Liberal Democrats and electoral reform: a history

At an Islington Liberal Democrats Proportional Representation event in February 2020, Keith Sharp gave a (slightly personalised) account of the liberal fight for equal, proportional voting: the wins, the losses, the lessons and the current opportunities.

Origins and Beliefs

Electoral reform has deep, principled roots for Liberal Democrats.

The Reform Act of 1918 greatly extended the voting franchise (men over 21 were given the vote and women, albeit from age 30, had the vote for the first time). But it also saw the already-existing first-past-the-post (FPTP) narrowly defeat proportional representation (PR) / single transferable vote (STV) as the chosen UK electoral system.

The Liberal Party’s response was swift. Electoral reform (STV) featured in its 1922 election manifesto and has ever since (as the Liberal Democrats since 1988) remained firm, if not always prominent, party policy.

We talk today of the need for party proportionality – percentages of seats at Westminster should match percentages of overall votes the parties receive. And that’s right. Yet, while party proportionality is a vitally important result of a voter centric system, it is not the sole guiding value.

In a liberal society, power and agency reside primarily with the individual; and with the individual in her/his social context (such as family, neighbourhood, locality or community.) The job of the electoral system is to deliver demo-cracy (demos = people), not state-ocracy or even political party-ocracy. Party proportionality is a welcome result of a voting system which reflects the voters’ preferences.

Of course – a point often made – electoral reform alone isn’t a sufficient cure-all for our democratic deficit. Other important proposals include a written constitution, coherent devolution, votes at 16, a defined role for deliberative democracy, proper rules for holding any future referendums, Lords, local government.

But what can be more critical, in a functioning democracy, than the core relationship between electors and their elected representatives – defined by the way in which we elect and hold them accountable and the complexion of the resulting Parliament (or Council or Assembly)?

Stirrings — the ’70s and ’80s

The two elections of 1974 – when (in February) Labour won more seats despite getting less votes than the Conservatives; and a big jump in Liberal votes still left them with only a handful of MPs* – saw the first upsurge interest in electoral reform. (The earnest but in those days long-marginalised Electoral Reform Society (ERS) was so overwhelmed with public and media interest that staff took the phone off the hook to stop the incessant phone calls). And the 1975 European Referendum not only produced a healing near-unity in this country; it exposed the rigidity and voter-denial of FPTP as politicians of different parties and stripes cooperated according to their stance on Europe.

Literature sprang up in the ’70s

Heady times… all this converted me from a latent to an active PR campaigner. I tracked down and, years before joining a political party, became a member of ERS. Reading the emerging literature on the issue I soon realised that it wasn’t only a matter of seats matching votes. FPTP did not – could not – reflect late twentieth century social change. Without reform, voter disillusion and a sense of powerlessness was setting in. This was leading to a distrust of politics and its institutions; to a decay of respect for democracy itself. It was so obvious; and all it needed (so I thought, with the blind optimism of youth) was to alert people/politicians to the problem and reform would happen. I had a lot to learn about the addiction of power and cynical self-interest masquerading as public concern.

As for those warnings back then about disillusion and distrust? Look around you today. They have all come to pass…

In 1981, the Social Democratic Party (SDP – breaking from Labour over Europe) backed PR. After two elections in alliance with the Liberals where FPTP blatantly dissed the wishes of millions of voters and distorted the result**, the SDP and Liberals merged in 1988 into the Liberal Democrats, under Paddy Ashdown’s leadership.

Achievements — the ’90s and noughties

In the 1992 General Election, Labour suffered its fourth successive defeat. By 1994, Tony Blair became Labour leader. Ashdown abandoned ‘equidistance’, moving the LDs decisively towards Blair’s Labour. In the mid ’90s the two parties collaborated on political reform (known as the (Robin) Cook- (Bob) Maclennan agreement). A Lib-Lab pact was surely on the cards…

Not to be. The 1997 election, where just 43% voted Labour, nevertheless gave Blair a 179 seat majority. Labour did not need the Liberal Democrats. A Cook-Maclennan provision – an Independent Commission on the Voting System – went ahead but was still-born. Yet the Jenkins Commission as it is known (after its Chair, the great liberal Roy Jenkins) remains an ingenious, erudite, rewarding study. Its remit – proportionality, stability, geographic link, and… extended voter choice – still guides reformers.

