Lord Paul Tyler writes…Effective opposition?

While most of the unusual attention paid to the House of Lords this week focused on for the important tax-credit debates on Monday – in which Labour failed to support us in killing off Osborne’s cuts – there was another ‘fatal motion’ in my name the following day.

With support from Tom Brake, Chris Rennard, William Wallace and Tony Greaves, I moved to stop the Conservatives deleting 1.9 million entries from the electoral register, against the express advice of the Electoral Commission [pdf].  The Government is dead set on ending the transitionary period – carefully negotiated in the Coalition – for the change from household to individual electoral registration.

By using an order-making power to bring forward the end-date for the transition, the Government calculates that the 2016 boundary review will produce fewer urban, Conservative-hostile constituencies because most of the people they are taking off are in densely populated areas. In Hackney, 23% will be deleted.

We came very, very close to stopping this nakedly partisan gerrymander, but – in something of a theme for the week – Labour flunked it.  They tabled an inconsequential but supportive amendment to my motion, and we won that vote 267 content, 257 not content = Government Defeated.  Then just a few minutes later on the second vote, on my motion, the Government scored a narrow win. 246 content, 257 not content = Government Win.

What went wrong?  Why the 21 drop in the vote against the Government, in just few minutes?  The principal reason would seem to be the departure of 12 Labour Peers, resulting in a government majority of 11. Where and why did they go?  Confused, reluctant to support another “fatal motion” in the wake of Osborne’s sabre rattling about clipping the Lords’ wings? Or merely tribal, resistant to voting for a Liberal Democrat initiative?   If it was the latter this was a spectacular own goal, since Labour will be much the hardest hit by this Tory sleight of hand.

However, there was also a drop in support from Crossbench Peers (18 to 14), amongst the “Others” (including Lord Owen) (10 to 6) and even (inexplicably) Liberal Democrat Peers (81 to 79).  The relative turnout of the Parties was 70% for Labour, 77% Lib Dem and a record 89% for the Tories, even excluding the Lord Lloyd Webber who had presumably by then flown back to New York.  The array of Conservative Peers included many we hadn’t seen for several months, such was the strong self-interest the Tories had in carrying the day.

This deliberate reversal of the official advice from the independent and authoritative Electoral Commission could now skew the result of the London, Scottish and Welsh elections in May 2016, twist the outcome of the EU Referendum if it comes as quickly as some expect and will certainly distort the constituency boundary review for 2020 …. all in the Tories favour.

And it could have been stopped – but for the fact Labour plainly don’t even know how to be an Opposition, still less a Government.

You can read my speech here, along with the rest of the debate.


* Lord Tyler is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.

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  • Eddie Sammon 1st Nov '15 - 9:59am

    I don’t really mind blocking gerrymandering, but one person’s gerrymandered blocked is often another person’s gerrymandered maintained.

    And whilst I can now see why the Lords intervened over tax credits, I think it would be wrong for the Lords to intervene too much. It risks looking undemocratic and could become unpopular.

    I also think it is an affront to enlightenment values. The way to solve internal conflict is democracy and self-determination, not to start thinking the restrains of democracy only apply to the right.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Nov '15 - 11:47am

    Simon Shaw, I said “I think it would be wrong for the Lords to intervene too much”. I never said “it would be wrong for the Lords to ever intervene”. I’ve actually never thought this, but I didn’t think tax credits was a fundamental human right.

    But anyway, I’d rather adjust my opinion than never accept losing an argument.

  • One of the reasons your comments are an asset to LDV Eddie is that you do change your mind as a result of discussion threads – something that is not common but is surely one of the points of having a discussion.

  • Perfectly valid comments Eddie, no need for anyone to nitpick and misrepresent what you said!

  • Chris Rennard 1st Nov '15 - 1:31pm

    The nature of campaigning is now changing as a result of changes to the electoral registration system, which we support, but which should have been accompanied by much greater activity to get more of the estimated 8 million people (according to the Electoral Commission) missing from the electoral registers included on them. Much of what has been done to improve registration levels in recent times has only been done as a result of pressure that I was applying on the issue three years ago. Sadly, we still didn’t do enough when we had the power to more (eg insist on all the forms involved in registation clearly explaining the civil penalties involved if people do not comply with the process).

    Instead the Conservatives have now succeeded in ensuring that up to 1.9m people (according to the Electoral Commission) who are only on the registers at the moment by virtue of the old household registration system will be removed from them on 1st December this year, just in time to make sure that they are not counted in the figures to be used by the Boundary Commissions, and to make it less likely that they will vote in elections next May.

    Labour MPs are now writing to people they know (presumably from caswork etc.) but who are not on the electoral registers, telling them that they may face an £80 penalty if they don’t comply with the registration process, and telling them how to register online etc. We need now to do much more in our party, not just to campaign with people, but to make sure that people we know, are registered to vote.

    It was a good debate on Tuesday. I was reminded of some of the arguments used in two great films that I have watched this year – Selma and Suffragette. People have won the right to universal franchise for over 18s – but the right wing in the US and here try to make it difficult to be registered in order to exercise that right. The battle for 16 & 17 year olds is still to be won.

