Clegg: first past the post is a relic that deserves to be consigned to the past

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Speaking at tonight’s Yes to Reform! rally at the Liverpool LibDem conference, Nick Clegg was joined by Jo Swinson MP, former independent MP Martin Bell, actor Art Malek and others. You can also now download campaign materials and find out more about the Fairer Votes Referendum at www.libdems.org.uk/fairervotes.

This was the text of Nick’s speech:

The last few months have been some of the most remarkable in the history of our party. I’m proud that for the first time in our party’s history Liberal Democrats will be addressing a party conference as Secretaries of State and government ministers. And it’s fantastic to finally see Liberal Democrats behind the government despatch box.

We are achieving some great things already in this government. Lifting hundreds of thousands of the lowest paid workers out of tax altogether. Restoring and protecting civil liberties. Reforming the criminal justice system and ending child detention. The triple guarantee for pensioners, the Pupil Premium, political reform.

We’ve done all that and more just in the first four months. Four months in which we have made huge progress in delivering the changes you have campaigned for election after election, night after night, doorstep after doorstep. I want everyone in this room to just stop and enjoy that for a second. I hope each and every one of you is as proud as I am of what have already achieved.

Now, there is a long road ahead, that’s true. And there are going to be some big and difficult decisions along the way. But after years of campaigning – years of hard work by everyone in this room and countless others over the lifetime of our party – we are finally putting liberal values at the heart of British government.

You had the courage to take the leap into the unknown, to take this party to government. Everything that has happened since has proved that you were right to do so. I know that being in this Coalition still isn’t always easy. We are a party that has always advocated pluralism – believing that politics can be better when different parties work together. But that doesn’t mean that the nervousness some of us felt about going into government this has disappeared over night. The different impulses that, for many people here, pulled heads one way and hearts another, haven’t simply vanished. But we’ve done something bold, exciting and unexpected. And, as a result, Liberal Democrats, things will never be the same for our party again.

Being a party of government means new responsibilities on us, as well as new expectations of us. I came into politics, like you, to change things, to break the stranglehold of two-party dominance, to make this country fairer, freer, greener. Liberal Democrats: we are doing just that.

We are here to launch our support for the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. To say this is a long time coming is an understatement. We’ve been waiting for the first past the post dam to break for nearly a hundred years – a version of AV was first proposed in the Speaker’s Conference in 1917. But better late than never.

I know AV may not be the favourite voting system of everyone here, but whether you prefer this, AV+, the single transferable vote or any another model, we all agree that AV is infinitely fairer than what we have at the moment.

Look at where we are now. A creaking, unfair political system unfit for the 21st century. A voting system that means millions of people don’t think it’s worth voting at all. That leaves untold numbers of people feeling they have to vote tactically rather than for the party or candidate that they agree with most.

A system that ingrains the scandal of safe seats where MPs can arrogantly assume they have a job for life, that has created a situation where time and time again more people have chosen not to vote than voted for the winning party.

First past the post is not fit for purpose. It is a relic that deserves to be consigned to the past. Good MPs have nothing to fear from AV. Only those that take their constituents for granted do.

So we say vote Yes in May. Yes to a more democratic system where MPs will need a majority of voters to support them. Yes to a system that compels MPs to spend less time with their duck houses and more time with their constituents. Yes to a system that means no MP has a safe seat for life.

This is not about the Liberal Democrats. We don’t know whether we will benefit from AV or not. It’s about fair play, it’s about real democracy and it’s about putting people back in charge.

With your support and hard work, and with the dedication of campaigners across the country, we can help to win the referendum in May and give the country the fairer voting system it deserves.

Thank you.

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18 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 18th Sep '10 - 10:18pm

    Weren’t we still using STV in 1917?

  • Nick (not Clegg) 19th Sep '10 - 8:22am

    Just for the record, not all LibDems are proud of what this government has done and is doing.

    And not all of us are proud of Clegg

  • Red Rag – Please give the source of the opinion poll asking if the Lib Dems have sold out. I thought not,

  • I genuinely believe that this Coalition has ended any possibility of electoral reform for a generation. The AV referendum will be lost because it is too closely associated with the LibDems and many of those who would have supported it are too angry with the party at the moment. Once the referendum has been lost, it will be used as an excuse for not pursuing any further reforms.

  • Kevin M – It’s in today’s Independent.

    ‘Nick Clegg stands accused of “selling out” by his own supporters. More than half the people who supported the Lib Dems at May’s general election believe he has abandoned his principles by entering a coalition government with the Conservatives, a poll for The Independent on Sunday has revealed.’

