Electoral reform: It’s not enough to believe in it…

Why, as Lib Dems, we must campaign for proportional representation

As Liberal Democrats, electoral reform is in our DNA. That’s why we welcome the ongoing efforts of our ally organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society, Make Votes Matter, and Unlock Democracy. After all, we know that we cannot  bring about the change we want to see by acting alone.

As Lib Dem members our involvement in cross-party campaign efforts is all to the good. I encourage any who are not yet active in these groups to sign up today!

But I believe that we also need to campaign for electoral reform as Liberal Democrats. Why?

First, because it is Party policy and it reflects our core values.

Achieving proportional representation is Lib Dem policy and as candidates and campaigners it is our job to communicate that, and to communicate why.

Electoral reform is grounded in our core values. At our Autumn Party Conference, we passed a policy motion concluding that we stand for (amongst other things):

  • Democracy – through which every individual is empowered to make their voice heard without being dominated by entrenched interests or the power of money;
  • checks and balances – so that those in power cannot abuse their position for personal gain or political advantage; and
  • a plurality of views – where no individual or organisation is deterred from speaking truth to power.

Our current Westminster electoral system and the system for local elections in England are fundamentally inconsistent with these values. First past the post disempowers voters and reinforces entrenched interests, leads to monopoly authorities and, almost by definition, does nothing to encourage a plurality of views.

To steal the shorthand used by Jon Alexander from the Social Liberal Forum: as Liberal Democrats we believe in people – and we believe in giving people power. That is why electoral reform matters to us.

Let’s explain this to the electorate, so that they understand more about who we are and the beliefs that guide us.

Secondly, we should campaign for electoral reform as Lib Dems because it could win us votes.

A few months ago, a Best for Britain poll found that a majority of voters (52%) support some form of electoral reform. Two thirds of voters who voted Labour in the 2019 General Election say they support proportional representation. Perhaps more significantly there is also support for reform among the Conservative’s traditional voter base. Indeed, half of the voters who voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election say they support a change in the Westminster voting system. There may be votes to be won from disillusioned Conservatives by talking about PR,

Even if I haven’t convinced you that electoral reform is a potential vote-winner, there are still three good reasons to talk about it:

  • It’s unlikely to lose us votes. I have never met anyone on the doorstep who says “I’m not going to vote for you because of your support for PR.”
  • We should be on the right side of history. It’s fantastic that the Labour Party is increasingly coming in behind electoral reform. Implausible as it may have seemed a few years ago, it is now entirely possible that when we’re out on the doors we start hearing something along the lines of “I’m not voting for you. I’m voting for Labour because they support proportional representation”. Although we may feel as though we have been hanging on about electoral reform since the dawn of time, most voters still do not know where we stand on the issue. We need to tell them.
  • We should prime our existing supporters. If there is to be a possibility of reform, voters need to be primed for it: aware that there is an alternative to our current system, with an understanding of the benefits that will come with that alternative. We need to continue to demystify electoral reform so that, when the time is right, it will be welcomed by Lib Dem voters – that it was part of their contract with us when they gave us their vote.

So why not take the plunge and start campaigning on electoral reform as a Liberal Democrat. You can join Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform and share our content on your local party Facebook and Twitter. Connect electoral reform to local issues in your campaign literature. Include a question on electoral reform in your canvass scripts and surveys. And talk about it – on the doorstep, in your local media, and in your hustings!

After all, we stand for democracy, for checks and balances, and for a plurality of views. We believe in people. We believe in giving people power. So we believe in electoral reform. And a whole load of other great stuff too!

* Sarah Lewis is LDER Executive Committee Member and Parliamentary Spokesperson for Vauxhall

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  • Peter Martin 31st Oct '21 - 10:31am

    “It’s unlikely to lose us votes. ”

    Are you sure about that?

    The assumption the Lib Dems have always made is that a current N% of the votes will translate into a future N% of seats.

    However the political landscape would very likely look quite different under PR. The Labour Party would probably split into Socialist and Social Democratic Factions. Then we’d have the Tories and the Far Right. We’d probably end up with a similar structure to Germany with (from left to right) their Die Linke, Die Grunen, SPD, CSU/CDU, FDP, and AfD

    Note that there is no equivalent to the Lib Dems to the left of their Conservative Parties.

  • Michael Cole 31st Oct '21 - 10:53am

    Peter Martin’s negative comments are irrelevant.

    I have long advocated active campaigning for electoral reform by the Party. There is little sign of it yet but I am pleased that Sarah Lewis has brought it to our attention.