    The full debate, incuding my contribution in support of Paul Tyler’s motion, is to be found here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201516/ldhansrd/text/151027-0001.htm#15102747000399

  • Dave Orbison 1st Nov '15 - 5:08pm

    Chris Rennard: I’m not sure how a system is improved by changes that can allow the Conservatives to embark on gerrymandering and a loss of 1.8m voters. Sounds more like shooting one’s self in the foot. Re the Labour campaign and in the interests of accuracy, Labour have been pushing a social media campaign for some weeks now. By its nature the campaign is not confined to Labour supporters only but an attempt to raise awareness with anyone who may lose out. I welcome the LibDems efforts in this regard too though. I have no idea as to the truth as to what you claim re Labour casework – but it seems a negative an unnecessary negative slant given the facts,

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Nov '15 - 5:28pm

    Thanks tonyhill and Phyllis! I appreciate your comments too.

  • Tony Greaves 1st Nov '15 - 7:41pm

    How sad that an important posting by Paul simply results in another two-person scrap between Messrs Sammon and Shaw over the Lords – rather than the substantive issue here.

    Not all the 1.8 million names are genuine continuing electors, but many of them will be – perhaps over a million. It will vary from local authority to local authority, partly depending on how efficient their registration procedures have been. I wish our party was more awake on these matters and more active in urging our Councillors and local campaigners to take action.

    Tony Greaves

    Tony Greaves

  • Chris Rennard 1st Nov '15 - 7:58pm

    @Dave Orbison. All the parties agreed to Individual Electoral Registration in principle, and it must be right to have proper checks on the accuracy of the register, but I wanted for example to consider using all relevant databases in including DVLA in order to improve both accuracy and completeness. The Tories don’t seem to care about the latter principle. The Tory haste will now disenfranchise many people in effect as they won’t get registered and they won’t exist for the purpose of the boundary review. We tried to stop them.
    @Tony Greaves, I have had positive responses from Hilary Stephenson and Tim Pickstone about how the party now needs to pick this up.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Nov '15 - 8:35pm

    Tony Greaves, I considered the topic, suggesting I need more proof that this is gerrymandering than simply being told it is. I want to hear both sides of the story and a considered view.

    That said, every time a peer wants to overrule the Commons it is not off topic to ask for significant justification.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Nov '15 - 8:55pm

    Chris – would you agree that we should not just look at voter registration but about fostering a political culture where women feel comfortable and welcome to participate?

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Nov '15 - 9:41pm

    I’ve now read most of the Electoral Commission report and it does seem like a gerrymander, but sometimes these things need to be spoonfed to us. I don’t understand electoral registration, all I know is that I am on it and people should make sure they are on the electoral roll for their address in order to vote and get a loan or a mortgage.

  • Chris Rennard 1st Nov '15 - 10:27pm

    Ruth – yes indeed, and by for example using measures such as “zipping” lists of candidates in PR elections (as Sandra Dunk and I helped to introduce for the 1999 European Parliament elections) and which ensured gender equality amongst our MEPs until last year. On voter registration and participation I would like to see the story of the Suffragettes (as Illustrated in the film now showing) and the Civil Rights struggle in the US (as in Selma) as part of any school curriculum.

  • nigel hunter 2nd Nov '15 - 12:14am

    All possible ways of informing people that the can be disenfranchised should be used Immediately. There could be a lot of angry people in the future. Maybe in the long run the Tories might find that they have shot themselves in the foot .Also remember that the Tories think they have a devine right to rule and will do anything to ensure they win, democracy does not come in it.

  • Peter Davies 2nd Nov '15 - 7:11am

    One change to the system that would make for greater accuracy would be to make the Electoral Commission responsible for the primary copy of the data (local authorities would still do the leg work). This would mean that change of address would be a single transaction rather than addition to one database and removal from another. A voter in the wrong place is less of a problem than someone not registered anywhere or registered in multiple places.

  • We should be pushing for compulsory voting, as in Australia….Large sections of society, especially those most affected by the government’s attitude to those on ‘benefits’, don’t vote….When voting isn’t compulsory. the “Tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” ( to misquote the Statue of Liberty) are the worst represented by our system…..

    I seem to recall that the “White Van Man” who’s photograph, pre-election, caused so much problem for Labour, when asked about the election didn’t even know its date…

  • “And it could have been stopped – but for the fact Labour plainly don’t even know how to be an Opposition, still less a Government.”

    The Lib Dems in Coalition regularly criticised the Labour Party for opposing all the benefit cuts. Lib Dems must take some responsibility for a weakened Opposition, having spent five years joining in with the Tories in knocking them, mostly unfairly.

  • adrian sanders 2nd Nov ’15 – 10:30am……………expats – It is the job of the State to make it as easy as possible for people to vote. It is the job of the candidates (and their parties) to give electors good reasons to turn out and vote. It is NOT the job of the State to penalise people for not voting…………….

    I’d argue that the increase in voting numbers would lead to a more legitimate government….Australia gets about 35% more voter turnout than the UK and they seem content with something that has been in force for almost a century…

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Nov '15 - 11:36am

    Thank you Chris – I can’t fault your chutzpah. We should all, including middle-aged women in the party like myself, think about our own individual role in making the Liberal Democrats a place where young women feel valued.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Nov '15 - 2:22pm

    The Economist magazine has an article about this. Numerical variations are very high. Labour will suffer most, for instance in Hackney and among students.

  • Chris Rennard 2nd Nov '15 - 3:32pm

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