Remit of the Jenkins commission

Failure to get PR for Westminster, however grievous, shouldn’t mask the fact that significant progress was made. Devolution produced a parliament for Scotland and assemblies for Wales and London. The 1998 ‘Good Friday’ agreement created devolved government in northern Ireland. The European Parliament electoral system was reformed.

Every single one of these innovations rejected FPTP in favour of PR – not necessarily the best systems available (Jack Straw’s late decision to use ‘closed regional lists’ for the Euros was particularly regrettable) but the bottom line remained: FPTP was out, PR was in.

Scotland went further. A Lib-Lab Scottish government agreed to introduce PR (single transferable vote) for local Council elections from 2007.

I was lucky enough to be an Electoral Commission observer at the 2007 Scottish elections, spending a day visiting various polling stations and attending the overnight count in Galashiels. Everywhere I found quiet comfort with the voting system change. I remember in an Edinburgh cafe asking local customers if they knew about voting 1,2,3 rather than marking a cross. I didn’t finish – ‘You mean STV? Oh yes we know all about that. We’re fine with it’, said one lady, politely but
firmly.

So: what worked? There were three main conditions for progress and success:

  • Negotiation (not referendums) in:
  • Alliance or coalition (not ‘equidistant’); with a
  • ‘Non-threatening’ Labour (’90s Blair-style not ’10s Corbyn-style)

And the voters? They had not clamoured for voting change, but once they’d got it they liked what they saw and were keen to keep it.

History need not repeat itself, but surely there are clues there as to what works…surely.

Reversal – the tens

A referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) was the political reform concession for the Liberal Democrats on going into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. This was only ever a Labour party commitment (in their 2010 manifesto – no-one else’s) and yet AV became badged as a Liberal Democrat policy. Coalition partner, the Conservatives ruthlessly opposed it; policy-owners Labour were publicly split. AV was heavily defeated in the 2011 referendum.

Embarrassed, humiliated, defensive, the Liberal Democrats then hid away from electoral reform. While the Tories even advocated returning all public elections to FPTP, the LDs kept quiet, with the manifestos of 2015, 2017 and 2019 (see page 83 of the 2019 manifesto…) pushing reform to the margins.

2020 — out of despair comes…?

The December 2019 election was an unmitigated disaster. But out of it, maybe a renewal of hope:

  • January 2020: a front-bench Commons spokesperson appointed (Wendy Chamberlain MP)
  • Unite to Remain evolves into Unite to Reform, including electoral reform.
  • The party proposes a pro-electoral reform motion for its Spring Conference (York, March 13-15).
  • LDs for Electoral Reform, in York, stages a fringe meeting with Wendy Chamberlain and panellists from Wales LDs, Unite to Reform, ERS and Make Votes Matter. Theme: how to make reform happen this time.

Finally – the voter today

The downside (source: ERS research):

  • Many voters think we already have a proportional system, so don’t respond to calls for change.
  • Voters get democracy; and non-democracy (dictatorships) as concepts. But they don’t differentiate between levels or different shades of democracy. If there is a vote, it is democratic. End of story. So, saying ‘it’s not democratic enough’ doesn’t resonate.

The upside:

While voters may be not crying out for a new electoral system, in December 2019:

  • 61% of voters said they were dissatisfied with the state of UK democracy (University of Cambridge)
  • 32% of voters said they had voted tactically (Electoral Reform Society, p31)
  • Only 25% of seats were regarded as marginal i.e. where any change of party was possible. (BBC website report) ***

Surely these numbers show that PR is hugely relevant to voters in 2020? They should guide us towards our call to action.