    I would urge members to support the excellent Tom Brake and his ‘Unlock Democracy’ movement.

  • Brad Barrows 31st Oct '21 - 11:15am

    The core argument that has to be won to achieve electoral reform is whether the primary purpose of a General Election is to elect a government or to elect a representative parliament. If the former, FPTP has the advantage of usually leading to a clear victory for one party with a clear manifesto and a Parliament with a majority to help deliver its programme. If the latter, a variety of electoral systems exist which lead to representative parliaments being elected. People who believe that a General Election is primarily about electing the next government will, rightly, believe that using proportional representation would transfer the power to choose the next government to the political parties after the election and away from the voters on Election Day. I personally joined the Electoral Reform Society while a student but was completely shaken when in Germany, in 1982, the Free Democrats reneged on a coalition deal with the SDP and instead joined in coalition with the CDU – without there having been a general election. This illustrated the danger of an electoral system giving disproportionate power to a small political party to be able to determine the political direction of the country (and, in this example, not even involving the voters.) Today I still support a move to STV for elections at all levels as I believe this system weakens the power of political parties to determine which party candidates are selected and elected which I think is necessary to compensate for giving more power to political parties to determine the government that emerges from negotiations following elections in proportional voting systems. So, yes we need to campaign for electoral reform but we must also, as part of that campaign, persuade voters that strengthening the role of parliament and weakening the power and significance of the government is also a necessary part of electoral reform.

  • This seems sensible, we need to let our Voters know where we stand & we need to get the electorate (as a whole) used to the idea.

    Labour do seem to be slowly shifting our way on this – just in the last Week we have seen the largest Union back Electoral Reform & The Welsh First Minister making a speech in favour of change.

  • Andrew Tampion 31st Oct '21 - 11:39am

    i agree with Brad Barrows. Successful electoral reform must ensure that the voters not political parties determine which candidate is elected.

  • nigel hunter 31st Oct '21 - 11:55am

    I agree with this article.It will not only educate the voter on alternatives to FPTP and ,equally,give feedback to what voters think.From that we can ‘ feel the mood’ of how to campaign (or not) for a GE.

  • John Marriott 31st Oct '21 - 12:04pm

    Changing the way we select our MPs or councillors should not be about trying to gain political advantage, as I have written many, many times. It’s about getting what you deserve, namely, if you get 10% of the votes you should get 10% of the available seats etc.

    The problem, as far as a General Election is concerned, is that, in theory, you are voting for someone to represent you in Parliament. However, most people probably, when voting, are not really interested in the candidate, but rather the party they wish to support. The fact that this position is not always replicated in local elections is sadly more to do with in how little esteem local government is held amongst the electorate as a whole. That’s why a hardworking local council candidate can often succeed despite the party they may represent. I reckon I and other non Tories proved that in Lincolnshire, in my case, over a period of thirty years.

    I hate to disagree with Brad Barrows; but his analogy of, for example, the FDP in Germany, is slightly flawed. You see, Brad, up until that old ‘three party system’ broke down after 1989, West German voters knew perfectly well, that what they used to refer to as “das Zünglein an der Waage” aka the FDP would be there to give a majority in the almost inevitable event of a hung Parliament. After the 5% threshold was introduced for the second Federal elections in 1953, only once has a single party ever won an absolute majority, namely Adenauer’s 1956 to 1959 CDU/CSU administration.

    The problem, as I see it, with STV, is that it weakens the link between the MP and their constituents. If all you are interested in is electing a government, then that’s fine. Call me old fashioned if you like; but I’m not. That’s why a system that elects around half its MPs by FPTP or even AV from individual constituencies and around the same numbers by PR from regional lists, as happens in Germany, makes more sense. Whatever happens, we have got to wean people off the idea that any democratic election can always deliver a clear cut result.

    Liberal Democrats, whose support is, let’s be honest, never going to rise above around 25 to 30% with a favourable wind, should be supporting PR, not only because it might deliver them the seats commensurate with their support in the country as a whole, but above all because it is fair and just. No more and no less.

