Tag Archives: electoral reform

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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Lord Roger Roberts writes… Liberal Democrats fight to make sure local government reflects will of people

This year we celebrate the Magna Carta and the struggle for rights and liberties. The democratic rights of the people – our enfranchisement from the Great Reform Act of 1834 to the struggles of today and our belief that the voice of every person in the United Kingdom if registered to vote can carry some influence. This includes all men and women without regard to wealth, status or property rights. All 18 and over are included. In Scotland 16 year olds were able to vote in the recent Referendum and now throughout the United Kingdom there is a campaign to …

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Opinion: Progessive parties unite – for survival!

Through the grief and bereavement of last month’s election results, I have been trying to make some logical deductions about the future not just of the Lib Dems but the progressive forces in British politics. Try my logic and see if it works for you.

There may be about 8-12% of those who vote who are willing to support Lib Dem candidates (excluding protest votes). That percentage is fine as long as there’s PR. If there isn’t, we will struggle to have any influence, certainly at national level.

The only way we can get PR is if we have a main party in government willing to enact PR. And that main party has to get into government via first-past-the-post.

The Conservatives aren’t interested because they do very well without it, and will continue to do so. By contrast, Labour may be at the point of recognising that the only way a Labour prime minister can happen is via a coalition – and on that basis, Labour should be open to PR.

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Introducing Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform

New members have been asking about Lib Dem organisations that they can join.  You are welcome to submit similar items on behalf of other organisations.

Giving the individual voter greater choice and voice – devolving democratic power to the individual and away from institutions – is integral to making the UK a truly liberal and democratic country.

So I’m urging new – and existing – party members to join Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform (LDER) and help us campaign to make this essential change a reality.

Take a look at our historic Parliament, supposedly the model for others to follow. Of its two houses, the Lords is totally appointed and expressly undemocratic.

The Commons is elected in a way, which distorts the democratic will of the people; and freezes millions out of any say in the result. For many people in ‘safe’ seats, voting is an exercise in futility.

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Opinion: Goodbye Salisbury Convention, hello UK constitutional convention

This Government is illegitimate.  We should resist it by all legal means possible.

Apparently, according to Sir Malcolm Bruce, all politicians lie at some point.  I don’t accept this is a good thing, but we should not have been surprised when the Prime Minister came out with this little gem on the day of the Queen’s Speech:

“We have a mandate from the British people.”

No Dave, you do not.

The idea of an electoral mandate is a simple one which I teach my A level Politics students.  You win a majority in the House of Commons, you claim the people have backed you, you get on with the job.

This is not democracy though.  Democracy, which I have also teach my students, means “people power.”  The idea fails for David Cameron on two levels:

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Opinion: “Britain isn’t a democracy – we can’t possibly say that!” Yes we can!

When I was at secondary school in the early 1970s, my history teacher was a man with a passion for his subject who always encouraged critical discussion. So while he taught us enthusiastically about British “democracy”, he was indulgent towards me when I challenged his assertion following the February 1974 election: the one where the Tories came top with 11.9 million votes (297 seats), Labour “won” with 11.6 million votes (301 seats) and the Liberals’ six million votes delivered 14 members of the House of Commons.

The reality is that the outcome of every election before and since 1974 has been unfair to a greater or lesser extent. Labour got more than nine times as many seats as the Liberal-SDP Alliance in 1983 with just 2% more of the vote. Tony Blair had a comfortable overall majority with 35.2% in 2005 while David Cameron fell well short five years later with 36.1%.

The 2015 election is more striking than most. The SNP got 95% of Scotland’s seats on just under half the vote. Each SNP MP represents roughly 25,000 voters while almost 3.9 million ballots were cast to get Douglas Carswell into Parliament. 51 of the 55 seats in South-West England are Conservative and Labour is the only other party with representation in that region.

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Opinion: On voting reform, the Lib Dems must seek an ally in UKIP

Voting reform has been a key Lib Dem issue for many years now. It’s not necessarily primary concern of the average voter, but the way in which we choose who governs us is one of the most important aspects of democracy and cannot be dismissed.

