Author Archives: Chris Rennard

Lord Rennard writes… Individual Electoral Registration: a journey from Tory instincts to Lib Dem legislation

In 2003, the Electoral Commission recommended that Great Britain should follow the example of Northern Ireland and move to a system of Individual Electoral Registration (IER), where everyone fills in their own form. Labour havered for six years, fearing that ‘their’ voters might not register individually. It took until 2009 for them to introduce framework legislation to bring in individual registration at some future point, with no guarantees as to exactly when.

When the Coalition took office, the two parties agreed to speed up Labour’s glacial process.  Ministers settled on a transitional period encompassing the next General Election. The new system …

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Chris Rennard writes… Marking the great Sutton and Cheam by-election victory with Sir Trevor Jones

Just over forty years ago, the Liberal Party was on 8.5% in the polls. The chair of the London Young Liberals, Graham Tope, was the party’s candidate for the Sutton and Cheam parliamentary by-election. Few people believed that a Liberal win was possible.  We had come third in 1970, some 17,000 votes behind the Conservatives.

Some people prominent in the national party were dismissive of the ‘community politics’ campaign that was brought to the by-election by a Liverpool Councillor called Trevor Jones.  Possibly the first ‘Focus’ leaflets outside Liverpool were produced for that by-election promoting the local Liberal campaigning led by …

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Chris Rennard writes… Liberal Democrat News RIP

In 1945 the Liberal News was a receipt for your weekly Liberal Party subscription. As a weekly newspaper, it outlasted Conservative and Labour Party rivals by some decades. Week by week party members, and a handful of others, were reminded of what the Liberal Party was up to when the mainstream media paid scant attention to it.

At times, when Liberal members could only dream of the days when the party might return to Government, Liberal News (and then Liberal Democrat News) reported on the great by-election breakthroughs like Orpington, Edge Hill, Eastbourne, Newbury and Brent East. At other times, the best that it could do to sustain hope was to feature an occasional parish council by-election win.

As someone who helped to organise many of the most spectacular by-election wins, I knew that the party paper also helped to bring

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Chris Rennard writes: How can we make sure that people can vote?

Just before the Summer recess, the House of Lords began formal consideration of the hugely significant Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. Among other things this introduces Individual Electoral Registration (IER) for Great Britain. The system has been in operation in Northern Ireland since 2002.

I was closely in involved in working with other Liberal Democrats to change the proposals first put forward in the Government’s white paper which could have had the effect of significantly reducing the levels of voter registration in Great Britain. Mark Williams wrote about them

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Chris Rennard writes… Restoring balance to the Coalition

Nick Clegg’s statement dropping Lords Reform in this Parliament should come as no surprise following David Cameron’s failure to persuade barely half of his backbench MPs to support the Government’s Bill on this.

Two years ago, Conservative MPs were supporting a Queen’s Speech that made explicit the Coalition agreement to elect members of the House of Lords through Proportional Representation.

The Coalition Agreement is the contract that underwrites this government. In its name many Liberal Democrats have voted for compromises in legislation that we would not on our own have put forward.

So, the question is what to do when one side fails to honour its side of the contract?

You act swiftly and decisively, even ruthlessly, as Nick Clegg has done, to redress the balance. Hence, the boundary changes are no more.

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Chris Rennard writes…The inspiration behind Alcoholics Anonymous

Last week I was asked to speak to a group of charity fundraisers in Geneva. You can see my speech below this article on YouTube.

I was asked to inspire them based on work that I had done with the Liberal Democrats as a senior manager between 1989 and 2009 to help spend resources more effectively, raise substantially more money from large donors and make the party more electorally successful.

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Chris Rennard writes: Dick Newby to be new Liberal Democrat Chief Whip in the House of Lords

Lord Newby (Dick Newby) has just been appointed as the new Liberal Democrat Chief Whip in the House of Lords. This appointment is made by Tom McNally (as our Leader in the House of Lords) and at the same time Nick Clegg has asked Dick to serve as Government Deputy Chief Whip in the House. Dick will take up his duties in time for the State Opening of Parliament on 9th May.

Dick is a greatly respected and much liked figure amongst all those who have worked with him (and in roles in which it is sometimes difficult to be both). …

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Chris Rennard writes… 50 years after the Orpington by-election

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Chris Rennard writes… Who will win the debate between Shirley Williams and Polly Toynbee?

I spent some of last Saturday morning in the briefing session at the Lib Dem Conference with the Lib Dem parliamentary health team sitting just in front of Andrew Sparrow and Patrick Wintour (both of the Guardian) as Shirley Williams laid into Polly Toynbee’s account in their paper of a key amendment on the Health Bill. For those of us who are fed up with Toynbee’s ‘tribal’ attacks on the Lib Dems it was a joy to listen to.

Andrew Sparrow wrote a great account of Shirley’s clear rebuttal of the Toynbee attack. He tweeted that, “It …

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Chris Rennard writes… How to keep people with diabetes out of hospital

On Tuesday, I helped to launch a report ‘Keeping People with Diabetes out of Hospital‘. As a person with diabetes, I know only too well the pressure that our diabetes care services are under.

Whether I’m speaking to my Diabetes Specialist Nurse, to my consultant, or to my colleagues in Westminster, it is clear that the ‘diabetes epidemic’ is increasingly being recognised as of major concern. Of the 2.9 million people in the UK living with diabetes, a worrying proportion will suffer additional complications and will require hospital care. In the last year alone, another 130,000 people have been …

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Chris Rennard writes… Can we tell what will happen in four years?

