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

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

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

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

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

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

It breaks my heart to see a Tory Government with a majority of 12 and 37% of the vote are getting away with so much because Labour are not opposing it properly.

He added that the Liberal Democrats were leading the way in opposing them, as indeed we are on so many issues. Sadly on issues like tax credits and votes at 16, Labour bottled it when they could have made a difference.

Of course, if there were to be a deal on electoral reform at some point in the future, I wonder whether it would be possible to have it based on STV. When the Scottish Constitutional Convention took place, the consensus reached was for the Additional Member System to be used in top-up lists. That is not popular with many Liberal Democrats for the obvious reasons that it gives power to parties rather than individual voters to elect the person that they want. It is, however, easier to make sure that a more diverse range of candidates are elected.

However, it doesn’t look like any deal is going to be forthcoming any time soon.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • George Kendall 24th Jan '16 - 12:00pm

    Personally, I hate closed lists. They mean a certain proportion of those elected are beholden to the party, and have little incentive to reach out to the electorate. The Additional Member System can instead have open lists, where the electorate decide who those top-up MPs are.

  • ‘Not a lot of truth’ indicates some truth, however small?

  • Agreed that party-dominated systems such as for the EU Parliament should be avoided. They are alien to the British tradition of maintaining a link with an identifiable constituency. STV does this and in my opinion should have been the option offered in the 2011 referendum.

  • If it is true, then one can only conclude that we have learnt absolutely nothing from the past 5 years. Coalition, alliances, an absolute disaster for this party. Once the referendum is over there will be a huge gap in the centre of British politics. In England and Wales we should fill this. In Scotland the SNP can only go backwards once the Scottish Parliament election results are completed, so things may change there 2017 onwards.

  • this has all the signs of badly flown kite. “not a lot of truth” does not mean the same as “not at all”. By 2020 the SNP could be out of Westminster and on their own. The conservatives could have split over the referendum, Labour could have got rid of Corbyn.

    “a Tory Government with a majority of 12 and 37% of the vote are getting away with so much” clue is in the word “majority” not much can be done unless conservative back benchers rebel.

  • Cllr Steve Radford 24th Jan '16 - 2:10pm

    little truth – its either true or not true???

  • Does anyone really think that the vast majority of the population want or care about electoral reform? Find some policy’s that people care about and are willing to support, because at the moment you are just invisible to most of the population. Tim Farron is trying, but do you have anyone else in the party? I doubt that 95% of the population could name any LibDems other than Farron and a couple of very elderly Peers. That’s not how you win national elections – with or without electoral reform.

  • Sorry, most people will remember Nick Clegg also, but I’m sure there are many LibDems wishing that wasn’t so.

  • Tony Greaves 24th Jan '16 - 3:49pm

    Of course our main energies should be trying to stop all the quite dreadful aggressive right-wing actions of this government which is certainly the worst and the nastiest in my lifetime.

    But if discreet conversations about our shockingly corrupt electoral system are not taking place with some people in all the other opposition parties, they should be.

    Tony Greaves

  • Nonconformistradical 24th Jan '16 - 4:22pm

    “Does anyone really think that the vast majority of the population want or care about electoral reform?”

    If they don’t it’s because not enough effort ever goes into putting over the message about the importance of having an electoral system which represents fairly the will of the people instead of representing just a minority of them.

    As Tony Greaves points out – we have an electoral system which is manifestly corrupt – and which leads to wildly see-sawing policy changes – undoing as soon as possible what a previous government – of a different political complexion did – irrespective of whether their actions were good or bad.

  • Ian Patterson 24th Jan '16 - 5:04pm

    What the article also said was a change to the voting system without bothering to ask the public and relying on some marriage of inconvience to bring it about. if the scots, welsh and northern irish can have their devolution settlements sanctified by popular vote, it beggers belief to deny this to the whole of uk.

  • Mick Taylor 24th Jan '16 - 5:20pm

    Ian Patterson. We live in a representative democracy. This means we elect people to make decisions for us. Referendums are a cop-out for elected people who don’t want to make decisions. If you fight an election on a platform of electoral reform and win that election then there is a mandate to implement it.

