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.