The latest election has provided us with a stark display of why a more proportional system is vital for Britain’s future. Those determined to protect that status quo will point to the referendum in 2011 and claim that the British public has already rejected reform, but this is nonsense. AV may be fairer than FPTP, but it was ultimately a fudge, and no more proportional than the current system. We’ve never been allowed a vote on whether we want PR.

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Opinion: A new hope for electoral reform?

Much will be said and written about what happened on the 7th. But we need to think about what happens next now. We have been heavily defeated, and it would be easy to allow that defeat to set the mood and leave us paralysed. We must not let that happen.

The electoral system has delivered a result that bears little resemblance to the popular vote. Our own defeat has been amplified by this – as has been pointed out elsewhere, our parliamentary presence was within 25,000 votes of being wiped out entirely. Imagine, two million votes for no representation at all. We need to work with the others who have been disenfranchised by the electoral system. The Greens, who went home with one seat for one and a half million votes. UKIP, who won the support of almost four million people but who also get but a single seat. The SNP might have benefited hugely from the system, but they are now looking at their seats being rendered powerless by EVEL, and also support reform

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The Independent View: Benefit the nation and the voters

If the Liberal Democrats get about half UKIP’s votes (8% against 14%) but about 10 times as many MPs 20 – 30 against 2 – 3), will the Liberal Democrats stand by their principals and demand electoral reform?  In particular, will they insist on the Single Transferable Vote (STV), which they have always recognized as the best voting system for voters?

The Liberal Democrats have had five years now to learn the hard way what some of us warned in 2010, based on our observations of continental Europe where coalitions are normal; the senior partner takes the credit for popular decisions and blames the junior partner for unpopular ones.

If the Liberal Democrats had got STV for this election as a condition of entering into coalition in 2010, they could now be looking at winning about 52 seats for about 8% of the vote.  Admittedly, UKIP might be expecting about 91 seats but, if that is what voters want, so be it.

The real point of electoral reform is not to benefit this or that party but to benefit the nation and the voters.

With electoral reform for this election, the SNP could expect about half the Scottish seats (30) for about half the Scottish votes instead of all the seats (59) for half the votes and not be in pole position now to hold the UK to ransom.  Please see David Green’s excellent exposition on for more on this.

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Opinion: Opportunities for electoral reform in a hung parliament

As Simon Kelner says in today’s i newspaper, electoral reform has “played absolutely zero part in this election campaign”, though it “goes to the very essence of our democracy”.

In what has been described as a lottery election, we need to be prepared for any of the diverse opportunities for electoral reform that may open up.  One thing that does seem almost certain is that the result itself will provide strong evidence of the need for change, with hugely varying seat/vote ratios.  Current polls suggest the following: Conservatives and Labour each with only a third of the votes but over 40% of seats; Liberal Democrats with 4% of seats from 8% of the votes while the SNP have the reverse; and UKIP and the Greens with a combined vote of 15-20%, yet less than 1% of seats between them.

What type of negotiations might there be?  A key distinction is between any possible long term agreement – that is, for the duration of the parliament – such as a formal coalition, and a short term agreement that allows a minority government to take office, winning the vote on a Queen’s Speech and any ensuing vote of confidence.

For any formal agreement, STV for local government in England and Wales should be a Liberal Democrat red line.  With the Conservatives, we could agree on further devolved powers for Scotland and Wales, but their other constitutional manifesto aims, “English Votes for English Laws” and “reduce and equalise constituencies”, are much more problematic because we have very different ideas on both issues.  A formal agreement on constitutional reform with Labour should be easier: their constitutional manifesto aims are all ones we can agree with: more devolved powers, a constitutional convention, replacing the House of Lords with an elected senate, and votes for 16 and 17-year olds.

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Opinion: Getting things out of proportion

Finding things to complain about in The Guardian is hardly difficult, but here are two little blemishes that bleed deep:

First we have a quote from editor Alan Rusbridger in 2013, touching on the AV referendum:

They came up with such a weak version of proportional representation that they could not get anyone excited or enthused.