 


Keith Sharp has long campaigned for an equal, proportional voting system. He was an elected Council member at ERS for 20 years until standing down last December. He was an Electoral Commission observer at the 2007 Scottish elections (held under PR systems) and is currently Vice Chair of Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform. Keith is also a member of the Make Votes Matter Alliance-Building Committee which engages with both party and non-party activist groups.

March 2020

Notes:
* In February 1974, the Liberals won 14 (2%) seats with 19.3% of the vote; in October an 18.3% vote share produced13 (2%) seats (Butler, p268/269)
** in 1983 the SDP/Liberal Alliance won 23 (3.5%) seats with 25% vote share. With just 27% of the votes, Labour won 209 (32%) seats (Butler p269)
*** In fact, only 79 seats (12%) of seats changed hands (Electoral Reform Society, p34)

Sources:
Voters Left Voiceless: Electoral Reform Society (March 2020)
British Political Facts: David and Gareth Butler, Palgrave Macmillan (10th edition 2011).

Electoral Reform in the Party Manifesto

The Liberal Democrat manifesto was launched last week.

It renews our commitment to electoral reform – the section on ‘Fair Votes’ is reproduced below –  though it was sadly not among the list of key policies in the headlines of ‘Jo Swinson’s Plan.’  We agree with other reformers that ‘electoral reform is dangerously absent from the campaign debates‘.

 

Bicentenary of STV

The first use of the Single Transferable Vote was on 17th December 1819, so the bicentenary will fall on the day when our new parliament assembles.  If the election delivers no overall majority, what better occasion to demand a fairer voting system at last!

There will be a meeting at the Royal Statistical Society on 17th December, on ‘The quest for fairer voting.’  There will be talks by Klina Jordan of Make Votes Matter, Ian Simpson of the Electoral Reform Society, and our Chair, Denis Mollison.
Attendance is open to all, but you need to register.

See the RSS event page for details.

 

Extract from Lib Dem 2019 Manifesto: ‘Fair Votes’

The current voting system is not working: it means that too many people do not have their voices heard. Liberal Democrats are the only party that realises that the system is broken and will change it so that it works for the future: Labour and Conservatives will not change the system that has always entrenched their privileged position. We understand that British politics needs to be reformed to make it more representative and empower citizens.

We will:

  • Put an end to wasted votes, by introducing proportional representation through the Single Transferable Vote for electing MPs, and local councillors in England.
  • Give 16- and 17-year olds the right to vote in elections and referendums.
  • Extend the right to full participation in civic life, including the ability to stand for office or vote in UK referendums, Local Elections and General Elections, to all EU citizens who have lived in the UK for five years or more.
  • Introduce a legal requirement for local authorities to inform citizens of the steps they must take to be successfully registered with far greater efforts in particular to register under-represented groups; and ensure that the UK has an automatic system of inclusion in elections.
  • Enable all UK citizens living abroad to vote for MPs in separate overseas constituencies, and to participate in UK referendums.
  • Scrap the plans to require voters to bring identification with them to vote.
  • Reform the House of Lords with a proper democratic mandate.
  • Enabling Parliament, rather than the Queen-in-Council, to approve when parliament is prorogued and for how long.
  • Ensure that a new Prime Minister, and their programme for government, must win a confidence vote of MPs.
  • Take a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and bullying in Westminster and legislate to empower constituents to recall MPs who commit sexual harassment.
  • Legislate to allow all-BAME and all-LGBT+ shortlists.
  • Bring into force Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, requiring political parties to publish candidate diversity data.

Pre-conference newsletter

Breakaway MPs, broken politics, and our emergency motion for PR

LDER has submitted an emergency motion for the York conference. See the last item in this newsletter for the full text.

The formation of ‘The Independent Group’ again shows how the current electoral system fails the voter by straitjacketing this country’s politics into two supposedly united but in truth warring parties.

