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.
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.
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.
The House of Commons and local authorities in England and Wales are the only UK public bodies elected using First-Past-the-Post (FPTP).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Electoral reform was very much a hot topic at Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference 2015. At usual, LDER had a stall in the Exhibition Hall, modelled here by our secretary, Penny Goodman:
Hundreds of visitors stopped by to talk to us, including a couple of well-known faces. Here, new party leader Tim Farron shares his passion for electoral reform with incoming LDER chair Crispin Allard:
And here is Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, deep in discussion with visitors to our stall:
We had the pleasure of hearing Katie Ghose speak, too, on the Sunday evening as part of the ERS-sponsored fringe event, ‘Like Minds to Change Minds: building alliances for electoral reform’. Katie, Owen Winter MYP and Katherine Trebeck of Oxfam all spoke about the practical prospects for persuading people across all parties of the need for reform, and building alliances to achieve it.
The evening didn’t end there, though. Another fringe event on the topic of electoral reform followed, this time entitled ‘Changing the Political Map of Britain’, and concerned with the practical impact of STV for local government:
STV for local government has been a campaigning priority for LDER over the past few years, so we were pleased to have the opportunity to find out more about the work which Lewis Baston and Martin Linton have done to model its effects in practice for every local authority in England. Our incoming chair Crispin Allard also spoke about the benefits of STV at local government level, as a means of ensuring better voter representation and more effective opposition on local councils. You can download your own copy of Lewis and Martin’s report here.
Barely two weeks on from the dreadful Election results, four things are clear for our electoral reform movement:
With a majority Tory Government, decisive moves on electoral reform are virtually certain to take place after 2020 at the earliest.
There are now more parties than only us stinging from the results of our anti-democratic system (welcome all – we know how you feel!). A variety of different voices are now calling for change . Also, by its polarising over-exaggeration of support for SNP in Scotland and the Tories in England, first-past-the-post is putting artificial but tangible strain on the union.
From Nick’s resignation speech on, there has been an uprise in support for liberalism – our 11,000 new members for instance. We know that individual and civic freedom lies at the heart of liberalism; and that electoral reform, in increasing the choice and voice of the voter, is core to enhancing that freedom. The principled argument is ours to make.
Continuing devolution and constitutional change mean opportunity for electoral change, After all, despite the ongoing blind support for FPTP, no-one in living memory has been stupid enough to inflict it on any of our new assemblies and parliaments.
So surprisingly perhaps, only one of those four factors is a negative.
LDER is renewing the power of its message within and outside the party in the coming months, leading to the Bournemouth Conference. We will maintain our push for local government and Lords reform; and make the case for replacing the undemocratic FPTP.
We were pleased to receive a visit from party leader Nick Clegg to our stall at this year’s Spring Conference. Nick agrees with us about the importance of electoral reform, and can be seen here taking part in our ballot to identify Liberal Democrats’ most favoured electoral system.
Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform can report a busy and successful Spring Conference.
The highlight was Nick Clegg stopping at the LDER stall and asking “So how do we get electoral reform, then?” And having heard Crispin’s 30-second pitch on electoral reform in local government, he said it was a great idea, and would we like to drop a line to David Laws?
Needless to say, a detailed paper on the principles, tactics and strategy of electoral reform in local government will be winging its way to David Laws and the Manifesto working group.
Our fringe meeting, co-hosted with ALDC and titled “Worst Past the Post: Why local government desperately needs electoral reform”, was standing room only. Those lucky enough to get in saw a fantastic panel of speakers exploring the issue in detail. A full report will follow shortly!
Other electoral reform news
The Liberal Democrat Political and Constitutional Reform Work Group is consulting on what party policy should be. Members who would like to send in their views can find the full consultation paper here. Note the deadline of 8 April.
Local democracy groups have been springing up around the country to campaign for democratic reform. If you’re involved in running a democracy group or are interested in getting one going in your area, there’s a Grassroots Democracy Meet Up in London on Saturday 6 April. See http://action.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/grassrootsmeetup for details.