  • Brad Barrows 31st Oct '21 - 12:34pm

    @John Marriott
    I think the issue of the German example I quoted was that the Free Democrats had been regular coalition partners of the SDP for several successive governments and most voters who voted for them in 1980 would have expected a similar outcome if the Free Democrats retained their ‘kingmaker’ position. A coalition between the Free Democrats and the SDP did emerge from the 1980 election but, two years later, the Free Democrats used their position to swing Germany from a centre-left path to a centre-right path by ditching the SDP and joining the CDU with voters completely cut out of the process. I believe the Free Democrats lost around a fifth of their membership due to their actions. My point in raising this example was to illustrate that we want to ensure that electoral reform does not merely hand the power to choose the government to a small party that may be made kingmaker – remember it is more likely that the SNP would be in this position rather than the Liberal Democrats – but is also part of a reform that gives voters more power in the process. Therefore STV, to ensure the maximum power to voters, is the ideal voting system, and not a system that allows the parties to choose which candidates get elected (like list systems) and also to chose which government gets elected.

  • John Marriott 31st Oct '21 - 1:25pm

    @Brad Barrows
    From 1949 to the late 1980s every West German government except for one was a coalition between at least two of the largest political parties. Except for the ‘Große Koalition of 1966 to 1969, every one involved the FDP.

    Surely that’s the way things tend to work out under PR. It’s the nature of the beast. You are never going to please everyone nor are you going to stop aspiring politicians coming together under a banner. The problem is that parties, in order to exploit the present system, tend to come together as ‘broad churches’. As for handing power to a “small party” that’s surely the inevitable consequence of pluralism. Unless, of course, you want a system like that in the USA where two parties really do win all of the prizes. As long as a ‘government’ represents in theory at least 50% of those who voted, that’s fine by me, regardless of whether the main element is either blue or red.

  • Laurence Cox 31st Oct '21 - 1:52pm

    Whilst I support STV as the preferred approach for electoral reform, at the same time it is important to recognize that it has some drawbacks in areas of very low population density, specifically the Highlands of Scotland to the north-west of the Great Glen. Here even the smallest STV constituency (3-member) would require the area of the whole of this part of the Highlands. As we already accept the island constituencies Na h-Eileanan an Iar and Orkney & Shetland as natural constituencies, even though they do not meet the population criteria, we should do the same for this part of the Highlands with single-member constituencies elected by AV. We should not be too purist by demanding STV everywhere when it goes against natural communities.

  • Andrew Tampion 31st Oct '21 - 2:21pm

    John Marriott;
    i think we’ve had the argument before. The problem with list systerms is that they give power to whoever decides who is on the list and the order of candidates on the list.
    Also it’s not a question of weaning voters off fptp but of persuading of the benefits of the proposed new system.

  • Peter Hirst 31st Oct '21 - 2:25pm

    Sarah is right that electoral reform underpins much of what we stand for. We are often accused of not standing for anything so here is our chance at least until Labour gets fully on board. I hesitate to say PR is a panacea though it is the closest thing we’ve got so why not use it more?

  • Nonconformistradical 31st Oct '21 - 2:34pm

    @Andrew Tampion
    “The problem with list systems is that they give power to whoever decides who is on the list and the order of candidates on the list.”
    Hence it being preferred system among proportional systems of more authoritarian parties?

    “Also it’s not a question of weaning voters off fptp but of persuading of the benefits of the proposed new system.”
    Agree. And in support of STV we might might point out to people that in multi-member seats – no lists, no party control apart from which candidates of that party will stand.

    So that a voter could for example cast some of their early preferences for candidates from the party they generally support but if there was also a candidate from another party who was doing good work, e.g. for disabled people, and who they considered would be a useful person to have in Parliament they could give that candidate a reaonsably high preference as well. I had in mind people such as the late Jack Ashley for his campaigning work for the disabled.

    I do think the party hasn’t been vocal enough about the merits of STV and the power it gives to voters.

  • Crispin Allard 31st Oct '21 - 3:42pm

    Well done Sarah for posting this. As Lib Dems, we too often shy away from promoting PR, which has been one of our key policies for nearly 100 years – through fear that voters aren’t interested or we will appear self-serving.

    The key thing is to present it from the voters’ perspective: it’s not about party advantage, it’s about ensuring the voters get what they voted for. And make it relevant by explaining how FPTP distorts government policy and spending priorities.

    Finally, don’t get distracted by the systems debate. Yes, it’s worth knowing how at least one PR system works, in case you get asked (e.g. explain that we as a party favour STV because it gives maximum power to the voter not the party). But keep it ad simple as possible, just enough to help make the argument stick.

  • @ Sarah Lewis “As Liberal Democrats, electoral reform is in our DNA”.

    I’m not so sure that has always been the case, Sarah, especially when Liberals actually had the power to introduce it. When the Lloyd George Coalition Government was in power, and after a Speakers Conference, PR was on the agenda to be included in the Representation of the People Act of 1918 which widened the franchise to include women over thirty.

