Conference Motion: Prioritising Proportional Representation

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.

 


Conference Motion: Prioritising Proportional Representation

Conference notes:

i. 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.

ii. 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.

iv. The House of Commons and local authorities in England and Wales are the only UK public bodies elected using First-Past-the-Post (FPTP).

Conference welcomes:

a. 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.

b. 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.

Conference believes:

i. 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.

ii. 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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

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 McConnell, 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

LDER at Autumn Conference 2015

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:

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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:

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And here is Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, deep in discussion with visitors to our stall:

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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:

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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.

Newsletter: Building momentum for reform

Spreading the word: The LDER exec, since the election, has been ensuring electoral reform stays high on the party’s agenda as we recover and move ahead. We secured pro-reform commitments from both leadership candidates*; and a Liberal Democrat Voice post placed reform firmly within the context of liberal principle, calling on our many new (and current!) members to join our group. We are also sprucing up our own promotional materials, including a new pull-up banner, which will hopefully be on display at our Autumn Conference stall.

Coming event: There’s a rally outside Parliament planned for July 25 – The Great Gathering for Voting Reform, being supported by civic reform groups. We’re keen to see a strong Liberal Democrat presence on the day, so if you can make it, please sign up at the Facebook event page here.

Ammunition: The Electoral Reform Society’s Election report (A voting system in crisis) has great analysis, facts and commentary on just how undemocratic May’s result was – e.g. the Tories gained a seat for every 34,000 votes; we had to secure over 300,000 votes per seat! (And of course, even worse for the Greens and UKIP, who needed votes in the millions for every seat won). Go to www.electoral-reform.org.uk for a free copy of the report.

Our AGM; and executive membership: With so much opportunity, we are looking for new Executive members to be elected at our AGM, to be held in September during Bournemouth Autumn Conference. It’s a fundamental cause for our party; and highly relevant given the distorted election result and pressing devolution debates. The Exec meets, via conference call, some six times annually as a core time commitment. Other activities are taken up as needed on a volunteer basis.

Help at our Conference stall – and a free pass! We are looking for enthusiastic members to help on our Bournemouth stall – this includes set up and the highly sociable activity of manning the stall for a few hours during Conference. And, we get three FREE exhibitor passes for helpers. Please contact Crispin Allard or Keith Sharp if you’re keen – please note though that July 24 is the deadline for registering for free exhibitor passes.

Keith Sharp

Chair – LDER Executive.

* Congratulations to Tim on becoming our new leader. We know his belief in electoral reform and look forward to working with him and his to create change.

Tim Farron on electoral reform

In relation to the party leadership election, Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform wrote to both candidates to ask whether we could count on them to make electoral reform a priority if they were elected. Tim Farron wrote back to us with this reply:

It is becoming increasingly clear to the population at large that our current electoral system does not reflect the voting preferences of the people. The system has allowed the SNP to turn Scotland virtually into a one-party state. It has elected a majority Conservative government which polled only 37% of the vote. We Lib Dems should now have 51 MPs. And – perhaps ironically – we find ourselves aligned with Nigel Farage as he highlights the inequities of the voting system.

The only good thing about this situation is that it is becoming clear to a largely disgruntled electorate that all is not well with the status quo where First Past The Post is concerned.

The conversation in the local of one of my staff in the days following the election was that it seemed no-one had got what they wanted. And whilst we – in common with every other political party and commentator – were in shock at the inaccuracy of the predictions, it would in fact seem that those predictions more accurately reflected the predilections of the electorate than did the real result.

So where do we go from here? Well, obviously the Tories aren’t going to whoop with joy and plunge in to change the system which has supported them so outstandingly for so long. So it’s up to us to work to change this.

I suspect that in the months to come the position of the SNP and the majority rule of the Tory party will cause the FPTP system to come under increasing scrutiny in the press. Indeed, Nick took the opportunity of taking a shot across the bows of the Tories in his final speech as leader to the House.

We will be ideally situated, with our long history of campaigning against it, to keep this issue on the agenda.