  • Nonconformistradical – Most people seem to like our current system of elections, it’s not that they fail to understand the alternatives, they are just happy with the way we do things in this country. The Liberals have been going on about electoral reform for many, many years and got nowhere. I think it’s time they got the message, people are happy with the way we do things in this country and have very little interest in change.

  • @malc
    I suggest you take a look at the results of a poll, published last month, showing a large majority in support of proportional representation before you keep on repeating how happy people are with the way we do things in this country.

  • I think the problem in this country is (when looking at the AV Referendum etc) that most people seem to have difficulty getting their heads round a system of election which seems often to elect people who “haven’t come first”. The main proposition against AV wasn’t “that it wasn’t proportional anyway” (which would be our Lib Dem objection), but it relied on preferential voting – as, of course, our favoured system of STV. There was also a subsidiary argument that those who argued in favour of it (and the Lib Dems are by far the most well-known proponents of PR) are doing it out of self-interest.

    By the way, I think Carl Gardner’s argument that it would be wrong to “impose” PR without a referendum is fairly nonsensical. Apart from anything else, systems have been put in place for many elections without referenda, and no-one has objected on any mass basis.

  • Sean Blake – the poll you mention was of just over 1,000 people and was carried out at the request of the “Electoral Reform Society”. I think most people would think the 2011 referendum that rejected change by a majority of many millions carries more weight.

  • Cliff – be careful what you wish for. PR is just as likely to see us with a Tory/UKIP coalition government than one made up of the centre left parties. If Scotland does eventually get it’s independence that would almost be a certainty.

  • Paul Pettinger 25th Jan '16 - 1:41am

    Some anxious non-Lib Dems on this thread. Interesting.

  • Be greatful that the public said no to AV. If we had AV the tories majority would even larger than it is now, while things would not have improved for the smaller parties.

    There are lots of problems with FPTP but most of those problems are academic. The only real problems I see with first past the post are:

    Smaller parties being under or unrepresented.

    Absolute majorities with a minority of the vote.

    Massive majorities during landslides (a landslide being 40% of the vote).

    AV makes all those things worse not better, and while the tories didn’t want it, it is a system that they could certainly have lived with, which is why they allowed the vote in the first place. If you couldn’t get PR in 2010 with 23% of the vote you’re not going to get it now.


  • Tony Dawson 25th Jan '16 - 9:36am

    @Carl Gardner:

    “It’s both shocking, and disgraceful. The public rejected AV in 2011”

    Not true. You have a very shot memory.

    The public, thanks to a very effective campaign by the Labour Party (against its own official policy!) which the Tories quietly blessed, used the AV Referendum as an opportunity to have a referendum on Nick Clegg wherever there were contested local elections on the same day as the referendum. In a number of the small number of places where only the AV referendum was on the ballot paper, the public voted significantly for AV.

    Even today, most people haven’t got a clue what AV is or the referendum was about all those years ago. They just remember vaguely that they had a chance to ‘kick Nick Clegg’ and that they did so.

  • Paul Pettinger

    It’s not that people are anxious it’s just that the Liberals and then the LibDems have been going on about PR for many, many years. It’s not a vote winner, most people are just not interested and are content with what they know. Much better to spend time on finding a way to attract students and their parents back to the party. It amazes me that so many in the party refuse to admit what they did on students fees was wrong. Until the party makes it right they are going nowhere.

  • Another Mark 25th Jan '16 - 10:12am

    Rsf7: How many more times do people have to be told that AV is not PR?

    Carl Gardner: Suggest you read Mick Taylor’s comment for an explanation of how representative democracy works. Or would you like every Parliamentary vote to go to a referendum as well?

  • @another mark:

    How many times do people have to be told AV is not PR?

    I don’t know. I’m still struggling to understand the lib dems point on this.

    If the result of an election being totally disproportionate is so bad, then why did the party try to replace the electoral system with the one system that gives an even more disproportionate result, most of the time.

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand the benefits of AV over FPTP such as no need for tactical voting etc etc, but that’s not what the lib dems are complaining about. They’re complaining about an absolute majority with around a third of the vote and the millions who vote green, Lib dem and ukip getting almost no political representation and simultaneously moaning about not being successful in changing the electoral system to one which makes all those things they complain about worse.

    So which is it, are you glad you lost the AV referendum? Yes or no. Does the party now consider that a mistake?