    The matter was supported, perversely, by the House of Lords. It wasintroduced by the (Liberal) Education Minister H.A.L. Fisher and debated in the House of Commons on 13th of May, 1918 (four days after the infamous ‘Maurice Debate’). The debate and members votes are in Hansard : Proportional Representation HC Deb 13 May 1918 vol 106 cc63-117.

    A number of Liberal M.P.’s spoke and voted against PR (Asquith and Lloyd George abstained, though Asquith did speak rather lukewarmly in the debate). The vote was lost by 166 votes to 110. Liberals had the opportunity and the blew it. Many Labour MPs were in the 110.

    It was only after the Liberal Party was reduced to a rump of 40 in 1924 that it appeared to become an attractive option and ‘part of the DNA’.

  • John Marriott 31st Oct '21 - 3:55pm

    What is wrong with a party list? It seemed to work quite well in the European Parliamentary elections (remember those?). I remember attending hustings and voting for candidates. I would call that democracy where I as an individual member had a say in the pecking order on the list and, in the East Midlands in particular, who came out on top with an outside chance of actually getting elected.

    Some of you are being naive. Whatever I might think of the current direction of travel of the Lib Dems, for example, they are an organisation with a philosophy and a programme which members can identify with, or not, as may be the case. Do we really want our Parliament to be peopled by ‘one man bands’? Do we really want a free-for-all? Whatever you may think about the SNP, they largely have discipline and seem more often than not to sing from the same hymn sheet, even if many of us do not like the lyrics!

  • I can’t believe it’s beyond human ingenuity to devise a list system that allows voters to have a say in whether they like candidates on the list. For example, a system in which people who have voted first preference for a particular party’s list then have the option to mark up or mark down individual candidates within that list. (Admittedly that particular solution would probably only work with electronic voting). Or, compel parties competing in the list system to run primaries that are open to the public (in that case, you’d probably want some system of voters being able to register as supporters of only one party first, in order to avoid people deliberately trying to spoil their opponent’s lists by voting for unpopular opponents).

    I’m giving these just as examples – any system would need to be carefully thought through to make sure it’s fair-ish, not open to abuse, and not too complicated. But I don’t think we should be confined purely to systems that are already in use.

    These are in any case very secondary concerns – the most important is to persuade more people of the need in principle for a more representative electoral system.

  • William Francis 31st Oct '21 - 10:10pm

    @David Raw

    The post-war coalition government was heavily reliant on Tory support, which greatly limited the capacity of the old Liberal Party to implement many reforms (as seen with the incomplete curbing of plural voting).

    In any case, given how a week is a long time in politics a policy position adopted and maintained for nearly a century counts as party DNA without qualification.

  • Andrew Tampion 1st Nov '21 - 6:57am

    The problem with list systems are that they could be implemented in ways that reduce voter choice. Of course solutions, as suggested by others above, are possible but they make the voting system more complex which is bad in itself.
    Consider the case of Neil Hamilton. First it would have been more difficult for Martin Bell to defeart him under a list system. Second with multi-member constituencies list system probably favour established party and penalise independents which is also a bad thing.
    More generally I think that advocates of changing the voting system tend to overlook the advanages of FPTP. Specifically simplicity, a clear result and making it easier for independents to stand. Failure to address these issues or treating them as trivial risks failing to achieve reform or worse transferring power from voters to political parties which is also bad.

  • John Marriott 1st Nov '21 - 8:49am

    @Andrew Tampion
    FPTP “a clear result”? Really?

    I’ll give you just two examples, both gleaned from local government elections in Lincolnshire.

    In the 2009 County Council Elections a certain Ms Andrea Jenkyns (yes, she who a few years later, having lost her seat in 2013, went on to beat Ed Balls in the 20015 GE) took Boston North West Division with 26.9% of the vote in a seven way contest.

    In the 2013 County Council Elections, yours truly prevailed for the fourth time in a field of four candidates with 31.6% of the votes. Clearly, had the UKIP candidate not had his name on the ballot paper (because, living in a local care home, that’s all he actually did) I would not have been able to retire undefeated in all local elections since 1987 four years later.

    You get my drift?

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Nov '21 - 9:28am

    @Andrew Tampion
    Why mention Martin Bell/Neil Hamilton when Labour and LDs stood aside in Tatton for the 1997 election? Making that particular election very exceptional.