    The link is http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/clegg-sold-out-to-get-power-say-voters-2083293.html

  • I don’t often, if ever, agree with Red Rag but on this occasion I believe he’s right, amongst the electorate the standing of the party is low and many do believe the party sold out, it doesn’t really matter if Nick Clegg gets two or twenty standing ovations, the people that matter are not the ones at the conference.
    I find all this very disappointing to say the least, AV is a far better system but the chances of it seeing the light of day are not great.

    @ Nick (not Clegg) … I can only echo your statement

  • >Do you not think there is not a snowballs chance in hell of this referendum succeeding now more than half of the people who voted for you in May thinks you have sold out.
    Etc, etc,

    If someone I don’t like is proposing something I do, I’m not going to cut my nose off to spite my face.

    Maybe those in the electorate who aren’t so fiercely tribal will judge the referendum on its merits. Especially those living in safe seats whose votes currently count for nothing.
    Which is what the referendum campaign has to be based on: not party political lines, but whether or not it’s fairer for the electorate.

    But then Labour have double form when it comes to reneging on promises on voting systems. Why would you or the Tories want to switch to something fairer when you can secure a working majority with just over a third of the national vote, eh? And stuff the millions of people whose votes didn’t count or who didn’t bother to vote because they knew they wouldn’t count. Much better to have a system that acts in your own self-interest and much better to score points off rivals than to make things fairer.

    But then if the Tories/Labour proposed everyone should be entitled to free cake on their birthday, Labour/the Tories would scream it down as a bad idea, just because it was the other side is proposing it.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 19th Sep '10 - 12:23pm

    @Cassie: You’re what will lose us the AV referendum. Individuals within Labour are free to choose whichever way they want to go- it’s up to Yes campaigners to persuade them and most of the major players support AV.

    You know full well that in parliament your government chose to combine the AV referendum bill- which Labour had said they supported- with two measures that Labour had said they didn’t support. It is your government that has made it impossible for Labour MPs to vote the way they were elected to. That is spitting in the face of democracy.

    You don’t want to win. You want to position yourselves to be able to blame Labour when you lose. Grow up.

  • Redrag ? So you think winning the AV referendum is the only game in town ? Not a good judgement.

    A bit like your complete (deliberate?) misunderstanding of Nick Cleggs comments “The Lib Dems never were and aren’t a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party. There is no future for that; there never was.”

    Nothing about the lib Dems being stopping being leftwing (such that is has meaning in a world where Tony Blair is Leftwing and the 5 Labour leadership contenders all say they are “socialists”

    What Mr Clegg is getting at is that the perpetual whingers and moaners who support a “left wing” Labour with all the realism of an Accrington Stanley fan waiting for them to win the premiership aren’t the future of the Lib Dems. I don’t want say Diane Abbott to have a fit of conscience over Trident, over the Iraq War over private education and join the Lib Dems, because she is not a Liberal, never has been never will be.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 19th Sep '10 - 4:06pm

    @Mouse: I think the point is that just because *you* don’t want those people in your party- nevertheless those people are there, and Nick Clegg has made it clear they’re not welcome. He’s repeated the point so it’s obviously something he’s calculated, and it looks to me like a swipe at Charles Kennedy.

    You may applaud him treating the left-wing ex-Labour people like intruders, that’s up to you. It would have been nice if he’d said that before taking their votes rather than after, though.

  • >You’re what will lose us the AV referendum.

    I was responding to the “people will vote against AV as a protest vote against the Lib Dems” posts.

    >Individuals within Labour are free to choose whichever way they want to go- it’s up to Yes campaigners to persuade them and most of the major players support AV.

    I repeat from above: Maybe those in the electorate who aren’t so fiercely tribal will judge the referendum on its merits.
    That clearly includes individuals within Labour

    >It is your government that has made it impossible for Labour MPs to vote the way they were elected to.

    Yeah, I wish they had been able to keep the two bits separate.

    >You don’t want to win.

    I want to win and I can’t imagine any Lib Dem who doesn’t. Tho’ AV isn’t ideal and I’d rather there were other options on the table.

    >You want to position yourselves to be able to blame Labour when you lose.

    if we lose, it will be Tories I blame as well as Labour. They’re only going along with it at all because it was part of the coalition agreement.

    >Grow up.

    Like people like Red Rag who seem only come on here to rub our noses in the latest opinion poll they’ve read, perhaps?
    Or people who seem to think us getting a pasting is more important than the country having a fairer voting system?

  • George Smith 19th Sep '10 - 11:42pm

    Will that video of the guy talking be released to the public? thought it was excellent. great points and a rousing speech…

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