Conference motion amendments, fringe event and stall

Electoral Reform Motion

In our January newsletter we reflected on last year’s general election, calling for the Liberal Democrats to stand up and campaign boldly for our core liberal and social beliefs – including electoral and associated political reform.

We are pleased that the Federal Policy Committee has put forward a policy motion on electoral reform for the upcoming Spring Conference in York. The motion will be debated on Saturday 14th March at 14:10 and you can see full details here. If you will be joining us in York, please come along to support the motion.

The deadline is looming for the submission of amendments to the motion and both LDER and other friends across the Party are doing so.

LDER amendment

Members of Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform Executive Committee will submit the following amendment. Please email info@lder.org by Sunday 1 March with your name, local Party and membership number if you are happy to lend your name to the amendment.

After line 48, insert new paragraph:

Conference recognises that restating the party’s principled commitment to electoral reform is important, but that, historically, efforts to bring the policy about have failed. And yet reform is ever more urgently needed, due to the evident, deepening crisis in our democracy.

Remove item 7, lines 72 – 75 and replace with new item 7:

7. The implementation of a system of automatic voter registration using existing databases.

Insert new items 8, 9 and 10:

8.The Party to view electoral reform as a key strategic issue for our democracy and party, and to create a fresh campaign strategy, focused on millions of voters’ dissatisfaction with their undemocratic predicament;
9. Take the lead in seeking non-party and cross-party alliances, recognising that we cannot achieve this goal on our own; and that there are others who also want reform;
10. Refuse to cooperate with or sustain any future national government unless it commits to enacting legislation to bring in voting reform for the House of Commons and for English local government.

The purposes of this amendment are:
To convey the importance and urgency of fully endorsing electoral and constitutional reform for the Party at this time, sentiments we feel the motion lacks. This amendment if passed will help to reverse what we see as neglect over recent years. This in turn will alter our campaigning, messaging and internal priorities.
To enable the Party to adopt a policy of moving to fully automatic electoral registration (AER) and campaign on this at every opportunity. The present system of annual electoral registration is time consuming, inefficient, ineffective and increasingly costly.

Helen Belcher’s amendment on the Good Systems Agreement

Helen Belcher, a long-standing advocate for electoral reform, will submit the following amendment. Please contact her at ld.helenb@gmail.com by noon this Friday 28th February with your name, local Party and membership number, if you are happy to lend your name to the amendment.

Replace lines 50 to 52 with the following (bold type indicates proposed additions):

1. Proportional representation by the Single Transferable Vote system to elect all MPs UK-wide and local councillors in England, being one of the voting mechanisms that would meet the Make Votes Matter Good Systems Agreement, signed by the Liberal Democrats in April 2019, which would:

Purposes of this amendment:
Make Votes Matter is a cross-party campaign, started after the 2015 general election, to introduce proportional representation for electing MPs. In 2018, the Liberal Democrats worked as part of the cross-party Make Votes Matter Alliance to create the Good Systems Agreement, which outlines the various criteria that need to be met for a voting system to be considered proportional. The party signed this agreement in April 2019, along with other political parties and campaign groups. It is aimed to assure agreement for PR in principle rather than getting bogged down in technical discussions about any particular voting system, thereby making it easier for other political parties to agree to.

LDER Fringe Event

With the support of Wendy Chamberlain MP, our parliamentary spokesperson for political and constitutional reform, LDER will host a participatory fringe event to discuss the ways in which we, as Party members, can take meaningful campaign action to bring about PR.

Is it time to “Unite to Reform”? And other ways to win PR.  
Saturday 14th March, 19:45 – 21:00, Novotel (Meeting Room 6)
Join Wendy Chamberlain MP and guests from the Electoral Reform Society, Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform and Unite to Reform for a lively workshop on what it will take to win proportional representation for Westminster – and how each of us can play our part. Refreshments will be available.

LDER Conference Stall

Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform will be hosting a stall in the Exhibition at York. Our stall will be active throughout the Conference. Do come and say “hello” to find out more about our campaign for electoral reform.

We’re also looking for members willing and able to spare an hour or two to help staff the stand. It’s great fun and don’t worry if it’s your first time – we’ll make sure an experienced member is there with you. If you can help, fill in our doodle poll here.

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.