    “I think that advocates of changing the voting system tend to overlook the advanages of FPTP. Specifically simplicity, a clear result and making it easier for independents to stand. ”
    As John Marriott has pointed out to you FPTP can deliver a result which in no way reflects the will of the majority of constituents.

    Simplicity? Are you implying (some) electorates might not be up to understanding any other method of voting apart from making one cross on the ballot paper? The people of Northern Ireland who use STV for local elections and the Assembly and the people of the Republic of Ireland who use STV for all elections seem to manage OK.

    STV doesn’t need lists. It gives control to voters. A voter can if they wish give all their high preferences to candidates from one party. But if they see fit they can spread preferences over candidates standing under a variety party labels and independents. The only ‘list’ over which a party has any control is which candidates are on a list is when they select candidates for a particular constituency and they don’t control the order of candidates on the list. It means candidates have to work at getting votes i.e. there is less chance of sitting around doing little on the grounds that “it’s a safe seat”.

  • John Bicknell 1st Nov '21 - 10:39am

    At most GEs the majority of seats will not change hands, and many of these are comfortably safe for the party in control. That can lead to complacency, and reduce the need for the MP to make more than a token effort toward voter engagement. The same is true in local government, where some councils have become one-party monopolies lasting decades. I think the public recognise this, hence the (theoretical) support for PR.
    If a change was subject to a referendum, though, there are a number of emotive arguments that would be used against it:
    1. FPTP is a clear, simple, easy to understand method of election.
    2. PR would lead to weak coalition governments.
    3. PR would give disproportionate power to small parties.
    4. PR could allow cranks and extremists to be elected.
    The intellectual basis for the above may be shallow, and all are capable of being repudiated, but, as the old adage goes, ‘whilst you’re explaining, you’re losing’, and, as we saw in the Brexit referendum, once an emotional argument begins to gather pace, it can be difficult to stop.
    I also think Sarah is a little optimistic about Labour’s position; yes, its membership is becoming more sympathetic towards PR, but the party sat on its hands at the time of the AV referendum, and its conference has recently voted down a motion to support PR. Starmer didn’t exactly throw his weight behind the motion – he was more interested in changing the party’s internal election rules, to block the chance of anyone from the left of the party assuming leadership in the future – which seems to be his priority.

  • I think complexity is an issue with STV. It’s easy for us to imagine numbering everyone in order of preference because we’re all very interested in politics. But imagine a typical voter who doesn’t follow politics that much but has decided this time to vote LibDem. Under STV, it’s not enough to just put an X by the name that had ‘LibDem’ attached. Instead the voter will be presented with – perhaps 5 names of people that he/she has probably never heard of, and be expected as a minimum to number them in order of preference. For a lot of people, that’s a big ask. Then there’s the vote-counting system that you almost need a maths degree to properly understand how it works – which would inevitably raise some people’s suspicions of ‘was the result fair? Was there some foul play in the counting?” even when everything was completely fair and above board. Don’t get me wrong, I think STV has a lot of advantages too – but those two issues are significant disadvantages that will worry a lot of people, and I think @Andrew Tampion is right to say that we need to address those kinds of concerns.

  • Andrew Tampion 1st Nov '21 - 11:46am

    To be clear I am not against some form of PR.
    But FPTP has some advantages along with the many disadvantages. Therefore in order to succeed in reforming the voting system it is necessary to address the problems, such as complexity, by either offering a system that minimises them or by persuading voters to accept them. Ignoring or dismissing problems with PR systems just makes it easier for opponents of change to block change.
    I seem to remember that in the recent past Liberal Democrats have advocated Citizens Juries to deal with issues of this kind. Perhaps voting reform is another area where Citizens Juries might be useful.

  • John Marriott 1st Nov '21 - 12:11pm

    I know that this thread is going idiosyncratic; but, so what? There doesn’t appear to be much for LDV junkies to get their teeth into at the moment. I know much of what I am about to write has been well trodden. I am assuming, possibly wrongly, that Mr Bicknell might just be playing the devil’s advocate; but would offer the following in defence of PR.

    Firstly, the argument that says that PR allows “cranks and extremists to be elected”. Well, some would argue that we have a few of those in the HOC already! There is, of course, an answer to that, namely something like a 5% threshold, which a party has to attain in the popular vote for any of its candidates to be elected.

    Secondly, that FPTP is “clear and simple”. Well, I suppose, as John Cleese famously remarked in that 1987 broadcast, counting up to five “might be a bit bewildering”. However, if the Irish, Welsh and Scots seem to be able to manage, why not the English?

