Electoral reform: current opportunities and threats

Spring conference in Southport

As usual, LDER will be at Liberal Democrat spring conference with two opportunities for you to get involved in electoral reform activities.

1. Fringe Event: Why should anyone care about electoral reform?

This will be a members’ interactive session about making the benefits of electoral reform clear and vivid to voters.

We know the problem: most people support fair, equal voting, but only see it as a ‘nice to do’ and not high priority.

Jim Williams (Your Liberal Britain) will lead the session so that we, the party members, can step up the campaign with fresh, arresting messaging. Good for reform and good for the Liberal Democrats.

Details: March 10; 1-2pm. Ramada Plaza Hotel, Promenade Room.

2. LDER exhibition stall

We are looking for colleagues to help us staff the stall. If you can spare an hour or two, please fill in our Doodle survey here. If not, please drop by for a chat!

 

Opportunities and threats

More broadly, 2018 is underway with a volatile mix of opportunity and threat for electoral reform.

 

Opportunites

Defining the outcomes and qualities of a good electoral system was the theme of January’s multi-party alliance session; hosted by Make Votes Matter and attended by LDER. All agreed party proportionality was the most visible benefit of a fair, equal voting system; but alongside this, increased voter choice and power and more diverse representation (gender, age and ethnicity) was backed heavily. This constructive discussion is a step towards finding consensus on the best system to adopt when the time comes to ditch FPTP. The Liberal Democrats were led by President Sal Brinton and Lord Paul Tyler

 

There are prospects for further reform in both Scotland and Wales.

In addition to the proposal of the Welsh Government to use STV instead of FPTP for council elections, the Assembly have now brought out a Report. This recommends changing the Assembly’s own electoral system to STV.  However, it is far from certain that either reform will happen, as the ruling Labour party are divided on the issue.

 

In Scotland, there is a new consultation on electoral reform that concentrates mainly on improving the current STV council elections system. It does not discuss the option of changing the Scottish Parliament system to STV, despite the numerous criticisms of the present Additional Member System: but it is of course open to respondents to suggest this.  The consultation closes on March 12.

 

And the threats

‘Every Voice Matters’ is the (we can only assume unintentionally) ironic title of a Cabinet Office paper which proposes to do away with Supplementary Vote (SV) for Mayoral and PCC elections – and replace it with FPTP!  Now, we are not huge fans of SV but it’s a sight better than FPTP. The slightly hopeful news is that the minister responsible for this has just been reshuffled (Chloe Smith has taken over from Chris Skidmore) and that might slow things down or better still bring them grinding to a halt. But we can’t be too confident: we need to watch this and work with our MPs to kill it.

 

Crispin Allard

Chair, LDER

Newsletter: Maintaining Momentum

Tim and reform
Tim Farron continues to make electoral reform a leadership focus – most recently as the first signatory in an Unlock Democracy-sponsored letter to The Times, calling for English councils to have enabling powers to introduce fair voting in local elections.

Electoral Reform rally – May 7
Our President, Sal Brinton, was a key speaker at a major rally for electoral reform in Westminster on May 7, supported by Make Votes Matter, Unlock Democracy and the Electoral Reform Society. She condemned the present system as putting ‘a real stranglehold on … politics for decades, and where large percentages of people feel their votes are worthless.’

The Liberal Democrats continue to work with reform groups and across political parties to build momentum for a change to the voting system.

Labour
Talking of other parties – John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, has renewed his call for Labour to formally support electoral reform. Here is part of what he said in a national newspaper:

“It should be no surprise that there’s massive opposition to so many of the present government’s flagship policies. The stark reality is that most voters explicitly rejected the Conservative manifesto last year… If we are serious about democracy…we can’t accept this. Parliament draws its legitimacy from representing the will of the British people.”

The link to this on our LDER Facebook page scored over 6,000 hits. We all know that the route to electoral reform needs one of the major parties to join the cause. Labour’s traditional fence-sitting (Jeremy Corbyn claims to be undecided on the issue) has until now resulted in eventual rejection of change. Is Labour finally coming to its democratic senses?

What we can do
Reform will come about through grassroots and local as well as through national level campaigning. Remember to lobby your MP and Councillors – as individuals, with the local party or with a group of friends (not necessarily LDs) – on local and Westminster reform. A focused set of emails will do the job.

David Rendel
LDER would like to add our own tribute to the many others already paid to David Rendel who sadly passed away in May. David was of course a staunch, outspoken Liberal throughout his life. For us, electoral reform was his top priority – he was one of the founding members of LDER, and served on our Committee until standing down to concentrate on contesting a parliamentary seat in the 2015 election. He will be greatly missed.

A memorial celebration of David’s life will be held in Newbury’s Corn Exchange on Monday 4 July from 1.00pm. All members are invited to attend.

Crispin Allard
Chair, LDER