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.

February 2019 Newsletter

Paul Tyler speaks out: Make Votes Matter People’s Lobby for Electoral Reform

On Tuesday 11th December,  LDER representatives joined more than 100 other activists from around 65 constituencies attending the People’s Lobby for Electoral Reform, organised by Make Votes Matter. The purpose of the event was to lobby parliamentarians for a change in the system that elects MPs to the House of Commons and to raise visibility, both around Westminster and online, of the urgent need for electoral reform. The event took place on the day that the meaningful vote on the Prime Minister’s deal with Europe was due to take place – and was later cancelled.    

We kicked off with an address by Lord Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Constitutional and Political Reform. Lord Tyler made a compelling case for it being a “very good time” to be lobbying for electoral reform. He noted that the ‘Brexit’ crisis has undermined the claim that our current system provides “strong and stable”, decisive, government.

Participants then met in their constituency groups and headed to the House of Commons to lobby their MPs. Those of us who were unable to secure a meeting with our MPs made sure it was known that we had requested one.

The lobby concluded with remarks from Caroline Lucas, Stephen Kinnock and Vince Cable. Baroness Sal Brinton was awarded a Parliamentary Champion Award – awarded to cross-party politicians who have done the most to campaign for a proportional voting system in the UK.

Make Votes Matter will continue to focus on securing support for proportional representation from the Labour Party, as well as supporting activist groups across the UK.

You can view the highlights of the event, including remarks from Lord Tyler and Vince Cable here

 

Snap General Election? Getting prepared

With another snap General Election a possibility, we have updated our submission to the last manifesto and sent it to party HQ.

Our policy priorities are:

  1. Immediate introduction of STV for council elections in England.
  2. A Constitutional Convention or Citizens Assembly to cover UK level reform, including PR/STV for Westminster elections and reform of the House of Lords.

These should be ‘red lines’ in any post-election negotiations.

Also:

  1. Votes at age 16 for all UK elections.
  2. Take big money out of politics: cap donations to political parties at £10,000 per person each year; and full disclosure of all political donations.
  3. A UK-wide lobbying register.
  4. Increase the resources, scope and sanctions of the Electoral Commission.

 

Prioritising reform: Meeting with Lord Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Constitutional and Political Reform

Following Lord Tyler’s speech at the December Make Votes Matter lobby and our policy submission to HQ, LDER Exec members Keith Sharp and Sarah Lewis met Lord Tyler to discuss prioritising our policies.

Lord Tyler said our policy proposals would be supported, but that there is a question regarding the level of priority given to electoral and political reform (it was high priority in our 2010 manifesto but has since dropped down the order).

We represented LDER’s position that in cross-party negotiations electoral reform must be given the priority it deserves – as ‘the reform that makes all other reforms possible’.

Lord Tyler noted that it would be critical to see how the Party’s General Election manifesto would translate into a core narrative or message going into any future election. We discussed ‘Politics is broken and we can fix it’ as a potential narrative plank for any early election, where potential components of such a campaign platform could include:

  • Electoral reform
  • Money in politics
  • House of Lords reform
  • Further devolution
  • The relationship between the legislature and the executive

Lord Tyler noted the upcoming opportunity to push for electoral reform in the Welsh Assembly, drawing on the powerful evidence from Scotland to show that alternative electoral systems can deliver better results from a voter’s perspective. He also mentioned that the prospect of boundary changes was also an advocacy opportunity. We agreed to remain closely connected on the question of the Party narrative and to consider LDER’s role across this broader agenda.

Lord Tyler also suggested that LDER looks to work with the Local Government Association and ALDC to find ways to support campaign work across the UK, potentially providing additional content and an up to date evidence base. We will explore this.

Finally, he kindly recorded a short video, which can now be found on LDER’s website and Facebook page.

You may also be interested in Lord Tyler’s recent piece in The Independent on how quickly a People’s Vote could be put in place.

 

The public supports change: new ComRes polling

Some recent ComRes polling has revealed a strong appetite for political reform in the UK. They found that:

  • 72% of adults agree the Brexit process has shown that the British political system needs a complete overhaul.
  • 72% support having a written Constitution.
  • 62% want more decisions to be made at local level rather than by Parliament.

 

Your view please! Conventions/Assemblies

Following our last newsletter, we’d welcome your views on using deliberative democracy, perhaps especially citizens’ assemblies, as a key change to our politics and a required route to the holding of any further referendums. The Brexit shambles has shown the inadequacy of the present party system, with its whipping and cajoling of MPs to vote the way the party wants, rather than in accordance with their beliefs and judgement. It’s in our key policy demands — further views please!

Paul Tyler on electoral reform

Lord Paul Tyler is the Lib Dems’ current spokesperson for electoral reform issues. Members of the LDER executive committee recently met with him, and he recorded this short video explaining why electoral reform remains a crucial issue even in the middle of the current Brexit crisis.

Transcript: Some people think that electoral reform is irrelevant at the moment. Not so – it’s extremely important. Not just because people feel they’re not properly represented by parliament, though that’s one of the reasons why we’re in this current mess. But also because of course First Past The Post, the present voting system, has delivered us something that is far from the stable, consistent, secure government that we’re entitled to expect.

We’ll have more details on our meeting with Paul in our next newsletter.