    Until those questions are answered I guess.

  • John Roffey 25th Jan '16 - 1:21pm

    Tony Greaves 24th Jan ’16 – 3:49pm

    “Of course our main energies should be trying to stop all the quite dreadful aggressive right-wing actions of this government which is certainly the worst and the nastiest in my lifetime.”

    I concur – quite how it is forgotten, or seems to be forgotten, that prior to the coalition the Labour governments of Blair & Brown, for all of their faults, would not have allowed the worst of the cold-hearted actions of the coalition to have taken place.

    NC, as leader of of the L/Ds with nearly a fifth of the seats of the Tories, could have simply said ‘NO’ to all of the following [given that those L/D policies that were adopted were insignificant by comparison]. These include:

    Bedroom Tax; the reassessment of those on disablement allowance to oblige many of these to be found fit for work – with many resultant early deaths; the harsh treatment of the homeless leading to thousands having to sleep on the street and often having to beg for food; the vindictive treatment of the unemployed when there were not enough jobs coupled to the outrageous rules that required claimants of JSA to apply for numerous jobs each week that they were not suited to or would have to move from the area where they had lived all their lives; the reduction of planned flood defences; the housing crisis added to the removal of social housing forcing so many into private rental with no security and into the mercy of vicious landlords along with rapidly rising rents; the running down of the NHS; the removal of legal aid; Tuition fees; austerity measures that
    austerity measures that victimise the poorest and benefit the richest; tax breaks to global corporations; millions of children below the poverty line; the significant undermining of democracy … [please feel free to add those I have missed].

    Of note: Britain’s divided decade: the rich are 64% richer than before the recession, while the poor are 57% poorer

    Britain’s top bosses ‘earn average UK annual salary in 22 hours of work’

    NC could have just said ‘NO’ to the policies that led to these dreadful state of affairs – and let no one pretend that he was obliged to go along with these measures – or did not wholeheartedly approve:


    This is why NC must go!

  • Ian MacFadyen 25th Jan ’16 – 2:39pm……………… I would rather emigrate than live under Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister and, for the sake of the country, I would rather clean sewers with a toothbrush than do anything in our party to help Corbyn and his crew gain power…………..

    How very liberal….Since 2010 the wealthy have become 64% wealthier and the poorest 57% worse off…Still, never mind; let’s just concentrate on Corbyn….

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Jan '16 - 4:01pm

    Tony Greaves24th Jan ’16 – 3:49pm

    “… if discreet conversations about our shockingly corrupt electoral system are not taking place with some people in all the other opposition parties, they should be.”

    No other comment required.

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Jan '16 - 4:06pm

    @Ian MacFadyen25th Jan ’16 – 2:39pm

    That sounds remarkably like an “I’ll eat my hat” comment Ian 🙂

    I understand that Paddy Ashdown and Stephen Tall are experts in this field.

  • Ian MacFadyen

    All my adult life I have voted Labour, except for a couple of times when I supported the LibDems. However, like you I wouldn’t touch Corbyn with a barge pole. I would vote Tory – which believe me is as bad as cleaning a sewer with a toothbrush to me – or stay at home before I would have anything to do with Corbyn. If the LibDems want to attract the voters they would stay well clear of him.

  • The public rejected AV, posters might believe that this was just to attack Nick clegg or whatever but those theories are just opinion, not fact. The fact is the public were given the option of AV but overwhelmingly choose to stick with FPTP. That is the only real fact about the referendum result, and the fact (I.e the results of the referendum must be what matters or else politicans could interpret the results of any referendum to mean anything they wanted no matter how self serving).

    Would the public have rejected PR if it was on offer? I doubt it but we will never know.

    But the lib dems choosing to spend a large chunk of their political capital on the chance to get an electoral system that is less proportional than FPTP and then moaning that FPTP needs replaced because it is not proportional is pure comedy. If a proportional result at the election is what you’re after AV is worse not better, did people some how miss that?

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Jan '16 - 7:53pm

    Clearly some contributors above appear to care much more about blocking Labour than they do about promoting representative democracy and furthering one of our longest standing policies. Oh but wait a minute, several of them aren’t even members!

    The report appears to suggest we are at the very start of exploratory talks about a centre left pro-PR arrangement rather than any sort of governing ‘coalition’ so some of the negative comments about us aligning ourselves with Labour seem somewhat wide of the mark.

