Gavin Esler and Dominic Grieve at Unlock Democracy AGM

Unlock Democracy is an organisation which has many of the same aims on reforming our political system as we do. In fact there are some familiar faces in high positions in the organisation. Tom Brake, former Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington, is their Chief Executive and our former Director of Campaigns Shaun Roberts, is their Head of Campaigns and Digital.

Today they held their AGM which was opened with a session on the dire state of our democracy and the future of Britain with former Conservative MP Dominic Grieve and former BBC journalist Gavin Esler. IF you take nothing else away from this article, remember this from Dominic Grieve:

Lib Dems were an important moderating factor during the coalition. Civil servants were saying that this was the first time in years there had been evidence based decision making.

In his opening remarks, Dominic Grieve concentrated on how we had got to the mess we are in, saying that the fundamental irrationality of current state of politics is depressing.

In his day, he said, the Conservatives used to anchor on principles of rationality but have abandoned that over the past 6 years, leading to Liz Truss fantasy economics.

He looked back over the past three decades and argued that when things have gone wrong it’s when politicians have done things which in hindsight look irrational

Thatcher started to undermine our role in EU and opened door to brexiteers to persuade us to vote to leave – a massively irrational decision.

He said that the SNP’s commitment to independence is similarly irrational and will not deliver what they aim for.

Politicians, society, media engage in displacement activity rather than tackle the real issues. Neither Government nor opposition can properly articulate the underlying problems that need to be fixed, crucially around the mess of Brexit.

He now favours PR, but says that electoral reform needs a culture change. People accept that politics is about compromise and adjustment rather than delivering set out programmes

He concluded that the current situation is making us poorer, threatening our future and our ability to influence the world in a positive way

Gavin Esler broadly agreed with this analysis. He compared UK failure to face up to Brexit by using distraction to Trumpism.

He looked at how clearly incapable people thrived in our system How do you get to be Gavin Williamson, forced to resign by 3 Prime ministers in 4 years.

He quoted our Layla Moran, saying that Williamson was the 80th minister to resign or be sacked in 2022 and if this was a school it would be in special measures.

He argued for systemic change to stop the situation where in his home county of Kent it takes 33,000 votes to get a Conservative MP, and 250,000 to get a Labour one.

They were asked how to bring about change.

Dominic Grieve said that democracy is about bringing about change by consent – not everyone will agree to everything but you can get most people on board.

Gavin Esler argued that the heart of democracy is that people can say they can see their views represented.

He was worried by third of population who don’t vote, reminding us that Boris Johnson’s majority of 80 was delivered by only 29% of those eligible to vote.

Different parts of our country have not assented to this majority as Northern Ireland has voted DUP and then Sinn Fein, Wales Labour, Scotland SNP

We elected a PM whose popularity rating at the time was -20, but Corbyn’s was -44.

He went on to look at how norms of behaviour had been broken in the past few years. There is nothing in US constitution that a defeated presidential has to graciously concede, but Trump not doing that broke a great norm.

Boris Johnson lost two ethics advisers because he didn’t follow the basic norms that we expect of our PM.

He said we need to think of different ways of reining in this bad behaviour.

The next question was about the role of emotion and rationality in politics. How do we make the systems rational when we are emotional and illogical?

Gavin Esler highlighted the importance of emotion is great. We should be angry when a 2 year old dies because of mould and the systemic failure behind that.

He went on to talk about how lying has become the norm in public life, citing Washington Post figures that Donald Trump told 30,000 lies in 4 years. The notorious lie on the Brexit bus was well presented and changed the debate but it was clearly wrong.

Dominic Grieve said thqt emotion can be the tipping point to doing something important. Ukrainians driven by emotion as well as cold rationality to withstand the appalling attack on them by Putin.

One of the reasons he now wants PR is that extreme views have become dominant in both main parties that had previously been kept under control. He wants a system that doesn’t allow small extremist parties to hold the balance of power.

I had to leave at this point unfortunately, but I hope that the discussion got round to the major problem going on with voter suppression. We know that young people are less likely to vote Conservative so, unsurprisingly, the Government is making it more difficult for them to provide the ID that will be necessary for them to vote. An Oyster card for the over 60s is fine, apparently, but not the over 18 one. It’s blatant.

Tim Farron called it out on Twitter the other day:

I wanted to hear about what we need to do to get young people motivated and equipped to vote, especially as budgets to councils and therefore Electoral Registration Officers are bound to be cut. After all, they could be the key to getting th Tories out. We saw from the US midterms how Gen Z voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Democrats. They are on the sharp end of the culture wars and they don’t like it when their freedoms and bodily autonomy is threatened. Funny, that.

Anyway, I enjoy being a member of Unlock Democracy and they do come up with some good events, so it is worth joining if you haven’t already.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • nigel hunter 19th Nov '22 - 5:33pm

    I urge those who reach 18 to learn to drive and get a form of ID.Equally a campaign to get a postal vote. 2 ways of getting this farce dealt with.In the meantime the Oyster card and other forms of youth idea should be campaigned on.

  • Nigel Jones 19th Nov '22 - 9:21pm

    Perhaps this is obvious, but it is not a question of emphasising logical argument and evidence OR being emotional. It is rather the need not to be afraid of passionate expressions when putting forward the logical arguments and evidence so that policies that care for people in all their diverse needs are heard and put into practice.
    I am a member of Unlock Democracy and sorry I missed their AGM because I was at the West Midlands regional conference. I see electoral reform as part of a package of constitutional change that is more than just having a new PR voting system.

  • Mr. Paul R. Rustad 20th Nov '22 - 5:55pm

    I am well over 60 !! I always enjoyed going to my polling station, but switched to Postal Voting in 2020 following the pandemic, so will now stick to it. Could younger voters (i.e. under 60 !!) be encouraged to sign up for Postal Voting ? Many very young voters could say they may move around a lot, but they can still switch to their new constituency / Electoral Registration district easily.

  • Peter Hirst 22nd Nov '22 - 1:05pm

    It was an interesting day and if you’d stayed Caron you’d have heard some stimulating debates on how the organisations should tackle climate change and racial prejudice that are not related to its core objectives. Whether a policy will achieve its stated aims is an idea that is worth pursuing. It is too tempting for most politicians to be vague on the aims so the policy can be defended whatever the results.

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