Electoral reform: current opportunities and threats

Spring conference in Southport

As usual, LDER will be at Liberal Democrat spring conference with two opportunities for you to get involved in electoral reform activities.

1. Fringe Event: Why should anyone care about electoral reform?

This will be a members’ interactive session about making the benefits of electoral reform clear and vivid to voters.

We know the problem: most people support fair, equal voting, but only see it as a ‘nice to do’ and not high priority.

Jim Williams (Your Liberal Britain) will lead the session so that we, the party members, can step up the campaign with fresh, arresting messaging. Good for reform and good for the Liberal Democrats.

Details: March 10; 1-2pm. Ramada Plaza Hotel, Promenade Room.

2. LDER exhibition stall

We are looking for colleagues to help us staff the stall. If you can spare an hour or two, please fill in our Doodle survey here. If not, please drop by for a chat!

 

Opportunities and threats

More broadly, 2018 is underway with a volatile mix of opportunity and threat for electoral reform.

 

Opportunites

Defining the outcomes and qualities of a good electoral system was the theme of January’s multi-party alliance session; hosted by Make Votes Matter and attended by LDER. All agreed party proportionality was the most visible benefit of a fair, equal voting system; but alongside this, increased voter choice and power and more diverse representation (gender, age and ethnicity) was backed heavily. This constructive discussion is a step towards finding consensus on the best system to adopt when the time comes to ditch FPTP. The Liberal Democrats were led by President Sal Brinton and Lord Paul Tyler

 

There are prospects for further reform in both Scotland and Wales.

In addition to the proposal of the Welsh Government to use STV instead of FPTP for council elections, the Assembly have now brought out a Report. This recommends changing the Assembly’s own electoral system to STV.  However, it is far from certain that either reform will happen, as the ruling Labour party are divided on the issue.

 

In Scotland, there is a new consultation on electoral reform that concentrates mainly on improving the current STV council elections system. It does not discuss the option of changing the Scottish Parliament system to STV, despite the numerous criticisms of the present Additional Member System: but it is of course open to respondents to suggest this.  The consultation closes on March 12.

 

And the threats

‘Every Voice Matters’ is the (we can only assume unintentionally) ironic title of a Cabinet Office paper which proposes to do away with Supplementary Vote (SV) for Mayoral and PCC elections – and replace it with FPTP!  Now, we are not huge fans of SV but it’s a sight better than FPTP. The slightly hopeful news is that the minister responsible for this has just been reshuffled (Chloe Smith has taken over from Chris Skidmore) and that might slow things down or better still bring them grinding to a halt. But we can’t be too confident: we need to watch this and work with our MPs to kill it.

 

Crispin Allard

Chair, LDER

Prioritising Proportional Representation

Welcome

Firstly, a warm welcome to Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform to all those who have joined in the past month.  Featured in this newsletter are a report on Autumn Conference and details of how LDER will be endorsing candidates for this year’s elections to federal committees.

 

Autumn Conference Report

At Brighton, our PR amendment was successfully included in the Europe motion. See the revised Clause 7 in the motion as passed.

Less positively, our attempt to get a motion prioritising PR onto the Conference agenda – following the initiative of the late David Rendel – was rebuffed by Federal Conference Committee.

But at a time when electoral reform is increasingly being highlighted by other parties, it is strange that the Liberal Democrats are quiet on the issue.  It seems the upper echelons of the party still don’t get why we need to be prioritising this issue now.  LDER will continue working to convince them.

We also signed up over 150 members and supporters at our stall, and supported a well-attended Electoral Reform Society reception with guest speaker Dorothy Thornhill.

 

Federal Committee Elections

This year sees a number of significant changes to the election of federal committees, including all-member voting, a move to 3-year terms, quotas for under-represented groups and a new Federal Board.  For LDER, the key committees to influence are:

Federal Board: Prioritising PR in the party’s campaign strategy and its discussions with other parties, whether before or after the next General Election.

Federal Policy Committee: Ensuring our policy of STV for the House of Commons and Local Government features prominently in the Manifesto.

Federal Conference Committee: Getting our motions/amendments onto the conference agenda so members can show their support.

And for the first time, LDER will be endorsing candidates for federal committees, using our mailing list (over 800 active party members), Facebook page (over 4,000 members) and website.  We will endorse candidates who:

  1. Are members of LDER (if you’re not yet a member you can join here).
  2. Make a commitment to our strategic goals of prioritising PR/STV in the party’s campaign strategy, its manifesto and its discussions with other parties, whether before or after the next General Election.

So if you’re planning to stand for one or more of the above committees and are willing to meet the criteria above, please get in touch with me at crispin.allard@gmail.com as soon as possible.  Please note that nominations for all committees close on 2 November.

Regards,

Crispin Allard

Chair, LDER

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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: 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.

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