And second, a report from earlier this year on a Guardian staff ballot:

Staff of the Guardian and Observer have voted in favour of Katharine Viner… using the single transferable vote system… he successful candidate is guaranteed a place on the shortlist of three that will go forward to the next round of interviews conducted by the Scott Trust.

Claiming that AV is a form of PR, or that you used STV for what turns out to be a single-winner election, is incongruous at best, and probably just plain wrong. And, of course, the article doesn’t mention that Labour was the party that “came up with” AV as a 2010 election commitment.

If you want to get technical, it is true that AV is essentially STV-1 (STV electing a single member).  But the two names are used distinctly with good reason. STV-1 is a degenerate case, with less complexity and none of the proportionality of its multi-winner siblings. Important connotations of “the single transferable vote system” do not apply to AV, and vice versa. Even if this kind of equivalence was intended, the bold passages still needed qualification in order to make sense to the Guardian’s general readership. It seems far more likely the editorial process just got it wrong.

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The Independent View: Let’s make 2015 the last ever lottery election

Who could have predicted it? Who would have thought that four years after the Alternative Vote was firmly rejected by voters in a national referendum, we would be approaching the 2015 general election with First Past the Post at Westminster under serious scrutiny? Or that local electoral reform could be a realistic outcome of power-sharing talks between Liberal Democrats and one or other of the major parties (provided Lib Dems make it a ‘red-line’ issue)?

What are the game-changers? Firstly, FPTP’s supposed ability to deliver clear majority government was justification enough for many to put up with the obvious lack of proportionality.  That no longer applies. As The Economist says: “Unaccustomed and ill-adapted to multi-party politics, Britain is more likely to get weak, unstable governments. That will only fuel the dissatisfaction with career politicians in the main parties. And if the parliamentary system comes to be seen as both unfair and ineffectual, then it is in for a crisis of legitimacy.”

With FPTP stripped of its main justification, other arguments are also coming to the fore. In The Lottery Election, published last month by the Electoral Reform Society, Professor John Curtice argues that relatively small shifts in opinion could have massive effects at the Westminster level. Meanwhile, UKIP could come 6th in seats but 3rd in votes, and SNP could come 6th in votes but 3rd in seats. So far, so unfair.

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Opinion: Rotherham would be an ideal place to hold England’s first STV elections

The problems caused by one-party states are many, but the behaviour of Rotherham Labour in failing to their residents by running a council that was simply “not fit for purpose” shows one of the worst possible examples.

The lack of political challenge to Rotherham Labour resulted in a council that lacked even the basic ability to serve local people. It stands as one of the clearest examples of the failure of the current English council elections system.

Eric Pickles has already announced that Rotherham will move to all-up elections from 2016, but this is insufficient to change the underlying problem of the lack of political challenge in Rotherham.

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Opinion: Achievable electoral reform for 2015

Securing an initial cross-party agreement is rarely enough to deliver constitutional reform. The dilemma for proponents of proportional voting is that such a fundamental change will always require a lengthy period of consultation. This time is a boon for the backroom operators in the big parties looking to backpedal, backstab, and poison the water. Ask Labour or the Tories for proper voting reform and what you will get is a long-term commitment that is lukewarm and effectively worthless.

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Opinion: Electoral reform – How to

House of Commons at NightWe all know that electoral reform to both houses is important to us a party, quite rightly so. The current system is appalling, First Past The Post for the Commons does not bring fair votes for the electorate and at best only around 40% of voters voted for any government of the day (meaning of course 60% didn’t). The House of Lords is even worse, un-democratic and reeking of an old boys’ network.

However, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t have a two house system – of course we should. The scrutiny of a second chamber of government is vital to well thought out and properly debated laws and policy. But how do we get to the utopia of two proportionally elected chambers?

The answer is, I think, remarkably simple: piecemeal.