    Obviously the Greens and Plaid Cymru already support PR but Labour including a commitment to PR in their 2020 manifesto would be a major success in this long-cherished area.

  • nvelope2003 25th Jan '16 - 8:36pm

    The SNP got 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland under the present system. Under PR they would have got about 30. Why would they want to change it ?

  • Peter Parsons 25th Jan '16 - 8:43pm

    There probably isn’t much that UKIP, the SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems agree on, but electoral reform is such an issue. There have been other polls showing a majority in favour of electoral reform, such as this one (which had nothing to do with the Electoral Reform Society):


    Every poll I have seen in the last few years showed a majority in favour of more proportionality in the electoral system, and, while it may not be seen as a high priority issue by many, something needs to be done to address the disenfrachisement of millions of voters of all political persuasions.

  • Peter Parsons 25th Jan '16 - 8:46pm

    nvelope2003, the SNP have been pro-electoral reform for quite some time. To their credit, even after the 2015 general election result, they have maintained that position. The current Holyrood administration also shows that it is possible to get single party government with a proportional system, as do many Scottish local authorities.

  • @malc
    The poll, by BMG Research, shows 57% of the public think ‘the number of seats a party gets should broadly reflect its proportion of the total votes cast’ – compared to just 9% who disagree. 51% are ‘unhappy with the current electoral system and want it to change’, in contrast with only 28% who are satisfied.
    The weighted sample was 1,504 rather than the 1,000 you claim it to have been and the fact it was commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society does not compromise its conclusive findings.

  • Sean Blake – the BMG Research poll I saw said that 1013 people had taken part. I wouldn’t have any faith in a poll commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society, they only exist to try and change the current system.

  • @malc
    A poll with the sample figure you give was conducted before the results of the general election in May which is significant given that the public were probably less interested in electoral reform than you claim they are now. “The representative poll was conducted online by BMG Research between the 25th and 27th April 2015. 1,013 adults took part”.

  • David Allen 26th Jan '16 - 6:04pm

    Yes, the public did reject AV at a referendum. On the other hand, they did so largely because a large injection of Tory money dominated the campaign. It is an objective truth that one of the main planks of the Tory campaign was as follows: Nick Clegg wants AV and hence a permanent role in govenment, so if you are one of the many voters who hate Nick Clegg, you should reject AV! It worked. There was a massive swing against AV during the campaign.

    So Carl Gardner, can you see why Lib Dems might feel a bit jaundiced about another referendum?

    Granted, a big constitutional change should in some way be approved by the voters. A referendum would be one way. A declared objective, included in the election manifestos of the party or parties who shared that objective, would be a second valid way. Granted, a secretive deal would not be a valid way.

  • Only problem would be do Labour believe in it or is it expediency ?

  • Matt (Bristol) 30th Jan '16 - 10:25pm

    What Tony Greaves said, on this occasion.

    Certainly, this far out from an election, any formal pact with anyone, particularly Labour, would be a bit daft, but there needs to be a road map to – at the least – some form of a constitutional convention to look at any of several fragilities and unfairnesses in our current ‘system’, and that ain’t going to happen with the Tories right now, so we need to talk to the others.

    In any case, any reform really needs cross-party discussions and common understanding, not a bidding war and counter-proposals based on no previous, which is what birthed the AV cul-de-sac.

    From Labour’s perspective, they must realise somewhere that pushing left (which is where their new membership clearly want them to be) is only sustainable as a longterm strategy in a multi-party system, not in a two-party system.

    If we want serious reform ourselves, talking to Corbyn in some way (behind closed doors, with hygienic gloves on, of course, and ready to run away if he gets stabbed in the back) is surely inevitable. Of the other vaguely left-ish parties/factions of significant parliamentary size, we ain’t going to get it out of Sturgeon, and we never got anywhere with the Blairites and Brownites. UKIP say they want a different coting system, but aren’t making parliamentary headway under the current one, and you can’t prove to me that their voters genuinely want it and would vote for it.

    Navigating this parliament and staying alive, for this party, having got ourselves to where we are, is going to need more acrobatics, compromises and contortions than … I don’t know what. That’s just how it is.

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