May 2020 newsletter

Firstly, all best wishes to our readers; we trust you are keeping well, occupied and positive in these extraordinary times.

Much political work has of course been delayed or stopped due to the pandemic; however, we had a LDER executive meeting (via Zoom of course – though in our case we’ve already been using Zoom for a few years, so it was biz as usual in that regard!) and have this report.

 

MAKE VOTES MATTER – call for PR speakers
Do you want to raise awareness of proportional representation and the urgency of electoral reform? Now is your chance –

Make Votes Matter (MVM) already has a PR speaker database. Until now it has focused mainly on Labour; going forward it wants to expand its speakers list to include local Liberal Democrat parties, as well as other relevant organisations and parties.

LDER is backing this expansion of speakers.  Local and regional Liberal Democrat parties sometimes ask us for a PR speaker – it has not always been possible to respond positively and we want to change that.

We appreciate this initiative from our MVM colleagues: getting electoral reform onto local party events and agendas will be a very positive upgrading of our efforts. Informing and motivating our own grass roots members is an LDER key goal. (Obviously face to face meetings will depend on lifting of lockdown restrictions: in the meantime we can use remote platforms such as Zoom).

If you would be willing to join the MVM PR speaker list, please click and complete this form. MVM will respond directly. Thanks in advance for joining this effort.

 

PETITIONING MPs FOR PR

Liberal Democrat member Theo Morgan has set up a petition, demanding a parliamentary debate on PR. It needs 100,000 signatures by September to be debated in Parliament, so please click and sign: Introduce proportional representation for all UK elections. We need to use all tools to keep up the pressure for change and for a democracy fit for the 21st century.

 

ELECTORAL REFORM PODCAST

John Potter’s ‘LibDemPod’ no 16 (April 24 2020) has an interview with LDER exec member Keith Sharp on the prospects for electoral reform. John’s idea is to find out what visitors to our exhibition stall in York would have heard, had the conference not been cancelled due to COVID. Listen to it here.

 

AUTUMN CONFERENCE – GOING VIRTUAL

We had a great York Conference in March lined up – as well as our popular exhibition stall, we were set for a great fringe meeting, led by Wendy Chamberlain MP, our spokesperson on political and electoral reform, and with speakers from allied organisations Make Votes Matter, the Electoral Reform Society and Unite to Reform. There was also to be a conference debate on our electoral reform policy.

And then — all of course stopped when COVID caused the conference to be cancelled.

We’ll keep trying! We know the September Conference will have to be held remotely, given continuing social safety restrictions. Once we know the conditions and format of this first virtual conference, we will do our best to recreate the excitement and activities that were set for York. We’re already discussing possibilities with the Federal Policy Committee.

It’s early days: as soon is this situation becomes clearer, we’ll be back in touch.

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.