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Caroline Pidgeon writes… Power to the people – why conference paper has my backing

Last July I wrote a piece for Lib Dem Voice about devolving powers to London and other large cities. My article was drawing attention to a report published last summer called Raising the Capital (pdf). This report had been produced by the London Finance Commission, an authoritative and wide ranging group of experts from both inside and outside politics, and crucially including experts from Birmingham and Manchester and chaired by the highly respected Professor Travers of the London School of Economics.

The report highlighted that barely seven per cent of all the tax paid by …

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Opinion: 2016 is the year Bristol should adopt STV

Understanding the cycle of elections for local authorities can be a complicated process for the elector. Last year, a vote at Full Council resolved that Bristol City Council would change its cycle from ‘elections by thirds’ to whole council elections or ‘all ups’, to commence in 2016. This is a unique opportunity for Bristol to prove it’s not afraid for bold change and to introduce the Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral system for elections to the council.

Turnout in local authority elections in England has always been lower than for Westminster elections. By introducing proportional representation in the form of STV, …

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Would PR spell the end of the Liberal Democrats?

It is one of the biggest yet most under-appreciated ironies of British politics that the policy that unites the Liberal Democrat party membership in its most fervent rapture — the introduction of proportional voting to Westminster elections — is also, probably, the thing most likely, if implemented, to lead to the end of the party is we know it.

That is not to say that PR would necessarily lead to the break up of the party, but it is undeniable that majoritarian electoral systems force together the relatively broad coalitions that are the pre-requisite to winning elections.

The way in which individuals …

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Opinion: It’s time to prioritise electoral reform for local government

As Liberal Democrats, we all know First Past the Post is a terrible voting system. But in this year’s local elections it has sunk to new depths.

With the arrival of genuine four-party politics in England, the proportion of votes that actually make a difference to the result has reached an all-time low. And of the 16 county councils that returned a single party majority, not one of those ruling parties gained a majority of votes – in fact most got less than 40%.

This is not just a dry academic point or a moan about unfairness. It makes a real …

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Opinion: Could Nigel Farage’s success lead to cross-party support for proportional electoral reform?

The pain has almost ceased, yet it is clear many in the Liberal Democrats feel it is an opportunity lost for a political generation. Mark Pack’s five point plan for the next Liberal Democrat manifesto was clear in its advocacy of wholesale local election reform- a change to the way we elect our MPs to Westminster is no longer on the table. Yet if the political landscape on the right has shifted to the extent many believe, the opportunity may come sooner than expected.

Nigel Farage has become many things to many people: a crusader reliant on a

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Local government reform: a progress report from Spring Conference

Between the AV referendum and the House of Lords, the cause of electoral reform has taken a few punches recently. But this year’s Spring Conference showed that Liberal Democrats have far from given up the fight.

Member contributions at consultative sessions on Political & Constitutional Reform and the next General Election manifesto revealed a strong appetite for reform to local government elections in England and Wales. And the same issue was addressed in detail at a packed Saturday evening fringe entitled ‘Worst Past the Post: why local government desperately needs electoral reform’.

The event, jointly sponsored by Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform …

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New report from the ERS: Reviving the Health of Our Democracy

After months of independent research, the Electoral Reform Society has now published a report on Reviving the Health of Our Democracy. On the plus side, we discovered that most people are as politically charged as ever, albeit mostly through individualistic modes of participation such as single issue campaigns. The downside, of course, is that they feel less and less like their political ideas and aspirations can be reached via traditional representative democracy. Turnout at most sets of local elections is now below forty percent. Even more alarmingly, last year’s Hansard Audit of Political Engagement discovered that the percentage of people …

Posted in The Independent View | 8 Comments

Opinion: Worst past the post? Debating electoral reform for local government

Last year in May, Scottish voters were given the chance to vote using the Single Transferable Vote to select their local councillors for the second time since the introduction of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act of 2004. The Bill owes its life to the Liberal Democrats; it was a key demand for us entering into the Lib-Lab coalition government in Scotland. Almost ten years on from when the Bill became law, STV has done what it says on the tin. It has produced almost proportional results (exact proportionality is pretty much impossible under any system), it has almost doubled the …

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Eastleigh shows why the Tories and Labour should now support PR in local elections

imageIf only, if only… Instead of holding out for a referendum on the Alternative Vote the Lib Dem negotiators had secured proportional representation for all local council elections instead.

