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.

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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.