Our motion reaffirms the need, more urgent and evident than ever, for a proportional system which  puts voter choice first, namely the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. PLEASE BACK US in this bid to make electoral reform a party priority once again. It is fundamental to mending the UK’s broken politics.

If you are at the Spring Conference, PLEASE VOTE to get our motion onto the conference agenda as the chosen Emergency Motion.  Do this by checking the Saturday Daily Bulletin, which will give instructions on the ballot to choose the motions.

Also at York — an Electoral Reform Society fringe event

Citizens’ Assemblies – How can ordinary people inform politics? Saturday March 16, 1-2pm; Meeting room 6, Novotel Hotel.

A chance to learn more first hand about deliberative democracy — how citizens’ assemblies (or their variants such as juries or a constitutional convention) can help develop a popular consensus on complex issues; and how ‘ordinary’ voters can get genuinely involved in the democratic process beyond a vote every few years. Speakers are drawn from the Society, which has done much pilot work on citizens’ assemblies recently, from our MPs and also from Involve, a charity championing deliberative democracy.

LDER exhibition stall — visitors and volunteers invited

You will find us on Stand 31 in the main Exhibition Area at York, so please drop by.

If you’d like to help staff the stall, we’d love to have you with us! You don’t need any special knowledge – just a passion for fairer and more democratic politics. Joining an exec member for even just an hour or two will be a big help — we’ll provide everything you need.

Just click here to see our stall rota, enter your name, pick your slot(s), and then turn up on the day.

It’s a great way to help raise the profile of electoral reform within the party and to engage with other members.

Membership Secretary — a vacancy

LDER is on the lookout for a party member to join our exec as membership secretary — our previous mem sec had to stand down for work reasons, though he left our members and supporters databases in good shape. But we do need someone to fill the vacancy. It needs only a few hours a month liaising and updating our spreadsheet — do see us on our stall or write to us.

Emergency Motion: The Independent Group and Proportional Representation

Proposed by  21 members (drafted by LDER, also supported by East Lothian local party)

Conference notes:
A.  The recent resignations from both Labour and Conservative parties of MPs and their formation of The Independent Group.

B. That this follows on from a process of increasing disagreements, not only on issues but also on fundamental principles, within both the two main parties, which remain held together only because of the democratic and voter constraints of the `First Past The Post’ (FPTP) electoral system.

C. That The Independent Group have yet to endorse Proportional Representation, despite it being essential to their objective to `fix our broken politics’.

Conference welcomes:
i)  Vince Cable’s immediate overtures to The Independent Group to work together to change British politics.

ii)  The party’s support for cross-party alliance building initiatives, especially by Make Votes Matter, whose draft Good Systems Agreement sets out the features of a democratic voting system. These align with the party’s longstanding principles of proportionality, increasing the choice and voice of the individual voter; ensuring all votes count equally; and enhancing constituency links between MPs and electors.

Conference believes:
a)  That the FPTP system is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but that it also distorts politics in an extremely unhealthy way, narrowing the range of policies that can be considered.  It makes it difficult for new parties to evolve and for existing ones to change, thus preventing the views of many voters from being heard.

b)  The pragmatic justifications often given in defence of FPTP, that it provides strong, single party government, decisiveness and stability, have been exposed as utterly bogus. The chaos of Brexit confirms that FPTP is a fundamental cause of our broken politics.

c)  That to renew politics it is essential that we replace FPTP with a proportional electoral system, and reaffirms the Party’s preference for the Single Transferable Vote because it allows voters to express their true preferences among a wide range of candidates.

Conference calls for:
1. The Independent Group, together with candidates of all parties who believe that we need a fair and effective electoral system, to commit to making proportional representation a non-negotiable demand in any negotiations around forming a government after the next General Election;

2.  with a commitment to set up a Citizens Assembly or Independent Commission with instructions to choose a form of Proportional Representation that meets the criteria of paragraph (ii) (lines19-23), and to hold any subsequent General Election under that chosen system.