Hindsight’s easy, I know. At the time of negotiating the Coalition Agreement, electoral reform at Westminster was the party’s deal-breaker. The Lib Dem vote had gone up by a million, our number of MPs down by five. The public were in favour, or so the polls said. It’s possible the party wouldn’t even have approved entering the Coalition if the Westminster voting system had been left untouched.

And yet, and yet… Proportional representation at a local council level would’ve been a far more transformational way of shifting the power dynamics in this country, of introducing genuine electoral competition into contests up and down the country. Eastleigh shows us how.

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Opinion: We feel the handbrake of history on our Liberal reforming.

I doubt it’s gone unnoticed, but there are rather a lot of Tories in parliament.

Some 306 Tory MPs were elected in May 2010 (47% of the total on 36.1% of the vote), compared to a meagre 57 Lib Dems (only 9%, despite the party actually getting 23.0% of the vote).

And so the Lib Dems in parliament have had quite a battle to achieve their successes so far in government.

First Past the Post is neither a fair, nor a kind system …

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Opinion: Where now on Electoral Reform? (France!)

Electoral reform is off the public agenda for now whether we like it or not, but campaigners should be planning the future.

Some argue that the deceptions of the “No” campaign means that a re-run could be won if only the honest arguments are put and/or full PR was offered. But idea that we should have “another go” at similar arguments for AV+ or STV and expect a different outcome is wrong. All the arguments against AV are even stronger so for AV+ and STV. They will be defeated by an alliance of Tory and Labour tribalists, just as AV and House of Lords reform were.

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Opinion: Boundary changes are an opportunity to elect 50 MPs by PR

The current proposals for electoral boundary changes include the idea that the number of constituencies and MPs should be reduced from 650 to 600. My suggestion is this: let’s keep the overall number of MPs at 650, and let’s agree to reduce the number of constituency MPs to 600 on the condition that the other 50 (less than 10%) are elected from party lists on the basis of proportional representation.

In a democracy, all votes should be equal. Votes will never be equal in the UK until the country adopts the proportional representation (PR) voting system. Under the ‘first past the …

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Psst! Whatever you do, don’t tell the Tories democratic reform is in their own best interests

A few weeks ago I wrote an article for Conservative Home offering some unsolicited advice to David Cameron’s party. I argued that a party that had achieved electoral success in the 1980s by appealing to the classless entrepreneurialism of aspirant ‘Middle England’ had once again become established in the electorate’s eyes as the party of established wealth and privilege. If the Tories want to regain the voters they have lost, they need to take drastic action to counter that view.

Reform of the House of Lords was one policy area I said the Tories should seek to make their …

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Liblink: Andrew Duff MEP “Why do MEPs fear electoral reform?”

Andrew Duff, Liberal Democrat MEP for the East of England has written for EU Observer about his attempts to change the electoral system for MEPs. He wants to see 25 MEPs elected on a pan European basis, a proposal he believes will improve the legitimacy of the Parliament:

Now the Union is moving to greater fiscal discipline and the probable installation of a more federal type of economic government which will have to be made directly accountable to Parliament. But do we sincerely believe that the European Parliament has attracted the desirable levels of loyalty and identification of the EU citizens

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A new start: Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform

On Saturday, 10th March, at Spring Conference in Gateshead, we launched a new organisation – Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform. At the moment, LDER has over 70 members and is aiming to gain the status of an Accredited Organisation (AO) at the earliest possible opportunity.

Electoral reform is not exactly a new cause, you might think, and the voters have told us exactly what they think about it. As I went around the conference centre asking Liberal Democrats to sign up for LDER, I was asked repeatedly: ‘Why electoral reform?’ ‘Why …

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