Clegg on AV referendum bill: “We must make the system fair. We must put people back in charge.”

The BBC reports:

Plans to change the way MPs are elected have cleared the first Commons hurdle. A bill introducing a referendum on changing the voting system, changes to constituency boundaries and fewer MPs, was backed by 328 votes to 269.

Labour says the changes would affect Labour-supporting areas and said the bill was “political skulduggery”. Tory opponents of the referendum said it could cost £100m but deputy PM Nick Clegg said it would restore “people’s faith in the way they elect their MPs”.

Despite criticism, the bill passed with a majority of 59 and a Labour bid to kill it off was defeated by 347 votes to 254.

And here’s an excerpt from Nick Clegg’s speech to the Commons moving the bill to introduce the alternative vote:

Fewer, more equally sized and more up-to-date constituencies will help to bolster the legitimacy of parliamentary elections. However, in parallel with that step, we must address the question of reform of our voting system. Some believe that we are better served by sticking with the current system, which, they say, benefits from its familiarity and strong constituency link. Others believe that it leads to too many safe seats, giving many MPs jobs for life with only minority support from their constituents. Advocates of AV note that it would retain the current constituency link, but that it would give people more say over their vote by allowing them to rank candidates in order of preference. As a general rule, therefore, MPs would come to Westminster with the support of the majority of their voters. …

There are members of the Government who hold contrasting views on these systems. Come the referendum, there will be those of us who campaign on different sides. We emphatically agree, however, that the final decision should be made not by us, but by the British people. Despite our differences on this matter, that is the shared position of the Government, and I hope that the Opposition will be able to support it as well. We propose that the referendum should ask a straightforward question: do voters want to replace the current first-past-the-post system with the alternative vote system, yes or no? If there is a “yes” vote in the referendum, the alternative vote system will come into force together with the new parliamentary boundaries.

The reforms that the Bill proposes are at once significant and simple. Ensuring that people’s votes are more equal and giving voters a say over their voting system are both important reforms. They are about correcting unfairness in the way voters elect their representatives and putting power in the hands of people. If we together cannot deliver these reforms, we will have to ask ourselves what we really meant when each of us promised our constituents that we would seek to reform and strengthen our politics. We promised a new politics. Today is the day we must begin to deliver on that promise. We must make the system fair. We must put people back in charge. I commend the Bill to the House.

Ten Conservative MPs voted against the Coalition bill:

    Brian Binley (Northampton South)
    Peter Bone (Wellingborough)
    Bill Cash (Stone)
    Christopher Chope (Christchurch)
    Philip Davies (Shipley)
    Philip Hollobone (Kettering)
    David Nuttall (Bury North)
    Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
    Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)
    Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)
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21 Comments

  • Hooray!

  • Alex – what did you expect Re: Labour? They had a referendum on the books in 1997 and never went through with it, why anyone expected them to stick with a manifesto pledge on something the party as a whole (not their supporters and some MPs!) never wanted in the first place is beyond me!

  • Liberal Neil 7th Sep '10 - 10:03am

    Was Andrew Turner’s motivation opposition to AV or opposition to splitting up the Isle of Wight?

  • Neil – strongly suspect it was the latter!

  • Andrew Turner’s opposition is purely based on splitting the Isle of Wight into two and not based on AV, He is also strongly backed by Jill Wareham, former Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for the Island, not to mention a large section of Island residents, The website http://www.onewight.org.uk/ can fully explain the details.
    Speaking for myself I support AV but not the splitting of the island joining a part to the mainland which I totally disagree with, either the Island should be kept as it is or have two MPs

  • Colin Green 7th Sep '10 - 10:54am

    Its an interesting point Nige. Do you really want Wight to be under represented in parliament? Or would you rather have over representation like Orkney and Shetland? (There are no wrong answers BTW). Personally I think that fair votes are more important than geographical boundaries but you should feel free to differ.

  • @ Colin
    Obviously I would personally like the Island to be over represented with two MPs, that would be the best possible outcome for Islanders (and a little selfish admittedly) but if that isn’t feasible I would rather to under represented by a candidate that understands Island life and the unique problems that Islanders face than I would a candidate based in a city, that would be either Portsmouth or Southampton btw.