    As for the other two points, what was the result of the 2010 General Election and, if we had PR perhaps we would not need ‘broad church’ parties so ‘smaller’ parties might not in future be that small.

    In any case, if the Tories stay in power, you can kiss goodbye to any change in the voting system. In fact watch out for a return of FPTP for future mayoral and PCC elections.

  • @Simon, there may be an issue with people mistrusting the counting system, either because they can’t understand the theory behind the transfers, or because they think the complexity allows for slight of hand, but we’ve been using STV for Scottish local elections for years and I’ve not heard of anyone complaining about a rigged result.

    I think the first year it came in there were a few comments about it being ‘too complex’, but if I remember correctly that was a year when the local elections coincided with at least one other election, so the problem was more that it was ‘new’ and there was another election on with another system at the same time. I strongly suspect some people who had a vested interest in FPTP were amplifying the concerns.

    In my experience of working at elections voters understand it fine. You just have to say ‘it’s numbers for this one’ and they know what’s expected. If in doubt, say ‘put a 1 against your favourite candidate, 2 against your second favourite and so on until you run out of favourites or candidates’. I always used to say ‘you’re going to end up with four councillors, so you might as well have your say’. I’ve no idea how many people followed that advice, but people made a pretence of agreeing.

    But if push comes to shove, if a person marks a single X against a candidate’s name, that counts as a one. If they don’t know or don’t care about other candidates, it’s their own choice they are limiting. I don’t think we should dismiss on a fair voting system that gives most voters more choice because some voters aren’t engaged enough to get the benefit.

    One of the main reasons we have bad politicians is that some constituencies will vote for the proverbial pig in the right coloured rosette. STV doesn’t stop that altogether, but it helps.

    Inevitably it makes more sense the 2nd time around. Not just because people have done it before, but because once you are already living in a multi-member ward you are more likely to have heard of more of the candidates.

  • Peter Martin 1st Nov '21 - 7:48pm

    “If in doubt, say ‘put a 1 against your favourite candidate, 2 against your second favourite and so on ……”

    This sounds just like the Alternative Vote. If it isn’t then you do need to explain just how it is going to be different.

    Whatever we might think about the AV, and I, personally, don’t have a problem with it, we do need to accept that it was decisively voted down in referendum.

  • John Marriott 1st Nov '21 - 9:41pm

    @Peter Martin
    Yes the 2011 pro AV Campaign was a disaster, thanks partly because the Labour Party largely had taken its bat home and, to a far greater extent, because the anti AV campaign deployed some very clever tactics in what for them was an old fashioned leaflet driven campaign. That image of Nick Clegg entering No 10 was very effective. The youthful rallies and t shirts from the other side, relying mainly on the embryonic social media, just never stood a chance.

    They always maintained that AV wasn’t proportional. However, like you, I could have lived with it. The chances of revisiting a change to the voting system depend very much on the willingness of the Labour Party to engage. While the party still thinks it can win again under FPTP the chances of that happening are pretty slim.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Nov '21 - 12:10pm

    Peter Martin: “we do need to accept that it [AV] was decisively voted down in referendum”
    Yes, fully 10½ years ago, in a previous administration. So it’s irrelevant. it’s like arguing in the next GE that the Opposition was decisively rejected in the last GE so should give the Tories a clear run, to “respect” the earlier mandate.
    But election campaigns do not refer back to whatever mandate won the previous election (except perhaps to say it was a failure). Why, then, should referendums? So any new push for electoral reform will start with a clean slate and all options open on the table. I expect the vast majority of ordinary voters (who were voters at the time) won’t remember the 2011 AV referendum or how they voted in it.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Nov '21 - 12:29pm

    @Simon R, @Fiona: Actually STV/AV is extremely difficult to rig. To do so successfully requires very precise knowledge of each voter’s candidate rankings, which is probably impossible short of telepathy. It then relies on voters doing exactly as they are told, and as I’ve pointed out previously voters don’t like being instructed.
    Attempts by party bosses to rig STV elections generally backfire. One attempt by Sinn Fein to maximise its representation by giving voters different “recommended” rankings resulted in a DUP candidate being elected instead.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Nov '21 - 12:31pm

    @Andrew Tampion: Neil Hamilton would have been easy to defeat in STV, simply by voters not ranking him highly or at all. Natural Tory voters could have voted for all other Tory candidates except him.

  • @Peter, for the voter, the method of voting in an STV election is the effectively same as for an AV election, albeit with added voter choice. It’s not complicated and people manage it fine. Don’t let anyone use ‘it will confuse voters’ as an excuse not to introduce STV (or AV).