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.

December 2018 newsletter

Reminder — People’s Lobby for PR, December 11, 12 noon at Westminster

The last major pro-reform event of 2018 is only days away — it’s a Make Votes Matter initiative, taking the case for reform directly to Westminster. Please click below to register.

Show your support for fair votes by coming to the Peoples Lobby for PR

More information about what will happen on the day is available here.

2019 priorities

Peter Hirst writes: As an LDER Executive newcomer, I propose broadening our remit  to include the Party’s long-standing commitment to a written constitution, created by a Citizen’s Assembly or Jury.

As some of you might know, the charity Involve, is dedicated to putting people at the heart of our democracy. Its website declares on its front page, “We’re the UK’s leading public participation charity, on a mission to put people at the heart of decision-making.”

It believes that decision making in the UK needs to be more open, participatory and deliberative.

To this end it has, with others, recently organised Citizens’ Assemblies on Brexit, Social Care and Northern Ireland with full details on their website. It also has a collaboration with the Electoral Reform Society, seeking to change our method of voting in a collaborative rather than divisive and confrontational way.

Typically, a Citizens’ Jury involves between 100 and 250 randomly selected citizens of the affected area who come together over two weekends. The process involves gathering information, discussing it and deciding on recommendations. This is done either by voting or consensus.

Proposal: LDER and the party would benefit by working with Involve (and others) to improve democratic governance and campaign for a full written constitution, compiled along the lines above. A next step could be for LDER to co-organise a conference fringe meeting to generate wider interest in this important component of a properly functioning representative democracy.

Any views/feedback on Peter’s proposal? Let us know!

The 2019 team

Our  Autumn Brighton Conference stall was busy as ever. We gathered on-stall feedback on key messaging to make the benefits of voting reform more immediate to the electorate (we’ll report back on this next time) and our members and supporters sign ups now number nearly 1,000. That’s great, but do get party friends and colleagues to join us.

New exec member Sarah Lewis led an energetic Your Liberal Britain stand discussion on electoral reform, with Make Votes Matter’s Klina Jordan as guest speaker.

We also elected the LDER 18/19 executive at our AGM:

Chair: Denis Mollison
Secretary: Penny Goodman
Treasurer: Richard Lawrie
Membership: Martin Walker*
Exec members: Crispin Allard, Peter Hirst, Sarah Lewis, Helen Parker, Keith Sharp
Keith was subsequently elected Vice Chair by the executive.

Particular thanks go to Crispin, who reverts to an exec member after being chair for six of the past seven years and who reconstituted LDER in its present form. He is now Chair of his local party and it’s great to have him continue as an exec member.

*Vacancy! — Membership Officer

Since Brighton, Martin has had to step down due to work commitments. Martin leaves with our membership and supporters lists in good shape, so our thanks go to him.

But we now seek to co-opt a new Membership Secretary onto the exec; someone to continue to keep our membership and supporters database up to date and to notify members when annual subs fall due.

Could YOU take up this simple but crucial role? If you’d like to join or to discuss this, please contact us on info@lder.org

LDER Executive

Event Alert: Join the People’s Lobby for PR

12 noon 11 December; Westminster

Will you join the People’s Lobby for Proportional Representation on Tuesday 11th December?

This December, the cross-party movement for PR will descend on Parliament for a mass lobby, organised by Make Votes Matter and co-hosted by MPs from five political parties, including of course the Liberal Democrats.

Disgust at the way our electoral system distorts and damages our politics, from the terrible Brexit mess to the spectacle of the DUP — with its total of 300,000 votes — calling the shots in Government, is growing.  Even the Labour Party – the traditional stumbling block for electoral reform – is coming under pressure from its own membership to back reform.

It’s a battle we can best win by taking joint action alongside supporters of all parties who want an equal, proportional system where the power and choice of the individual voter is enhanced.

