past haven’t cut through, which is why (positive signs 2 above) our messaging is shaping up around ‘equal’ and ‘proportional’. But we also have to overcome the negative argument that voters don’t care; no-one calls for electoral reform on the doorstep. Maybe not, but we have seen huge voter dissatisfaction with FPTP.
  4. Can we still go it alone? Or to get reform, do we need a ‘Unite to Reform’ cross party collaboration at the next election? (modelled on but an expanded version of the promising if ultimately ill-fated ‘Unite to Remain’ agreement for the 2019 election).

LDER exec members believe it is essential to work with other parties – do you agree?

What else should we discuss? Join us in York in the battle for Equality at the Ballot Box.

 

Since last time

The meeting at the Royal Statistical Society on the bicentenary of STV (17 December) was well attended.  Klina Jordan of Make Votes Matter enlisted audience participation in the arguments for proportional voting. Ian Simpson of the Electoral Reform Society looked at the contrast between local elections in Scotland, which have used STV since 2007), and in England which still uses FPTP. Denis Mollison reviewed the history and rationale of STV since the first small-scale election pioneered by Thomas Wright Hill in 1819; a written version of Denis’s talk is in preparation.

 

Reform moves in Wales

Legislation to give councils the option of using STV for local elections is currently going through the Welsh Parliament (the Senedd).  And a Committee of that Parliament is consulting on electoral systems, following the recommendation of the 2017 McAllister Commission report that the Parliament should use STV rather than AMS. This consultation closes on 19th February; please email info@lder.org if you are interested in contributing to our response.

Electoral Reform in the Party Manifesto

The Liberal Democrat manifesto was launched last week.

It renews our commitment to electoral reform – the section on ‘Fair Votes’ is reproduced below –  though it was sadly not among the list of key policies in the headlines of ‘Jo Swinson’s Plan.’  We agree with other reformers that ‘electoral reform is dangerously absent from the campaign debates‘.

 

Bicentenary of STV

The first use of the Single Transferable Vote was on 17th December 1819, so the bicentenary will fall on the day when our new parliament assembles.  If the election delivers no overall majority, what better occasion to demand a fairer voting system at last!

There will be a meeting at the Royal Statistical Society on 17th December, on ‘The quest for fairer voting.’  There will be talks by Klina Jordan of Make Votes Matter, Ian Simpson of the Electoral Reform Society, and our Chair, Denis Mollison.
Attendance is open to all, but you need to register.

See the RSS event page for details.

 

Extract from Lib Dem 2019 Manifesto: ‘Fair Votes’

The current voting system is not working: it means that too many people do not have their voices heard. Liberal Democrats are the only party that realises that the system is broken and will change it so that it works for the future: Labour and Conservatives will not change the system that has always entrenched their privileged position. We understand that British politics needs to be reformed to make it more representative and empower citizens.

We will:

  • Put an end to wasted votes, by introducing proportional representation through the Single Transferable Vote for electing MPs, and local councillors in England.
  • Give 16- and 17-year olds the right to vote in elections and referendums.
  • Extend the right to full participation in civic life, including the ability to stand for office or vote in UK referendums, Local Elections and General Elections, to all EU citizens who have lived in the UK for five years or more.
  • Introduce a legal requirement for local authorities to inform citizens of the steps they must take to be successfully registered with far greater efforts in particular to register under-represented groups; and ensure that the UK has an automatic system of inclusion in elections.
  • Enable all UK citizens living abroad to vote for MPs in separate overseas constituencies, and to participate in UK referendums.
  • Scrap the plans to require voters to bring identification with them to vote.
  • Reform the House of Lords with a proper democratic mandate.
  • Enabling Parliament, rather than the Queen-in-Council, to approve when parliament is prorogued and for how long.
  • Ensure that a new Prime Minister, and their programme for government, must win a confidence vote of MPs.
  • Take a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and bullying in Westminster and legislate to empower constituents to recall MPs who commit sexual harassment.
  • Legislate to allow all-BAME and all-LGBT+ shortlists.
  • Bring into force Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, requiring political parties to publish candidate diversity data.

Bournemouth Conference’s Electoral Reform Agenda

Our AGM

As announced in our previous newsletter, we will hold the LDER AGM during Conference. As well as official business, it’s a chance for members to discuss the broader strategy for electoral and political reform; what we should be doing and what opportunities exist in the present social and political crisis.