    There are differences in how votes are counted, in how parties put forward candidates. With STV the voter gets more choice, and brings proportionality that doesn’t happen with FPTP or AV.

    When it comes to ‘rigging’. I used the term to mean that I’ve not heard anyone accuse councils of hiding behind complexity to fiddle or cheat the results. In other words – no accusations of counting fraud.

    It is, however, an excellent point that the best and indeed only tactic available to voters is to rank candidates in the order you like. There’s no point in trying to second guess how others will vote, and it’s not just that it’s hard, it makes no difference. That’s not just a benefit for a fair voting system, it means that election campaigns can be about policy, or at least photo-opportunities, and not activists arguing about tactical voting.

    Parties standing a 2nd candidate sometimes deploy tactics to spread 1st votes, but I’m not convinced that makes much of a difference.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Nov ’21 – 12:10pm:
    …election campaigns do not refer back to whatever mandate won the previous election (except perhaps to say it was a failure). Why, then, should referendums?

    The purpose of referendums is to make decisions, typically of a constitutional nature, which need to transcend the parliamentary timescale. As with other recent referendums, the Alternative Vote Referendum 2011 was clearly specified to be a “once in a generation” decision…

    ‘Clegg: AV is a simple change that will make a big difference’ [February 2011]:

    ”This is a once in a generation opportunity to improve our democracy.”

    ‘Labour in last-ditch push on both sides of AV debate’ [May 2011]:

    Miliband said: “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change our voting system.”

    Alex Macfie 2nd Nov ’21 – 12:29pm:
    Actually STV/AV is extremely difficult to rig.

    ‘Electoral Reform Society finds its voting rigged’:

    The attempt to rig the election was uncovered on July 6th when ballot papers returned by the society’s 2,500 members were due to be counted. Thirty-eight candidates were standing for election to 15 ruling council places under the Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral system, and Mr Ritchie admitted it was “quite possible” that had the rigging attempt not been uncovered the election of one or two candidates could have been called into question.

  • @Alex Macfie: Yes, the chance for people to vote for all one party’s candidates except someone they particularly don’t like is an advantage of STV. But situations like Neil Hamilton are quite unusual. I’d imagine it’d be far more common that people will see a slate of names standing for their party and not recognise most, or perhaps any, of those names. In that situation, how do you decide how to rank them? I’d be curious to know how that works out in Ireland, or in Scottish local elections? My immediate suspicion is that it would mean whoever gets listed first on the ballot paper is the person most likely to be elected because people will automatically just go 1..2..3..4..5 down the ballot paper.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Nov '21 - 2:36pm

    @Simon R
    “I’d imagine it’d be far more common that people will see a slate of names standing for their party and not recognise most, or perhaps any, of those names. In that situation, how do you decide how to rank them? ”
    Depends on how much camapigning they’ve done perhaps…? Instead of safe seats candidates might have to work…?

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Nov '21 - 2:47pm

    Jeff: There have been 3 general elections since the AV referendum. The purpose of a GE is to make a decision about who runs the country for the next 5 years, but that doesn’t stop a fresh election happening before the 5-year period is up. Besides, the 5-year duration of Parliament is enshrined in law; pronouncements made by politicians about the length of validity of a referendum decision are just rhetoric, with no legal basis at all. Many of the people involved in the AV campaign have left the political stage, including Clegg whom you cite. Why should anyone be bound by comments made during a previous referendum campaign by people who are no longer involved in politics?

    The election fraud in the article you cite is something that can happen under any system involving handwritten paper ballots. If anyrthing it is easier to uncover stuffing of handwritten ballot papers under STV than under an X-voting system, as there are more handwriting features to compare and distinguish.

  • Agreed Alex. The attempted ‘election rigging’ mentioned had nothing to do with using STV and could have happened with any system. I’d be interested if someone can tell me otherwise, but I’m not aware of anyone expressing serious concerns about the fairness of the counting under STV in Scottish local elections.

    Like FPTP and presumably most systems, people at the top of a ballot paper are believed to have a bit of an advantage. I believe they can ‘randomise’ the order. It won’t make the person at the bottom of the list get extra votes, but it does mean that there’s no advantage to parties selecting candidates as if they are taxi companies in the Yellow Pages.