We invite you to take action to help make PR a reality. Click on the link below for details and to register and confirm your attendance.

Show your support for fair votes by coming to the People’s Lobby for PR

We hope you can join us.

LDER executive

December Newsletter

Cross Party Alliances

On October 17, Make Votes Matter (MVM) held an electoral reform all-party alliance meeting in Westminster. LDER was there, along with party President Sal Brinton and Lord Paul Tyler, our Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.  Paul and Sal both spoke about principled support for a system which serves not cheats the people. Narrow party advantage is the wrong perspective. All parties, with the notable exception of the Tories, were there. Labour reps (including Jonathan Reynolds and Paul Blomfield) were also convincingly pro-reform. Let’s see if they can convince the Corbynistas…

On October 30, following a public petition led by MVM with support of the Electoral Reform Society, a Westminster Hall debate on electoral reform took place. This time some Tories were there (!) presenting Neanderthal pro-status quo arguments, based on falsity (claiming AV was a proportional system), and a nostalgic-cum-deranged belief that if it was British, then it had to be best. Our new Bath MP, Wera Hobhouse, provided powerful pro-reform arguments, drawing in part of her experience of her native Germany to do so. Labour (including Stephen Kinnock) was again present and forcefully pro-reform. Make Votes Matter have posted a report of the event, including videos of the main speakers, here.

Whether this ‘momentum’, especially within Labour will finally lead to change remains to be seen. We will ensure our party’s positive involvement in next steps to reform.

 

Votes at 16

Our MPs have also been working with Labour, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green colleagues to extend voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds for all UK elections. A private member’s bill put forward by Jim McMahon MP (Lab/Co-Op, Oldham and Royton) and selected by Oldham youth council, provided an opportunity for debate in the Commons on this important topic.

McMahon introduced the Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement and Education) Bill by emphasising that it commanded cross-party support.

For the Liberal Democrats, Christine Jardine MP highlighted the success of involving 16 and 17 year olds in the Scottish referendum, noting that their contributions had been among the most informed, enthusiastic and incisive, and had brought many more young people into politics. Addressing some of the arguments against the bill, Wera Hobhouse MP drew comparisons with the case to resist votes for women a century ago.

Unfortunately the debate had to be adjourned due to time constraints and will resume on 1 December. This bill is unlikely to become law, but has raised public awareness of the issue and attracted considerable media attention. The UK Youth Parliament and NUS are currently campaigning actively for votes at 16, and have also been discussing the subject in recent weeks.

 

Can you help?

At LDER’s September AGM, a new exec for 17/18 was elected: Crispin Allard (Chair), Penny Goodman (Secretary), Richard Lawrie (Treasurer), Martin Walker (Membership) plus Denis Mollison, Paul Mott, Helen Parker, Keith Sharp and Philip Smith.  (At our November exec, Keith was elected Vice Chair.)

But there is lots to do! An AGM suggestion was to share our programme and work agenda with our activists, so people can chip in and support the cause according to expertise and availability.

A current priority need is a literature (print and on-line) refresh. Our ‘general’ leaflet is factually up to date (as of June ’17 election), but could really do with a re-design, to make it more punchy-looking. We are also writing updated leaflets on Lords reform and England and Wales local government and so need help both in writing and designing.

So: if you are a great (or even only pretty good!) layout designer or writer, please write to us (see below). Any other contributions you can make – please let us know that too.

Crispin Allard

Chair
Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform

Make Votes Matter #SaveOurDemocracy event

Our friends at Make Votes Matter are running a major event to show support for Proportional Representation next Saturday, 24 June 2017, from 2:30pm to  4:30pm at Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London.

The event will feature a range of speakers from campaign organisations and political parties, and will be family-friendly. Please go along to show your support – we need to keep making a noise about this until parliament reflects what voters actually think!

Full details are at their website, and show in the image below.