Tag Archives: electoral reform

Sal Brinton writes…My speech to the Demo for Democracy

Sal Brinton at Demo for DemocracyToday’s excellent Make Votes Matter demo outside parliament was both well attended and fun. A range of bodies, such as Unlock Democracy and the ERS joined with the Make Votes Matter group to urge us into action to make sure that the politicians don’t forget we still need PR for Westminster as well as for local government in England and Wales. All the major parties were represented – even the Conservatives – but neither the Tories nor Labour have signed up as parties.  We, of course, have, as well as the Greens, UKIP, SNP and Plaid Cymru. Paul Tyler is our representative at the cross party discussions.

Make Votes Matter is led by Owen Winter, an extraordinary young campaigner from Cornwall, who speaks with passion and enthusiasm about electoral reform. The event started with election lottery, where people picked out a card with one party on it, and then had a second, most of which didn’t match.

I was invited to speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, and I started by reminding people that we as liberals have been pushing for PR for over 150 years. It was John Stuart Mill in 1861 who wrote in his essay Considerations on Representative Government:

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Discussing electoral reform in York

Five years after the Liberal Democrats comprehensively messed up on electoral reform, the ludicrously disproportional 2015 general election result has put it back on the agenda.

There will be two related fringes at York, organised by Pro-PR (1-2 p.m. Saturday, Hilton) on the idea of an electoral pact for 2020, and by the Electoral Reform Society (6.15-7.15 p.m. Saturday, Novotel) on the idea of a Constitutional Convention.

Electoral reform is about more than fairness (avoiding disproportionality, safe seats and the need for tactical voting). As Ed Straw sets out in his recent Treaty for Government, our present voting system of FPTP distorts the fabric of politics, leading to wasteful `zigzag government’. Getting politicians to allow change in how they are elected is always a difficult matter, as the long struggles for voting rights illustrate. FPTP is defended by the two parties that benefit from it; perhaps the greatest current hope lies in Labour’s recognising how difficult it is going to be for them to win a majority in the foreseeable future.

Opportunities for reform in Scotland came with Labour’s rush to devolution in 1997, and the Liberal Democrats’ successful coalition negotiation with Labour in 2003.

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Don’t be left voiceless

Last year’s election was brutal. It was a disaster for the country and it made us all realise that politics needs to change.

I’m not talking about the Lib Dems’ electoral defeat. I’m not even talking about the Tory majority. Last year’s election made a mockery of British democracy. 1 in 4 voters voted Lib Dem, Green or UKIP, but have just 10 MPs to represent them. That is appalling.

Why then do the Westminster elite stand up for this broken system? Pure selfishness. I’m afraid that is the only answer I can think of. So many Labour and Tory MPs think they should be elected not because they have the most support, but merely because that is the way it has always been. MPs aren’t elected to protect their positions at all costs. They are elected to represent the people. Without proportional representation (PR) they are failing to do that spectacularly.

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Tim Farron talks Wogan, refugees, EU and diversity on Murnaghan

Tim Farron was on Sky News Murnaghan this morning. It was quite refreshing to hear him introduced as “leading the charge” on the refugee crisis. It is actually blindingly obvious that we have been, but it’s not so often acknowledged.

The Murnaghan programme provides very helpful transcripts of their interviews, for which I am very grateful.

Terry Wogan

He was interviewed only an hour or so after the news that Terry Wogan had died and was asked for his reaction:

I am genuinely very, very upset. He formed an enormous part of my childhood, interviewing all sorts of people on his TV show but also the radio programmes, he was a peculiar and unique individual who appeals both to me – somebody who is obsessed with pop music – and my grandparents at the same time and I think that was his great strength, he spoke without arrogance or pomposity and he was a kind of warm and genuine figure in your living room and around the breakfast table and we’ll all very much miss him.

Refugee crisis

On refugees, he was asked if we should avoid creating a “pull factor:. He was clear that the way to do this was by creating safe and legal routes for refugees.

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Farron says there’s “not a lot of truth” in Independent report on secret talks with Corbyn over electoral reform

Today’s Independent has a report that there are secret talks going on between Labour and the Liberal Democrats over a joint platform for electoral reform at the next General Election.

It attributes the following to a “Lib Dem source”:

The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Greens could also be involved in the talks, the source said. If the  negotiations are successful, up to five left-of-centre parties could stand on an agreed platform of voting reform at the 2020 election – giving them a mandate to scrap Westminster’s first-past- the-post system without a referendum, so long as they are able to secure a majority in the Commons.

It certainly strikes me that if there were successful talks going on, then there would be no reports about them in the press. It also strikes me that the Labour Party is in no position to commit to any deal, given the power struggles that are going on inside it. Another report in the same paper says that there is a plot afoot to move Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the end of Conference to prevent the final day of the event being ruined by the press finding opposition to it from within the Labour Party. Corbyn is fighting so many internal battles, that it’s impossible for him to look outward and work with others, which is a real shame. Actually, I think the sort of alliance that the Independent described on that one issue of electoral reform might not be a bad idea. You might not get a rainbow coalition to work in Government, but you could have one fighting for the Parliament the voters ask for. The Conservatives and SNP are tightening their grips on power on both sides of the border. They are very well resourced and the Tories look set to benefit from boundary changes. These of course would benefit the Tories in two way. Firstly, they benefit the Tories anyway, but   Labour would go nuclear as moderates and Corbynites scrapped over the new seats.

Tim Farron was asked about this on Pienaar’s Politics a few moments go. He said that  there was “not a lot of truth” in the report and that an alliance on electoral reform isn’t his priority at the moment. What matters is rebuilding the Liberal Democrats and effectively opposing the Tories. He said:

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Blair’s other legacy

It is inevitable given that it became the issue that defined his premiership – the failed invasion of Iraq will be seen as Blair’s great legacy.

He got plenty of other things wrong too, but for all his words about a progressive majority, his inaction on electoral reform paved the way for majority right wing government.

Had he been brave enough to face down the conservative forces in his own party we could have seen the 1999 Jenkins commission proposals implemented.

He wasn’t.

In his excellent autobiography, Ming Campbell recalls his wife Elspeth whispering to Blair at John Smith’s funeral, ‘Don’t Forget The Liberals’. ‘I won’t’ was the response.

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Where next in the campaign for electoral reform?

Sometimes election results are indecisive but in the 2011 AV vote, the country gave a resounding no in the referendum.

What we’re not entirely sure of though is what the country were saying no to. Since the vote, the Conservative party in the main have claimed that people are happy with the First Past the Post system.

Progressives would argue that the result was simply a no to the Alternative Vote system – and people did state at the time they only wanted a change that would be proportional. In their opinion, AV didn’t go far enough. And they were right. The problem with AV was almost no one truly supported it without reservation. It was described at the time as a ‘miserable little compromise.’ It was the only system that Labour had advocated for in their 2010 manifesto but largely for what seems like short sighted political reasons, they didn’t support it fully when it came to the actual vote.

Last weekend, the Voting Reform Coalition, held a gathering opposite Parliament on College Green. Party activists, MPs and independents all gathered to support Electoral Reform. Incredibly heartening and hopefully a sign of consensus to come, there was a coalition of both the usual suspects such as the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, with UKIP also joining in smaller numbers. The really great surprise being that we even had activists from Labour and the Conservatives. The two parties both traditionally opposed to voting reform or at least opposed whilst they were in power. 

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