Here are full details of the agenda and meeting timing and location (we’ve arranged this so you can easily get to the Conference Centre in time for Leader Jo’s closing speech).

Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

Tuesday 17 September 2019, 12:30 – 13:30

Breakfast Room, Chocolate Box Hotel, 2 West Cliff Road, BH2 5EY

(Approx. 5 minutes walk from the main Conference Centre)

AGENDA

1.    Apologies for Absence

2.    Minutes of the Annual General Meeting of 16 September 2018

a.    Accuracy

b.    Matters Arising

3.    Reports

a.    Chair

b.    Treasurer

c.    Membership Secretary

4.    Annual Accounts

To consider and approve the annual accounts for 2018.

5.    Membership fee

To set the annual membership fee at £10 and the concessionary fee at £5 for the year commencing 1 October 2019.

6.    Election of Officers and Executive Committee Members

a.    Chair

b.    Secretary

c.    Treasurer

d.    Membership Secretary

e.    Up to five Ordinary Members of the committee

7.    Appointment of Examiner

To appoint an Examiner of the accounts for 2018.

8.    Activities:

To discuss

(a) possible widening of the remit of LDER;

(b) programme of LDER activities for 2019/20.

 

Our exhibition stall

You will find us on stand 32 in the main exhibition hall. As well as literature, questions and discussion, this year we’re offering the chance for you to rank, in order of importance, the qualities of a good electoral system.

We’re indebted here to Make Votes Matter, who launched the Good Systems Agreement in the Summer. The Agreement features several qualities inherent to a good electoral system — but which ones are the most important? Come to our stand and let us know (voting by 1,2,3…of course)!

 

Staffing the stall

Our stall will be active throughout the Conference. We’re looking for members willing and able to spare an hour or two to help staff the stand. It’s great fun and don’t worry if it’s your first time — we’ll make sure an experienced member is there with you.

Can you spare some time to help out? Fill in our doodle poll here.

 

Electoral Reform Fringe

‘Reining in the political Wild West’ — Electoral Reform Society (ERS)* and the Social Liberal Forum. Sunday, September 15, 2019: 18.15 Purbeck Suite, Highcliffe Marriott Hotel.

Real Democracy Now: a chance for Proportional Representation in 2019? Make Votes Matter, the campaign for PR for the House of Commons, is hosting a fringe event to mark International Democracy Day. The event will be held at St Stephen’s Church Hall, St Stephen’s Way BH2 6JZ at 19:30 on 15th September. Lord Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat Constitution Spokesperson, and Wera Hobhouse MP are already confirmed speakers, with others to be confirmed shortly.

*Are you also an ERS member? If so, please note that, in the current Council elections, LDER exec member Peter Hirst is a candidate. Please consider a high preference for him: it would be good to have direct LDER/ERS links.

Summer special newsletter

Chuka talks to LDER

LDER exec member and Vauxhall PPC Sarah Lewis recently interviewed our new MP – Chuka Umunna – about his long-held belief in the need for electoral reform. It’s great to see him so resolutely supporting key Liberal Democrat principles and policies.

Click here or visit our Facebook page to watch the interview.

Jo talks to the Electoral Reform Society

During the recent leadership contest, Jo Swinson found time to discuss matters electoral reform with Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society. Her commitment to PR/STV as a priority shines through the conversation. Click here to watch.

Notice of LDER AGM and elections to the Executive

Our 2019 AGM will be held during the Bournemouth Conference  — venue and timings will follow shortly.

A key activity is to elect a new executive for 2019/20. Positions available are:

Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Membership Secretary; plus five ordinary members.

The executive meets, usually for an hour-long conference call, about ten times per year to pursue our remit of promoting an understanding of electoral reform among party members and to highlight its priority as party policy. Please let us know if you are interested in being on the executive; although it is also possible to nominate yourself at the AGM itself.

LDER at spring conference in York

Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform have had a busy weekend at the party conference in York. We had lots of visitors calling by at our stall, including Party President Sal Brinton. We were also pleased to support and attend the Electoral Reform Society’s panel discussion on Citizens’ Assemblies. A very enjoyable weekend spent furthering the cause of fairer, more representative politics! 

Pre-conference newsletter

Breakaway MPs, broken politics, and our emergency motion for PR

LDER has submitted an emergency motion for the York conference. See the last item in this newsletter for the full text.