  • Further to my comment above concerning the Isle of Wight, This is a Link to the Islands Libdem website
    http://www.iowlibdems.org.uk/news/000077/onewight_campaign.html
    It makes a very good point and one that I am in agreement with.

  • Wouldn’t the Isle of Wight having two MPs be a good precedent for introducing STV? 😉

  • Anthony Aloysius St 7th Sep '10 - 1:20pm

    “Others believe that it leads to too many safe seats, giving many MPs jobs for life with only minority support from their constituents.”

    Has it actually been demonstrated that AV would reduce the number of “safe seats” significantly (or at all)? If so, it would be nice to see the data.

  • @ Benejamin
    while I personally would prefer a 2-seat solution for IW – perhaps also giving Ynys Mon the same reprieve in Wales, the situation you describe is not wholly accurate. A seat covering the West of the Island and linked via the Yarmouth ferry to the New Forest would consist of two parts with very similar rural and small town characteristics. We need not end up with a cross-Solent seat involving bits of city centre and bits of Ryde.

    That is one possible scenario yes and although I agree that West Wight and New Forest are similar in nature there is/would be problems there as well such as described on the local libdem website http://www.iowlibdems.org.uk/news/000077/onewight_campaign.html
    The other options I’ve heard are to link East and West Cowes and part of Newport to Southampton or as you have mentioned Ryde and part of Newport to Portsmouth, the latter two are wholly unacceptable and the problems with the first would make for a differcult seat to say the least.

  • Malcolm Todd 7th Sep '10 - 4:21pm

    Nick Clegg:

    We emphatically agree, however, that the final decision should be made not by us, but by the British people.

    Really? Odd, then, that neither party put it in their manifesto. Since when did Liberal Democrats believe that the FPTP system should be retained unless a referendum votes to abolish it? Did I miss something in May?

  • Lib Dem support will be enough to turn the public against AV, it’s already started and the referendum will be a rout.

  • Stuart Mitchell 7th Sep '10 - 7:07pm

    Nick Clegg: “As a general rule, therefore, MPs would come to Westminster with the support of the majority of their voters…”

    Anyone of moderate intelligence who understands AV can recognise immediately why Clegg’s oft-made claim is simply untrue. Any campaign based on this sort of misleading tosh will deserve to fail dismally.

  • Stuart Mitchell 7th Sep '10 - 7:13pm

    Alternatively, perhaps Clegg doesn’t actually *understand* AV – in which case, what hope have the voters?

  • Paul McKeown 9th Sep '10 - 1:04pm

    Very funny article from Robert Halfon, a rather confused Tory MP: http://conservativehome.blogs.com/centreright/2010/09/conservatives-should-reform-first-past-the-post.html

    He is recommending preserving FPTP, but improving it by holding a run off after a first round which has eliminated all but the top two candidates.

    As AV is also known Instant Run-off Voting, it does rather show that much of the Tory opposition is simply an ill informed knee-jerk rejection of change, without examining the issues behind the proposals, or indeed understanding the basic mechanics of the proposals at all. However, that being as it is, it does rather suggest two things to me. Firstly, any Lib Dem MP who happens to see this Robert Halfon MP, should bump into him, accidentally on purpose, strike up a conversation, and manufacture a Damascene conversion to FPTP with electoral run-offs. If you could put this through without a referendum, the Lib Dems could rest happy, yet tell the Tories how clever they are! And if you could put this through with a referendum, but with Tory support for the yes campaign, idem ditto.

    Secondly, doesn’t this just illustrate that much of the argument is semantic in nature? To get the Sun’s seal of approval, shouldn’t the AV yes campaign start pointing out that all that is being proposed is a minor improvement to First Past the Post, which is designed to improve the legitimacy of the MPs elected, whilst maintaining the current constituency link.

    For those who are not quite up to speed, can I recommend they look at another post on LDV, https://www.libdemvoice.org/lib-dems-in-1st-or-2nd-place-in-almost-300-seats-across-uk-19420.html

    This Tory’s proposal, if it had been used at the last General Election, would put the LDs into nigh on 300 of the run offs, which probably would have seen 100 to 200 Lib Dem MPs in the current parliament. That argument, of course, is also a partisan argument for Lib Dems to favour AV, although no doubt, the instant run-off would be rather less favourable.

    Any thoughts, people?

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