So, another week, and more policies announced that are definitely not Liberal Democrat in origin. Particularly one close to my liberal heart on the issue of paying for University education. Now that debate will rumble on and on, but I want to look more closely at whether the Lib Dems did indeed “sell out” on their principles, or whether they were forced to, by an age old, broken electoral system that was built for the bygone era of the two-party dogfight.
Cast your mind back to the General Election. Here are the vote/vote share figures:
Conservative: 36.1% (10,703,954), Labour: 29% (8,609,527), Lib Dems: 23% (6,836,824).
But the seat figures show a different story:
Conservative: 307 (47%) Labour: 258 (39%) Lib Dem: 57 (8%)
So , basically, both Conservative and Labour votes are being over-represented in Parliament by about 10% each, and Lib Dem votes are being under-represented by about 15%. Also, consider our representation in the Government. Out of the total Conservative and Lib Dem votes, the Lib Dems represent about 40% of the people who voted for one of the two coalition parties. Yet our seat representation in it makes up about 15%.
And it’s in those two key areas, percentage of coalition power and Commons power, that distinguishes how much influence we have in this Parliament in terms of policy making. Which goes some way to explaining why the voters are, in whatever way, annoyed. Despite the fact we are punching well above our 8%, the way the 23% see it is that they voted Lib Dem, yet they get hardly any Lib Dem policy in the coalition agreement.
So it is not the Lib Dems who are the villain. It’s the way we elect our Parliament. Our power has not been sold out by Clegg, Cable et al, it’s been diluted by the system of old. No wonder electoral reform has stalled so much over this century, as it gives the two main parties a guaranteed long term schedule of government followed by wound licking in opposition, but very little forward planning in terms of policy. Our Government representatives are simply fighting tooth and nail to get some of our policies onto the statute books, which I’d say is a pretty thankless task, considering how much dog muck is being thrown at them for both the policies they’ve got in, and the ones they’ve had to woefully leave behind.
So, if you want to see more Lib Dem policy, and want your vote to actually count for a change, then help make a start by voting Yes in the AV referendum. That will start to level out the parties Commons power, and if we are in Government after 2015, we will be able to have much better go at it. I hope I see you there.
Matt Smith is the outgoing Chair of Liberal Youth Wales and the Lib Dem Prospective Assembly Candidate for Cardiff North at the upcoming Welsh Assembly Elections.