Four years ago, David Cameron was on the run.

The Conservatives had ‘thrown the kitchen sink’ into winning the Ealing Southall by-election in the summer of 2007 and they had raised expectations of a Tory victory based on the appointment of a well known local Asian businessman as ‘David Cameron’s Conservative candidate’ in a seat with a lot of Conservative Councillors.

But on polling day, the Conservatives not only failed to win the by-election (or even overtake the Lib Dems), but they fell from second place to third in the parliamentary by-election in Sedgfield following Tony …

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Chris Rennard writes… Why David Owen is wrong on the AV referendum

David Owen chose the weekend of the Lib Dem Conference to offer his advice for the AV referendum. Having attacked the ‘First Past the Post’ voting system so vociferously for many years, it may seem odd to some people that he now urges support for this system on May 5th. He says that he hopes for a referendum with an option of a Proportional Representation system instead.

Almost all those people who have consistently supported the cause of electoral reform for much longer than he has take a different view. It is very clear that voting against change on May …

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Chris Rennard writes… So what was all the fuss in Parliament about?

Late on Wednesday night Nick Clegg was at the back of the House of Lords to see Royal Assent granted to the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill.

His presence there emphasised his achievement in getting this Bill through Parliament in time to enable the referendum on switching to the Alternative Vote to take place on May 5th.

Of course people may not vote to change from First Past the Post. But I have never thought that any measure of electoral reform for Westminster would come about without a referendum. The self-preservation instincts of many MPs means that they are never …

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Chris Rennard writes: The row over the AV referendum will bring forward major changes in the House of Lords

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill has now had a longer Committee stage in the House of Lords than any legislation taken there since at least 1945. The Bill is not a particularly complicated Bill when compared with, say, the last Labour Government’s Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. Labour’s last constitutional Bill covered thirteen different areas of constitutional reform (including an AV referendum) and was dealt with in the Commons in a few days by use of a ‘Programme Motion’ (guillotine).

The PVSC Bill has been subject to an extensive and well organised filibuster on Labour’s benches abusing …

Posted in Op-eds and Parliament | Tagged , , , , , and | 56 Comments

Lord Rennard writes… Lord Blackadder, Baldrick, by-elections and reform of the Lords

The House of Lords debated (again) this week the second reading of David Steel’s Bill to make some very modest and minor reforms to the House of Lords.

I compared the process of by-elections to elect hereditary peers to the campaign run by Lord Blackadder to elect Baldrick in the rotten borough of Dunny on the Wold. David Steel’s Bill would end these by-elections and allow peers to retire voluntarily. A much more fundamental draft Bill for Lords reform is expected early next year.

But this debate showed again how hard it will be to achieve fundamental reform of the House of Lords.

The …

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Chris Rennard writes… The battle for electoral reform in the Lords

Battle has been joined in the House of Lords over the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (generally referred to as the PVSC Bill). Having passed all stages in the Commons, it came to the Lords this week. It needs to get to Royal Assent by the end of January for the referendum on using the Alternative Vote for future Westminster elections to be held on May 5th next year.

Two controversial measures have been put together in one Bill as part of the coalition agreement.  The Government won every vote in the Commons on this Bill with comfortable majorities. But Labour’s …

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Chris Rennard writes… Liu Xiaobo needs to know people in Britain are appalled

I have succeeded in tabling a topical question for the House of Lords tomorrow:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, and if so how, they will raise concerns about the imprisonment of the Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo during the Prime-Minister’s visit to China.

This follows me raising the issue on the World at One and in the Guardian because my view is that doing good business in not incompatible with publicly calling for respect for human rights and freedom of speech.

Liu Xiaobo needs to know that people in Britain are appalled that he was sent …

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The 12 Op-Eds of Xmas (Day 12)

Throughout the festive season, LDV has offered our readers a load of repeats another chance to read the 12 most popular opinion articles which have appeared on the blog during 2008. The accolade for most-read article on LDV goes to Lib Dem chief executive Lord (Chris) Rennard, and appeared on LDV on 27th June…

Chris Rennard writes about the Henley result…

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Chris Rennard writes about the Henley result…

I am enjoying this debate and for the record:

1) I don’t always comment in detail on things read by our opponents – but I do welcome any constructive debate within the party on these issues – especially contributions from those who also work hard in these campaigns.

2) I am not generally “hands on” in the organisation and management of our by-elections these days (unlike when I was Director of Campaigns & Elections 1989-2003 or a member of the team in various by-elections from Edge Hill in 1979 to Greenwich in 1987). But as Chief Executive (in the structure debated and …

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Opinion: Happy birthday, 20 years on

It’s 20 years ago to the day since the Liberal Party and SDP formally became one party, the Social & Liberal Democrats. Liberal Democrat Voice invited Chris Rennard to take a trip down memory lane…

Twenty years ago the ‘merger’ of the Liberal Party and the SDP was generally seen by the media more as a ‘split’ than it was a bringing together of two parties.

Anthony King and Ivor Crewe, in their history of the SDP, have an absolutely damning section on the conduct of David Owen and his clutch of supporters over this period.

The acrimonious ballot of SDP …

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