The formation of ‘The Independent Group’ again shows how the current electoral system fails the voter by straitjacketing this country’s politics into two supposedly united but in truth warring parties.

Our motion reaffirms the need, more urgent and evident than ever, for a proportional system which  puts voter choice first, namely the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. PLEASE BACK US in this bid to make electoral reform a party priority once again. It is fundamental to mending the UK’s broken politics.

If you are at the Spring Conference, PLEASE VOTE to get our motion onto the conference agenda as the chosen Emergency Motion.  Do this by checking the Saturday Daily Bulletin, which will give instructions on the ballot to choose the motions.

Also at York — an Electoral Reform Society fringe event

Citizens’ Assemblies – How can ordinary people inform politics? Saturday March 16, 1-2pm; Meeting room 6, Novotel Hotel.

A chance to learn more first hand about deliberative democracy — how citizens’ assemblies (or their variants such as juries or a constitutional convention) can help develop a popular consensus on complex issues; and how ‘ordinary’ voters can get genuinely involved in the democratic process beyond a vote every few years. Speakers are drawn from the Society, which has done much pilot work on citizens’ assemblies recently, from our MPs and also from Involve, a charity championing deliberative democracy.

LDER exhibition stall — visitors and volunteers invited

You will find us on Stand 31 in the main Exhibition Area at York, so please drop by.

If you’d like to help staff the stall, we’d love to have you with us! You don’t need any special knowledge – just a passion for fairer and more democratic politics. Joining an exec member for even just an hour or two will be a big help — we’ll provide everything you need.

Just click here to see our stall rota, enter your name, pick your slot(s), and then turn up on the day.

It’s a great way to help raise the profile of electoral reform within the party and to engage with other members.

Membership Secretary — a vacancy

LDER is on the lookout for a party member to join our exec as membership secretary — our previous mem sec had to stand down for work reasons, though he left our members and supporters databases in good shape. But we do need someone to fill the vacancy. It needs only a few hours a month liaising and updating our spreadsheet — do see us on our stall or write to us.

Emergency Motion: The Independent Group and Proportional Representation

Proposed by  21 members (drafted by LDER, also supported by East Lothian local party)

Conference notes:
A.  The recent resignations from both Labour and Conservative parties of MPs and their formation of The Independent Group.

B. That this follows on from a process of increasing disagreements, not only on issues but also on fundamental principles, within both the two main parties, which remain held together only because of the democratic and voter constraints of the `First Past The Post’ (FPTP) electoral system.

C. That The Independent Group have yet to endorse Proportional Representation, despite it being essential to their objective to `fix our broken politics’.

Conference welcomes:
i)  Vince Cable’s immediate overtures to The Independent Group to work together to change British politics.

ii)  The party’s support for cross-party alliance building initiatives, especially by Make Votes Matter, whose draft Good Systems Agreement sets out the features of a democratic voting system. These align with the party’s longstanding principles of proportionality, increasing the choice and voice of the individual voter; ensuring all votes count equally; and enhancing constituency links between MPs and electors.

Conference believes:
a)  That the FPTP system is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but that it also distorts politics in an extremely unhealthy way, narrowing the range of policies that can be considered.  It makes it difficult for new parties to evolve and for existing ones to change, thus preventing the views of many voters from being heard.

b)  The pragmatic justifications often given in defence of FPTP, that it provides strong, single party government, decisiveness and stability, have been exposed as utterly bogus. The chaos of Brexit confirms that FPTP is a fundamental cause of our broken politics.

c)  That to renew politics it is essential that we replace FPTP with a proportional electoral system, and reaffirms the Party’s preference for the Single Transferable Vote because it allows voters to express their true preferences among a wide range of candidates.

Conference calls for:
1. The Independent Group, together with candidates of all parties who believe that we need a fair and effective electoral system, to commit to making proportional representation a non-negotiable demand in any negotiations around forming a government after the next General Election;

2.  with a commitment to set up a Citizens Assembly or Independent Commission with instructions to choose a form of Proportional Representation that meets the criteria of paragraph (ii) (lines19-23), and to hold any subsequent General Election under that chosen system.