    My own experience is that people who are invested in local politics know which candidates work hard. There’s bound to be a bit of an incumbency benefit for existing councillors, assuming they did put the work in and didn’t wind up too many people. Realistically, where an STV ballot has an incumbent and a newbie from the same party, a FPTP ballot would have the incumbent only. For those voting for the party first and foremost, if there are enough first preferences for that party to get two councillors, then it doesn’t matter if most go to one candidate as their 2nd preferences will shift directly to the other.

  • Laurence Cox 2nd Nov '21 - 5:21pm

    If you look carefully at the article in IT, it actually is about ‘ballot-stuffing’ which is a threat to any electoral system, not specifically to STV. Exactly the same issue arose in Birmingham with postal ballot fraud in the 2004 local elections.

    There are some issues that we as a party do need to sort out if we are promoting STV for public elections. While we quite happily endorse the entirely automated counting of votes for our internal elections, would we want to recommend this for public elections where transparency is essential? Automated vote counting relies on the software being trustworthy which means it has to be open source, compiled at the count, and available with the input data (voting preferences) at the count to the parties contesting the election, so that they can check the result independently.

    If we want to continue with the traditional paper-based counting system, then fractional vote transfers become more difficult and we might want instead to transfer whole votes from a number of randomly-selected ballot papers that represent the surplus over quota. This does mean that a recount could give a different result for who is elected, but we accept this already under FPTP.

    Lastly, we need to decide if we want to change the design of the ballot paper from the traditional vertical format for STV elections; a typical five-member STV constituency could have 15 candidates from, perhaps, 7 political parties plus independents (the 2017 NI Assembly Election is a good guide). Do we want to give voters the option of voting for all the members of a single party in the order they appear on the ballot paper by just marking a single X (as in Victoria)? Do we want to randomise alphabetically the order of candidates on the ballot paper?

    None of these affect the principle of supporting STV, but all of them (and other issues) need to be thought through before the commitment to STV goes into our manifesto, because the one thing we can be sure of is that we will not have a Lib Dem majority government after the next GE; we will hope to be in a position where we can negotiate with other parties to form a government, as in 2010. The one thing I do not want to see is another badly thought-out policy like the AV referendum.

  • James Fowler 2nd Nov '21 - 8:55pm

    I was sad and angry when the AV referendum was lost. In retrospect the proposed change was so minor that having a referendum was a waste, it should have just been legislation. However, in my view the real moment for electoral reform was between 1997-2001. Back in 1998 Labour could have won a referendum easily, or just put something minor like AV straight on the statue book.

  • John Marriott 2nd Nov '21 - 9:04pm

    @James Fowler
    Yes, there were so many ways that Labour, under Tory lite Blair, let us all down, especially in its first two terms. So let’s add failure to change the voting system when it had a golden opportunity to a very long list.

  • @ John Marriott 2nd Nov ’21 – 9:04pm….

    Reading how anyone in this party could use the term ‘Tory-lite’ in any context made me choke on my Horlicks..
    As for Blair’s years as PM..he wasn’t perfect but, by golly, his tenure put this party’s 5 year dalliance with power into perspective..

    Anyway, I’ve refilled my Horlicks mug and I’m off to bed with a smile..

  • Peter Martin 3rd Nov '21 - 9:38am

    @ Fiona,

    “Peter, for the voter, the method of voting in an STV election is the effectively same as for an AV election, albeit with added voter choice.”

    ‘Albeit’ ?? An AV election would still be voting for a single representative for the same constituencies as we have at the moment. An STV election would involve electing a larger number of representatives for a larger constituency.

    Therefore, to suggest to voters that you’re simply in favour of asking them to replace a single cross by 1,2,3… isn’t being at all honest.

  • John Marriott 3rd Nov '21 - 9:44am

    I own no copyright on the term ‘Tory lite’. It’s been used for years in reference to the 1997 Labour government. I was just repeating it. Also, I should assume that every contributor to LDV in a current member of the Lib Dems.

    Your reference, I assume, to the 2010-2015 coalition government is quite apposite. Both it and the accession to power of Blair and Co were severe disappointments to those who were sick of Tory one party rule. Both could have achieved so much; but both were too much influenced by what boiled down to Tory policy.

  • John Marriott 3rd Nov '21 - 9:47am

    Sorry. That last sentence in the first paragraph is missing a ‘not’ and that ‘in’ should have been ‘is’.

  • Blair was indeed Torylite…….. academy schools, outsourcing social care plus much much more….. not to mention Iraq and his dodgy dossiers. Anything decent , e.g. Sure Start centres and cutting child poverty came from Brown.

    Sedgefield didn’t see Blair for dust when he quit.

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