February 2019 Newsletter

Paul Tyler speaks out: Make Votes Matter People’s Lobby for Electoral Reform

On Tuesday 11th December,  LDER representatives joined more than 100 other activists from around 65 constituencies attending the People’s Lobby for Electoral Reform, organised by Make Votes Matter. The purpose of the event was to lobby parliamentarians for a change in the system that elects MPs to the House of Commons and to raise visibility, both around Westminster and online, of the urgent need for electoral reform. The event took place on the day that the meaningful vote on the Prime Minister’s deal with Europe was due to take place – and was later cancelled.    

We kicked off with an address by Lord Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Constitutional and Political Reform. Lord Tyler made a compelling case for it being a “very good time” to be lobbying for electoral reform. He noted that the ‘Brexit’ crisis has undermined the claim that our current system provides “strong and stable”, decisive, government.

Participants then met in their constituency groups and headed to the House of Commons to lobby their MPs. Those of us who were unable to secure a meeting with our MPs made sure it was known that we had requested one.

The lobby concluded with remarks from Caroline Lucas, Stephen Kinnock and Vince Cable. Baroness Sal Brinton was awarded a Parliamentary Champion Award – awarded to cross-party politicians who have done the most to campaign for a proportional voting system in the UK.

Make Votes Matter will continue to focus on securing support for proportional representation from the Labour Party, as well as supporting activist groups across the UK.

You can view the highlights of the event, including remarks from Lord Tyler and Vince Cable here

 

Snap General Election? Getting prepared

With another snap General Election a possibility, we have updated our submission to the last manifesto and sent it to party HQ.

Our policy priorities are:

  1. Immediate introduction of STV for council elections in England.
  2. A Constitutional Convention or Citizens Assembly to cover UK level reform, including PR/STV for Westminster elections and reform of the House of Lords.

These should be ‘red lines’ in any post-election negotiations.

Also:

  1. Votes at age 16 for all UK elections.
  2. Take big money out of politics: cap donations to political parties at £10,000 per person each year; and full disclosure of all political donations.
  3. A UK-wide lobbying register.
  4. Increase the resources, scope and sanctions of the Electoral Commission.

 

Prioritising reform: Meeting with Lord Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Constitutional and Political Reform

Following Lord Tyler’s speech at the December Make Votes Matter lobby and our policy submission to HQ, LDER Exec members Keith Sharp and Sarah Lewis met Lord Tyler to discuss prioritising our policies.

Lord Tyler said our policy proposals would be supported, but that there is a question regarding the level of priority given to electoral and political reform (it was high priority in our 2010 manifesto but has since dropped down the order).

We represented LDER’s position that in cross-party negotiations electoral reform must be given the priority it deserves – as ‘the reform that makes all other reforms possible’.

Lord Tyler noted that it would be critical to see how the Party’s General Election manifesto would translate into a core narrative or message going into any future election. We discussed ‘Politics is broken and we can fix it’ as a potential narrative plank for any early election, where potential components of such a campaign platform could include:

  • Electoral reform
  • Money in politics
  • House of Lords reform
  • Further devolution
  • The relationship between the legislature and the executive

Lord Tyler noted the upcoming opportunity to push for electoral reform in the Welsh Assembly, drawing on the powerful evidence from Scotland to show that alternative electoral systems can deliver better results from a voter’s perspective. He also mentioned that the prospect of boundary changes was also an advocacy opportunity. We agreed to remain closely connected on the question of the Party narrative and to consider LDER’s role across this broader agenda.

Lord Tyler also suggested that LDER looks to work with the Local Government Association and ALDC to find ways to support campaign work across the UK, potentially providing additional content and an up to date evidence base. We will explore this.

Finally, he kindly recorded a short video, which can now be found on LDER’s website and Facebook page.

You may also be interested in Lord Tyler’s recent piece in The Independent on how quickly a People’s Vote could be put in place.

 

The public supports change: new ComRes polling

Some recent ComRes polling has revealed a strong appetite for political reform in the UK. They found that:

  • 72% of adults agree the Brexit process has shown that the British political system needs a complete overhaul.
  • 72% support having a written Constitution.
  • 62% want more decisions to be made at local level rather than by Parliament.

 

Your view please! Conventions/Assemblies

Following our last newsletter, we’d welcome your views on using deliberative democracy, perhaps especially citizens’ assemblies, as a key change to our politics and a required route to the holding of any further referendums. The Brexit shambles has shown the inadequacy of the present party system, with its whipping and cajoling of MPs to vote the way the party wants, rather than in accordance with their beliefs and judgement. It’s in our key policy demands — further views please!